Is the 2015 NFL Draft one ripe with foresight by the Cincinnati Bengals? Will they select based on the slew of their own free agents that are set to hit the market in 2016? During the annual SB Nation writers mock draft, we felt that safety would be the route that Cincinnati would take.
21. Bengals: Landon Collins, S, Alabama
On paper, safety looks like one of the Bengals' lesser needs heading into the draft. However, you must realize both starting safeties are set to become free agents in 2016. George Iloka is entrenched as the free safety, but his rookie deal ends next year. He could be in line for a big deal elsewhere. Then there's strong safety Reggie Nelson, who turns 32 in September, while also becoming a free agent in 2016. The only other safety that's played snaps is Shawn Williams, who has played all of 39 snaps in his first two NFL seasons since being taken in the third round out of Georgia.
That's why the Bengals use their first pick on the best safety prospect in this draft. It's more of a BPA pick that Cincinnati cannot pass up, as getting Collins at this point is a huge steal. Collins played both safety spots and started three games at dime back during three seasons at Alabama. He led the Crimson Tide with 103 tackles, three picks and 10 pass defenses this past season. He can replace the aging Nelson next year, or kick over to free safety if Iloka leaves for greener pastures. Even if both safeties are somehow retained, the Bengals will find a role somewhere in their secondary for Collins. He's just too talented to keep off the field for more than year.
Jason Marcum's reasoning makes sense using the aforementioned foresight. The Bengals have done a great job of locking up impending free agents the offseason prior their contracts expiring (Vontaze Burfict, Geno Atkins, Andy Dalton), and this offseason taught us that those who don't get inked early still prefer to stay in the Queen City (Clint Boling, Michael Johnson). Still, the daunting task of reaching an agreement with so many players remains and the two starting safeties are among that group.
Even so, the Bengals haven't traditionally valued safeties, with Darryl Williams being the only first-round selection they've had at that position in franchise history. They have however changed their stripes recently with other positions that fell in the same category, i.e. tight end and offensive guard.
According to the mock, there were some intriguing players still available at this point other than Collins. Florida State defensive tackle Eddie Goldman, UCLA linebacker Eric Kendricks, Oklahoma wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham and polarizing Oregon defensive tackle Arik Armstead were still on the board.
One could argue that Kendricks is both a quality player and fits more of an immediate need. Burfict is recovering form a major knee procedure, and A.J. Hawk was brought in as a rotational band-aid to mix in with both Rey Maualuga and Emmanuel Lamur.
Green-Beckham has immense talent and size, but has a lot of off-field baggage to boot. Goldman might be a nothing more than a luxury pick with the team bringing back both Devon Still and Pat Sims at the spot this year. Armstead might be this year's version of Margus Hunt, something the Bengals don't need another one of.
Collins is a safe and smart pick, but given how this particular board fell, there are other options that could be considered as well, Goldman and Kendricks in this case.