With the summer in full swing and NFL training camps less than two months away now, we gathered our Cincy Jungle staff to rank the top 25 Bengals of the 2020 season.
This ranking is simply who we believe are the 25 best Bengals heading into next season. It includes veterans and rookies alike, though it obviously is more favorable of players who’ve actually played snaps in the NFL, so don’t expect guys like Joe Burrow to be a top-five player right off the bat.
For a recap of the list, check out our stream here.
Of the 25 Bengals on our list, four of them are cornerbacks. Only wide receiver features that many names at the same position on the roster.
We’ve already seen one cornerback in Mackensie Alexander revealed in our ranking, now it’s time to spotlight another.
No. 17: Darius Phillips, cornerback
In his second season, Darius Phillips was about productive a cornerback could be in only 108 defensive snaps. Four interceptions in just six games is not common for any cornerback, especially one who wasn’t even a starter for five of those games.
Phillips showed to be opportunistic, but his coverage grade of 83.8 from Pro Football Focus spoke highly of his play-per-play ability at the position.
Week 3 against the Buffalo Bills proved to be a coming out party for the former fifth-round pick. In 21 snaps coming off the bench, Phillips recorded two quarterback hurries and was targeted twice in coverage. One resulted in an incomplete pass, the other ended up in the hands of Phillips. It was his first career interception, and it wasn’t even the only time something great happened with the ball in his hands.
Officially, Phillips returned two kickoffs for 37 yards. But we all remember his 92-yard escapade for his first career touchdown, and how it was snuffed out by a phantom holding penalty. The week before, he bursted off for a 37-yard return agains the San Francisco 49ers as well.
We were getting a glimpse at what could’ve been a splendid sophomore season for Phillips, but it would be put on halt for eight weeks. Phillips was placed on Injured Reserve due to loose cartilage flaring up in his knee, but he did eventually return to the field in full form, looking like the player we started to notice in September.
The last two weeks of the season, Phillips played 80 snaps and notched three more interceptions, including two against the Cleveland Browns in the team’s second and final win of the season. His performance the week prior against the Miami Dolphins, however, was extraordinary. He was targeted four times, broke up two of them, allowed one reception for six yards, and, of course, hauled in an INT. It was the highest-graded performance by a cornerback that week according to PFF (for those who played at least 10 snaps).
By the end of the season, Phillips allowed just six receptions on 15 targets and two touchdowns, both against the Browns. That’s simply the nature of a position as brutish as cornerback; you won’t always be so lucky.
Is that the type of cornerback the Bengals will get for a full season this year? Probably not. But Phillips’ has all but cornered the ball skills market at the corner position for Cincinnati. That will allow him to see the field every week in the slot and on the boundary; regardless of who is healthy and ahead of him on the depth chart.
Phillips’ ability as a kick returner only adds to the surplus of value he provides for the Bengals. Such talent and value is surely worth this spot in our rankings.