Don’t Sleep on the Cincinnati Bengals Drafting a Safety at 31

Coming off of a near Super Bowl victory, the 2022 Cincinnati Bengals draft class will need to be strong. The AFC is in a nuclear arms race that would make the U.S. and U.S.S.R. blush. Well, maybe not but one would be hard-pressed to find a time when a singular conference in the NFL possessed such ridiculous talent. Most mock drafts have Cincinnati selecting an interior offensive lineman or a corner. Don’t sleep on the possibility that Roger Goodell announces that the Bengals opt for a safety.

The 2022 Cincinnati Bengals Draft Could Start with a Safety

Current Bengals Contract Issues

Jessie Bates

To say that the past two years of contract negotiations have not gone well would be a massive understatement. The Bengals and Jessie Bates seem to not be close in extension talks. Over the past four seasons, Bates has (mostly) been one of the best safeties in the game. By year, his PFF grades were 79.9, 61.2, 90.1, 56.1 from 2018 through the 2021 regular season.

During each of his first three seasons, Bates pulled down three interceptions and logged at least 100 tackles. He has the ability to completely change the game. In 2020, his career-best year, he had the most leverage. Bates ended the year as a first-team All-Pro according to PFF and was second-team according to the AP. As a whole, Bates is the only safety in the game with over 400 tackles and 30 passes defended in the league since 2018.

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The Bengals hit Bates with the Franchise Tag after the 2021 season. The two sides have not been close in negotiations, it seems. In the regular season, Bates was the worst he’s been. Once playoffs came around, he was back to his elite ways. Among all Bengals during that playoff run, Bates graded out as the best with a 90.2. He intercepted Ryan Tannehill on the first play of the game in the AFC Divisional Round. In the Super Bowl, he tracked down a Matthew Stafford bomb and stole a touchdown away from Van Jefferson to keep the deficit to four.

Aside from re-tooling the offensive line, re-signing Bates was a priority for Bengals fans. Bates is one of the best secondary pieces the Bengals have ever had. The two sides could still come to an agreement in the next 10 months, but there’s a feeling that Bates is not going to play under the Tag a second time.

Other Safeties

Cincinnati has four other safeties currently on the roster to go with Bates. Not a single one of them is currently under contract past the 2022 season. That is a problem.

Of those four, the only safety that has been worth mentioning over the past couple of years is Vonn Bell. Bell was part of that 2020 free agency haul that began to show that the Bengals were serious. As a player, Bell has been well worth his contract and, overall, is solid. His main role has been as a downhill run-stopper, at which he’s quite adept. In coverage, however, he’s been a liability. In a division with multiple stud tight ends — not to mention the fact the Bengals have a first-place schedule in 2022 and will face even more elite tight ends — Bell is a matchup nightmare.

Brandon Wilson has shown a flash here and there, but he’s a return specialist who only played nine games. Michael Thomas and Treyvon Williams are well below replacement level. Depending on how the first round falls, the 2022 Cincinnati Bengals draft may need to start with a safety. Cincinnati has been active in free agency of late, but they cannot have to re-tool the entire room from scratch next March.

Safety Could Be Best Player Available

Predicting who will be on the board at 31 is difficult. This is the latest the Bengals have ever selected in the first round, assuming they stay put. Names like Tyler Linderbaum, Kaiir Elam, and Andrew Booth have been thrown around. What happens if there’s a run on corners and the market suddenly thins out? Linderbaum is a legitimate center prospect, so there’s just as much a chance that he’s there as there is he is taken sooner. At safety, Kyle Hamilton is the clear favorite to go first. After that?

Daxton Hill

The most versatile of the trio of possible safeties come from Michigan, Daxton Hill. In 2021, Hill played all over the defense, harkening back to the Jabrill Peppers days. Unlike Peppers, Hill produced on the defensive side of the ball but is not carrying as much hype. Lining up at deep safety, in the box, and in the slot, Hill can do whatever Lou Anarumo would ask. In a league of receivers with serious speed, Hill’s 4.38 speed would be a welcome addition in an otherwise slower secondary.

Considering the Bengals currently have Bates and Bell, Hill could step in on day one as either a slot corner, replacing Trae Waynes. Another way Cincinnati could utilize him would be to have Hill play deeper with Bates and have Bell blitz or play in the box. Hill is the safety with the most versatility. He likely won’t be there at 31. If he is, he would be a home run.

Lewis Cine

Another safety with ridiculous speed, Lewis Cine enters the NFL Draft after winning a CFP Championship. It is more likely that Cine will be on the board at 31 and kicking off the 2022 Cincinnati Bengals draft with him would be a win.

He may not be as versatile as Hill but he makes up for it in his play. Cine led the Bulldogs in tackles and passes defensed last year and could step in right away. If Cincinnati went this route, re-signing Bates becomes a bit more paramount because Cine is more of a Bell replacement. Receivers and tight ends alike who come across the middle of the field regret their decision when Cine is coming downhill at them. If the Bengals want a guy who can smash receivers and create turnovers, Cine is their guy.

Jaquan Brisker

The most likely of safeties to still be available is Penn State’s Jaquan Brisker. Brisker, like the others, can step up right away and contribute. Despite playing through a shoulder injury in 2021, Brisker put up career numbers and was named Second-Team All-American by CBS to go with his First-Team All-Big Ten honors.

The Bengals have shown that they love leaders of men. Players who were captains of their college teams are usually higher on their draft board. Brisker was a two-time captain in high school, was captain his final year at Lackawanna College (JUCO), and captained the Nittany Lions in 2021. Brisker is flexible enough to play either safety position and has had success at Penn State doing so. So, regardless if Bates and/or Bell are Bengals in 2023, Brisker could step in and play. Bates, Bell, Brisker, Bengals. The Brown-owned team loves their B’s.

Safety is an underrated need for Cincinnati moving forward. They will select a safety in the 2022 NFL Draft, as they will a corner, wide receiver, and tight end. The order in which they elect to go will decide which playmakers end up in stripes. The 2022 Cincinnati Bengals draft will dictate whether the franchise sticks around after losing the Super Bowl or if they were an aberration.

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