Even before William Jackson III signed with the Washington Football Team, the Bengals agreed to terms with Chidobe Awuzie on a three year, $21.75 million deal, about half of what Washington gave Jackson.
At the time, many thought it was another indication that the Bengals didn’t want to enter into a free agency bidding war and settle on a cheaper option. The thinking was that Awuzie would be the #2 to 2020’s splashy corner signing, Trae Waynes.
But the entire narrative has shifted.
Awuzie is playing out of his mind. He is Cincinnati’s best corner... by a lot. Jackson, meanwhile, is busy arguing with Adam Jones and playing himself out of the the non guaranteed portion of his contract.
There are a lot of definitions for elite. For a position that, at the very minimum, has two people on the field at all times, I’d say being in the top five is elite. And that’s what Awuzie is, according to Pro Football Focus:
The 26-year-old defensive back has an outstanding overall defensive grade of 77.8, fifth among 117 cornerbacks. He is seventh in coverage (77.6) and 22nd against the run (72.3). Most importantly, he wants to be in Cincinnati and has the sort of confidence that the team has lacked in previous years.
Now Awuzie, Trey Hendrickson, and Logan Wilson have their greatest challenge of the season yet: they are somehow supposed to keep Lamar Jackson in check.
In our preview, I argue that slowing down the Baltimore Ravens’ dynamic quarterback is more possible than ever with Awuzie and another corner who plays with a great deal of confidence, Mike Hilton.
Further, the Bengals’ linebackers have taken a huge step forward. In fact, one could even argue that Wilson, Akeem Davis-Gaither, and Markus Bailey were drafted largely with the goal of defending Jackson. When you add in a strong pass rush, headed by Hendrickson, you can see why things might be different this year.
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