It had been a while since the Cincinnati Bengals rostered an All-Pro player of any kind. Jessie Bates III started to realize that potential last season.
Bates’ 2020 season put him on the map as one of the more talented young defensive backs in the NFL. Pro Football Focus recently had him in the top 10 of their safety rankings.
Doug Farrar of The Touchdown Wire went a step further and Bates at the five spot in his top 11 list of safeties.
Listed above the likes of Anthony Harris, Harrison Smith, and John Johnson III, Bates has certainly earned this recognition. The 24-year old ball hawk put together a full season of consistently dominant play in coverage. He even graded out as PFF’s top safety for overall defense grade.
Despite his impressive year, Bates was snubbed of Pro Bowl honors and was about a dozen votes shy of becoming a First Team All-Pro. That lack of recognition can be attributed to the lack of success the Bengals had last year, specifically on the defensive side of the ball.
Farrar included in his write up that Bates, while talented, is playing in a defense that has a lot to prove.
“Bates has become one of the NFL’s best and most underrated safeties, lost as he is in defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo’s ‘Uh… what the heck was THAT?’ schemes. Still, Bates had another fine season in 2020, giving up 19 catches on 35 targets for 178 yards, 72 yards after the catch, one touchdown, three interceptions, 12 pass breakups, and an opponent passer rating of just 42.3.”
From 2019-20, the Bengals were 28th in the league in EPA/play allowed, per RBSDM.com. Bates has been one of their only assets on that side of the ball, so Cincinnati made it a priority to eliminate their liabilities around him. They invested in both cornerbacks and pass-rushers throughout the offseason as they give defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo another year to get respectable results.
The better the entire defense performs, the easier it will be to see how great Bates has become, and more recognition will follow.