Pro Football Focus is going through and ranking each team’s position group ahead of the season. They recently talked about secondaries, and the Bengals ended up being ranked among the middle of all 32 teams.
Here is what they had to say about the recent additions at corner to go along with a player looking to bounce back:
Jackson needs a bounce-back season after seeing his overall PFF grade decline in each subsequent season after a spectacular first season of play in 2017. That year was one of the greatest statistical seasons we have ever graded — he allowed a completion rate of just 34.9% and a passer rating of 36.1 — but he hasn’t come close to replicating it since.
Waynes was seen as a disappointment in Minnesota because he was once the No. 11 overall pick in the draft, but he has been a consistently solid starting corner for his entire career, grading in the 60s in every single season. Alexander, meanwhile, was just starting to find his feet as a slot corner in the Vikings’ defense, also grading above 60.0 in each of the last two seasons.
Darius Phillips was also mentioned as a player that could play at a high level as well. As they note at the beginning of their article, depth at corner has become crucial in today’s NFL. The nickel defense has quickly become a team’s base defense as three wide receiver formations are the most common to see, and now teams are spreading out to four wide receivers more and more,
The last couple years have shown that Cincinnati experiences issues with high octane offenses that are accustomed to spreading teams out. They didn’t even look like they should be on the same field as teams like the Chiefs and Saints. However, these additions at corner may not be the reason we see a better pass defense next season.
The Bengals have been pretty solid at safety the past few seasons. Jessie Bates III and Shawn Williams have carried the team in tackles the past two seasons. While Bates seems to be a budding star, Williams has been more of a solid starter level type player. That made the addition of Vonn Bell from the Saints a pretty surprising. This move could be the reason the defense plays at a higher level.
Bell is a box safety who does well when he can stay near the line of scrimmage rather than play down the field. We could see plenty of Bell on the field with Williams and Bates to allow both of those guys to play deep while allowing Bell to make plays at the intermediate level. Three safety defenses have become quite popular over the past few seasons, and this version for the Bengals should also help their defense, which will be relying on young athletic linebackers in 2020.
This new look should also take a huge burden off the backs of the deep safeties from having to make so many tackles. They often had to stop plays that linebackers weren’t able to stop last season as the last line of defense. This means they can focus on reading the routes being run by receivers and the quarterbacks eyes more.
The Bengals swapped Mackensie Alexander and Trae Waynes in for Dre Kirkpatrick and Darqueze Dennard. That swap may prove to be fruitful, but adding a play maker like Bell to the secondary seems to be getting overlooked due to the unusual looking defense it creates.