Winston Churchill once called Russia “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma.”
The same might be said for Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Darius Phillips.
In the Bengals’ Week 16 win over the Houston Texans, Phillips was the second-highest rated cornerback in all of football, earning a grade of 90.9 from Pro Football Focus and spot on the PFF Team of the Week. He was targeted six times and allowed four receptions for just 28 yards.
Phillips suffered a groin injury back in Week 7 in a loss to the Cleveland Browns and was placed injured reserve a few weeks later. Before suffering that injury vs. Cleveland, he hauled in his lone interception for the 2020 season.
Prior to his injury, Phillips had been fairly consistent, but not spectacular in limited action. Upon his return to action in Week 14 against the Dallas Cowboys, Phillips played like a man on a mission.
Against the Cowboys, Phillips earned an overall grade of 90.4. The following week against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Phillips was targeted 13 times but allowed only seven receptions for 45 yards.
From Week 14-16, Phillips was PFF’s highest-graded cornerback. Things did not go as well for Phillips in the final game of the season against the Baltimore Ravens. Of course, the same could be said for just about every Bengal on the field as Cincinnati suffered through a 38-3 shellacking.
Phillips finished the season with 38 total tackles, including 30 solo efforts, two forced fumbles, an interception and 12 passes defensed.
At 5-10 and 190 pounds, Phillips was a fifth-round selection out of Western Michigan in the 2018 NFL Draft. Prior to this past season, Phillips played mostly on special teams, and got the first start in a win against Cleveland in the 2019 season finale. Against the Browns, Phillips showed his potential when he intercepted Baker Mayfield twice. He also showed his inexperience when he gave up a 46-yard touchdown pass to Damion Ratley.
Playing in only 109 snaps in 2019, Phillips surrendered six receptions, two touchdowns and 144 yards while picking up four interceptions. He also held opposing quarterbacks to a minuscule 37.5 completion percentage.
For his career, Phillips has recorded 65 tackles with three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery, 21 passes defensed and five interceptions.
At only 25 years old, Phillips offers a lot of upside to the Bengals. His 2021 salary of $920,000 ranks him as one of the better values at the position, and his three-game stretch in 2020 provides optimism that he can step in to fill any void that might exist with the possible loss of William Jackson III to free agency.
Whether he is capable of stepping into a starting role, and staying there, is a question that only time will answer.