As the middle point of the 2018 NFL season hit, positive aspects about the Cincinnati Bengals became harder and harder to pinpoint. After a 4-1 start, injuries, familiar primetime stumbles and overall poor play led to a devastating 6-10 finish to the year.
Through it all, one of the perpetual bright spots for the team was Jessie Bates III. As a rookie, Bates quickly cemented himself as one of the best players on the Cincinnati defense; one who could create turnovers and make tackles with frequency.
His career arc is beginning to ascend and we could see a player who is on the precipice of becoming a household name to NFL fans.
Jessie Bates III
Weight: 200 pounds
Age: 22 years old
College: Wake Forest
Hometown: Fort Wayne, Indiana
Experience: Entering second season
Bates’ 2019 total cap hit is $1,124,504, which accounts for just 0.6% of the Bengals’ total team cap. Since he is still on his rookie contract, his numbers are very manageable.
Bates was a little bit off of the radar until a couple of days before the 2018 NFL Draft. As usual, Dave Lapham had a good pulse on the club and after they grabbed Billy Price with their first pick, “Lap” clued us in that Bates was a guy the coaches were very high on for Night Two.
What drew the Bengals to Bates with their second round pick was his ball-hawk ability. In just two seasons of true collegiate work, Bates racked up six interceptions, including five in 2016.
The powers-that-be also liked his size for the range he showed on film, as well as his willingness to tackle. In that outstanding 2016 campaign, he had 100 total tackles to go with those five picks for the Demon Deacons.
Bates continued that momentum into a very nice rookie season with the Bengals. His three interceptions (including a critical pick-six against Tampa Bay) and whopping 111 tackles (good for second-best on the team for the year) had him in the running for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Bates could be on the path to carving out a very nice career for himself. He was rightfully overshadowed by fellow rookie safety Derwin James, but with the hope that improved play will occur in front of him at the linebacker position in 2019, he may be freed up a bit more to play his brand of instinctual football.
There are two areas of possible concern and/or improvement for Bates, though. First, he, like other talented defensive backs on the roster, had a couple of occasions where he didn’t haul in what would have been a key interception (see picture above for the story). Bates was one of the more sure-handed players in the secondary, but if this team wants to sniff the postseason in 2019, they’ll all need to make plays when the opportunity arises.
Second and perhaps a bigger reach, is the fact that Bates was a “Teryl Austin guy”. The team’s former defensive coordinator craved turnovers and he got them from Bates, but we’re not totally sure how he’ll be used in Lou Anarumo’s system, as compared to last year.
Regardless of those nitpick-y concerns, we could be looking at a guy who should be making a Pro Bowl bid in 2019. He has all of the tools and could be a key player in the ultra-competitive AFC North.