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2019 Bengals breakout players: Darius Phillips

As a rookie in 2018, Darius Phillips didn’t get the opportunity to show very much. He could carve out a unique and productive niche for himself this year, though.

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To mixed opinions, the Cincinnati Bengals used two day three picks in last year’s draft on cornerbacks. Neither Devontae Harris nor Darius Phillips had much of an impact as rookies (Harris was on I.R.), but the latter could be a surprising player for the team this year.

When Phillips was selected by the Bengals lat year, it was a trademark pick for then-defensive coordinator, Teryl Austin. He had wanted turnovers and big plays from his defenders, and Phillips’ 12 interceptions and 14 total collegiate touchdowns had everyone intrigued.

Now, with Austin out of the picture, Phillips has to prove himself to a new regime. He may have to do so in a creative way, but he could experience a meteoric rise as a valued contributor.

Why he could break out in 2019

With Alex Erickson potentially getting a bigger role on offense, Phillips might be relied upon for return duties. It’s an exciting prospect, given Phillips’ six returns for touchdowns (five on kickoffs and one on punts) at Western Michigan.

In a new offensive system, the unit could use help from defense and special teams by receiving short fields with which to work. These come in the form of turnovers and big special teams returns—two areas where Phillips excelled in college.

And even though the cornerback group looks crowded in the first four depth chart spots, new defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo reportedly wants to trot out a number of defensive backs in formations. In this vein, Phillips could contribute with potential interceptions in this pass-happy league.

And, for good measure, Phillips could be a guy special teams coordinator Darrin Simmons relies on as a gunner. While it’s an unheralded facet to a team, it’s another area in which a club in transition could benefit in the form of close wins (AKA doing “the little things”).

What he needs to prove this year

As mentioned above, Phillips’ main path to making the roster and contributing will be on special teams. While Erickson might still be a primary return man, Phillips could be in the rotation, much like how the team occasionally swapped out Brandon Tate for Adam Jones.

Unfortunately, as it goes with younger players with low draft designations, especially ones from a previous coaching regime, preseason snaps come at a premium. Phillips will need to wow the coaches nearly every time he touches the ball.

To piggyback on that sentiment, Phillips will also need to make plays on defense. He received a little bit of work on defense as injury attrition hit the team last year, but with such a crowded cornerback group, including the offseason veteran acquisitions of Darqueze Dennard and B.W. Webb, it’s an uphill climb for Phillips to make his mark.

Still, if he flashes that big play potential that was so prevalent in college, he’ll quickly become a fan favorite and an unsung hero to a potential playoff berth.

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