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.
Defensive backs of the Cincinnati Bengals have gotten plenty of love on our countdown thus far. Six of them have already been revealed, and the seventh and final one just happens to come in at the seventh overall spot.
No. 7: Jessie Bates III, safety
If you split Jessie Bates’ two-year career with the Bengals into four quarters—with 2018 and 2019 representing the two halves—you’d get a roller coaster of a story according to Pro Football Focus defense grades. The vast majority of starters at safety play at least 50% of the defense’s snaps, and the fluctuation of Bates’ ranking by graded starters is astonishing.
- Bates’ grade Weeks 1-8: 83.8 (3/60)
- Bates’ grade Weeks 9-17: 66.4 (39/66)
- Bates’ grade Weeks 1-8: 47.3 (55/57)
- Bates’ grade Weeks 9-17: 75.5 (12/66)
Elite. Average. Terrible. Good. Sometimes that’s how it goes for first and second-year players thrusted into starter roles. The bright moments from Bates’ first two years are what we care the most about.
Bates played like an upper class safety as a 21-year old rookie back in 2018. He surrendered a mere 59 yards on seven receptions allowed during the first eight games of his career, netting a passer rating allowed of just 21.7 thanks to his three interceptions during that timeframe as well. His ball production regressed in the second half of the season, but communication errors existed all throughout the defense, which ended up ranking 30th in weighted DVOA per Football Outsiders.
The defense’s complete ineptitude made Bates’ rookie campaign that much more impressive. As a reminder: the unit was so horrendous that defensive coordinator Teryl Austin was fired after just 10 weeks on the job.
2019 ended up being the upside down for Bates. He was horrific out of the gate with poor performances against the Seattle Seahawks and San Francisco 49ers, but rediscovered his stride after the Week 9 bye week. He had the seventh-highest coverage grade for starters (83.7) to finish the season.
Tackling was an area that Bates seemingly proved to be a false weakness in 2018. His second season showed it remains an area that needs improving. His 23 missed tackles tied for the team-high with fellow safety Shawn Williams. Usually when your free safety is a stud in coverage and run support, he’s a bonafide Pro Bowler. It’s fine if Bates doesn’t become Brian Dawkins in that regard, so long as he continues to hone his skills for finding the ball in the air and making plays on it.
A ballhawk is what Bates is steadily becoming, and his six career interceptions is just the beginning of the impact he can have as the centerfield patroller Cincinnati’s defense needs. His instincts and athleticism for his age are spectacular, and having some continuity from a coaching and schematic standpoint should only help him.
Should Bates have been higher or lower on our list? Let us know in the comments!