At this point, we don’t expect Bengals players to get the recognition they deserve. After all, two of the greatest at their positions in NFL history, quarterback Ken Anderson and defensive back Ken Riley, are somehow still not in the Hall of Fame.
But the lack of respect that Jessie Bates III has received is at another level.
According to Pro Football Focus, in 2020, Bates accounted for three interceptions and 12 pass breakups - three more than any other safety - last year. Pro Football Reference, meanwhile, gave him 15 passes defended. For the year, he gave up just 19 catches on 35 targets for 178 yards and an opponent passer rating of 42.3.
But those stats only begin to tell the story. The man is everywhere, able to take away an entire portion of the field à la Deion Sanders (though the latter did it with insane speed and the former does it with ball-hawking brilliance).
And yet, PFF has him as only the eighth best safety in the league. By the way, that’s the same PFF that gave Bates the highest grade (90.1) of any safety last year. Doug Farrar of The Touchdown Wire has him at number five. CBS was the most reasonable, ranking him as the third best safety.
Meanwhile, The Draft Network’s Benjamin Solak recently wrote an excellent piece detailing why Bates, who he calls a “world-ending playmaker,” is the best single-high safety in the game right now. Here is an excerpt:
Centerfielding safeties typically don’t produce on the ball as much because they play safe, discourage deep post shots, and accordingly allow for more incompletions into the intermediate hole and along the deep outside. But Bates is able to attack the intermediate hole shots with his explosiveness and play recognition, and he’s able to discourage the deep outside shots with his physicality and long speed. Whether forcing incompletions or simply punishing completions, Bates has an old-school vibe: sideline-to-sideline influence with punishing power. That he’s played three complete seasons is pretty shocking when you consider this violent play style.
Bates is second among safeties in PBUs since 2018 (his rookie year), despite the fact that he spends more time on the roof than almost everyone else on this list.— Benjamin Solak (@BenjaminSolak) June 17, 2021
Also third in the league in tackles over the same span.
I think he's the best single-high safety playing rn. pic.twitter.com/CqzYKaEw8V
Here’s why Bates will receive more attention this year: you can only ignore greatness for so long. Chad Johnson became one of the most popular receivers in the league after it became exceedingly obvious that he was a special talent. The same with A.J. Green and Geno Atkins.
Furthermore, Bengals Twitter is making the team and its players more visible than ever. Most recently, they won the NFL Brasil Fan Cup.
Foram mais de 20 MIL VOTOS em uma final MUITO DISPUTADA!— NFL Brasil (@NFLBrasil) June 11, 2021
A torcida deu um SHOW de engajamento durante toda a competição e mereceu muito!
A COPA DAS TORCIDAS TWITTER NFL BRASIL 2021 É DOS @BENGALS! #WhoDey #NFLBrasil pic.twitter.com/rKmJctP6OI
So don’t be surprised if Bates officially becomes a superstar this year.
Jessie Bates III
College: Wake Forest
Hometown: Fort Wayne, IN
Experience: four years
Bates is in the final year of his rookie deal, which was for four years and $4,947,814. In 2021, he will earn a base salary of $2,443,000 unless he and the team come to terms on an extension (which is rather likely).
Bates had an outstanding rookie year in 2018 considering he was only 21 years old. He demonstrated big-play ability as well as great range. His second year, though, was not as promising. That is perhaps why many did not expect him to emerge as one of the league’s best safeties last year. Still, those who know football, like legendary Bengals safety David Fulcher, saw something special in him.
And then last year, he put it all together. Bates was an All-Pro, even though he didn’t make the Pro Bowl roster. He made up for the inexperience at linebacker and the lack of push at defensive line by being everywhere.
Bates and strong safety Vonn Bell gave the Bengals their defensive identity and earned the secondary a spot in the top half of the league of PFF’s list of secondaries.
Outlook for 2021
With a more experienced linebacker corps, new life on the defensive line, and the addition of slot corner Mike Hilton, Bates has a lot more support this year. In addition, the team has improved the offensive line to the point where they will be in most games. That means his contributions will be more meaningful and receive more attention from NFL fans.
We talk about why Bates may already be a top-10 defender in the NFL in the video below:
You can also listen on iTunes or using the player below:
As our John Sheeran tells us in the video and podcast above, Bates has played in every game of his career and is the only defender over the last three years with 300 or more tackles and 9 or more interceptions. It’s pretty tough to top that kind of production. So while there’s always room for improvement, especially at just 24 years old, this year will be about the defense as a whole elevating its play around Bates to give him the help he needs.
100%. He is arguably the best player on the team and the most important piece after franchise quarterback Joe Burrow. For Bates to not make the team, he’d have to be shockingly bad in training camp, like instead of tackling skill players, he escorts them into the endzone. In other words, he’s making the team.