Over the last few seasons, the roster churn from the Cincinnati Bengals left them without a slot cornerback. While it’s not the hardest position to fill, it’s an important one in today’s pass-heavy league. Whether it’s a one-year rental or a long term solution, the Cincinnati Bengals need to fill the slot cornerback position. Ideally, it’ll be someone who can inject energy into a defense attempting to find their way.
Ideas to fill the Cincinnati Bengals Need at Slot Cornerback
Heading into the 2021 off-season, the Cincinnati Bengals have plentiful needs. After a one-year rental of Mackensie Alexander, it appears slot cornerback is somewhere around the top of that list. While there are more glaring needs elsewhere on the roster, having a nickel corner in today’s NFL is a huge deal. Especially with the emergence of run-pass options and well-designed screens, the position has risen in importance. Some fans might remember Leon Hall’s reign as the team slot cornerback, which came during the height of their most recent run of success. While Darqueze Dennard had good moments at the position, they’ve struggled to lock the defensive spot down.
Some fans may be surprised Alexander isn’t a lock to return. He recorded one of the biggest plays of the season, intercepting Ben Roethlisberger in a key part of the team’s upset win in Week 15 against the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, Paul Dehner Jr. of The Athletic speculated that Alexander never really gelled with the Bengals’ coaching staff and vice versa. Instead, the Cincinnati Bengals need a slot corner in the midst of a pivotal offseason.
Solidifying that position could be very important for the team’s defensive framework. With William Jackson III hitting free agency, Trae Waynes missing the entire prior season, and Darius Phillips still trying to find his way, the slot corner needs to be someone who can play consistent football. Lou Anarumo returns as defensive coordinator, but he could struggle for a third straight year if the team doesn’t give him more assets in the secondary. Be it through the draft or through free agency, the Bengals are due to make a splash.
Slot Cornerback Options this Off-Season
Mike Hilton, Unrestricted Free Agent
Spending his first four years in the NFL with the Pittsburgh Steelers, some Bengals fans might be surprised to see Mike Hilton on this list. However, he’s one of the toughest slot corners in the league, and pulling him away from Pittsburgh would benefit the Bengals. For one, Hilton’s 9.5 sacks, 30 tackles for loss, and 23 quarterback hits on his career are really nice numbers. His physicality and energy would be a welcome addition to a Bengals defense that struggles mightily at getting to the quarterback. Now, considering he’s been with Pittsburgh for so long and is pretty productive, some might assume he’s a lock to return. However, with the salary cap falling due to pandemic income losses and the Steelers already cap-strung books, he’ll be hard to re-sign. There’s a good chance Hilton wears new colors in 2021.
Troy Hill, Unrestricted Free Agent
After spending the last four years with the Los Angeles Rams, Troy Hill is hitting the free-agent market. Interestingly, it’s not his first trip to the free-agent realm. The Youngstown, Ohio native played three games for the Cincinnati Bengals as a slot cornerback in 2015. Since then, he’s appeared in 73 games for the Rams, including starts in all 16 games a season ago. Seemingly, he was finding some explosiveness in his game.
Last season, he grabbed three interceptions, returning two to the house for touchdowns. He’s a very strong coverage corner and keeps opponents boxed in, allowing only 6.8 yards per target last season. It’s quite feasible that Los Angeles tries to ink a new deal with Hill, but they’re also going to need to reserve some space to add new weapons for Matthew Stafford. Granted, he won’t be a pricey addition. His last contract was a two-year, roughly $3.2 million agreement. The Bengals could easily stomach a similar cap figure.
Shaun Wade, Ohio State University
One of the college players who lost the most stock by playing this season, Shaun Wade still has a lot to offer. For one, he won’t be playing outside corner in the NFL. Wade was burned by De’Vonta Smith of the Alabama Crimson Tide throughout the National Championship Game. Fortunately for him, he won’t see as many elite receivers battling in the slot. Wade’s instincts are impressive, which is why he could be a riser in the spring.
Prior to this year, Wade showed the ability to cage in opponents in the slot and was especially good prior to his ejection against Clemson in the 2019 College Football Playoffs. If the Cincinnati Bengals don’t sign a slot corner in free agency, Wade is an appealing option. He’s likely to be available in the third or fourth round. Granted, some see Wade as a better fit at safety. If the Bengals see him that way as well, they’re probably going to look in another direction. Regardless, Wade has a good skill set and a high potential, making him an interesting slot cornerback target for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Deommodore Lenoir, University of Oregon
Playing four years of college ball, Deommodore Lenoir is one of the stronger slot corner options in the 2021 NFL Draft. Lenoir stands 5-foot-11, 196 pounds, but plays with the physicality of a linebacker. In the slot, where tracking tight ends is increasingly demanding, Lenoir has the power to compete at the next level. He’s also a valuable asset in the run game. His instincts shine in that area of the game, seeming to sniff out rushers in a hurry.
Lenoir seems to also have some natural feel and fluidity in his game, giving him some explosiveness. His speed could be very appealing to Lou Anarumo’s blitz schemes. Should the Bengals try to pick him up, he’ll be around in the middle of the draft. The biggest issue for Lenoir will be improving his technique. At times during college, he was burned for big plays by being out of position. While that is undoubtedly an issue, hard work can certainly correct that issue.
Embed from Getty Images