Much like the CBs, the safety position needed and received some retooling in the brief offseason. Starters Nelson and Crocker returned, and the Bengals got back Gibril Wilson after he spent 2010 on IR. After nearly signing Donte Whitner, they pulled an un-Bengal-like move in trading a pick to get Taylor Mays (who they had seriously considered drafting in 2010) from San Francisco.
The Bengals are still in need of a true playmaker deep in the field. Nelson has moments but is not that guy. This is a position that the Bengals need to address early in the draft.
Reggie Nelson: 16 games. 85 tackles, 2 sacks, 4 INTs, 2 forced fumbles.
I like Nelson, but his propensity to be caught out of position at times can bring an unintelligible string of pseudo-profanity (the kids are usually within earshot during the game) out of me at times. He is a free agent, but I expect him to be someone the Bengals want to re-sign.
Chris Crocker: 16 games. 61 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 1 forced fumble.
Crocker has been a solid contributor to the Bengals for four years. But I would like to see the Bengals find that guy who could take this spot up to the level of a Bernard Pollard or Kenny Phillips. Those guys are not easy to find, though, and with one year left on his contract, Crocker will likely start again in 2012.
Gibril Wilson: 16 games. 33 tackles, 1 forced fumble.
If someone were going to unseat a starter, Wilson has the potential to do it. But he did not have much impact after returning from an entire season on IR. Wilson is a free agent, and I expect he will be someone that the Bengals try to re-sign on another short deal to see if he can have a bigger impact in 2012.
Taylor Mays: 10 games. 10 tackles.
After being traded, Mays had trouble getting on the active roster, let alone the field, at the beginning of the season. He still has yet to play up to the potential he showed in college, but with two years left on his rookie deal, he will get another shot to be the guy that Marvin traded for.
Jeromy Miles: 16 games. 16 tackles.
Miles was able to stick when guys like Tom Nelson, Marvin White and Morgan Trent didn’t, but he has yet to get much further than special teams. He is a restricted free agent, but as an undrafted CFA, he will not garner a large offer.
Robert Sands: 1 game. (no stats)
The rookie from WVU only saw the field once, during the blowout at Pittsburgh. The fifth round pick will be back next year to compete for a spot against Miles and a (hopefully high) pick from this year’s draft.
Looking to 2012
The safeties (and corners) will have a new position coach now that Kevin Coyle is the defensive coordinator in Miami. I am very curious to see whether Marvin will hire a proven name or promote an assistant to fill the vacancy.
The free agent market is not especially deep in quality players. Of the 50 free agent safeties available, only 12 received a rating from PFF above 0 (including Reggie Nelson) and none were above +5. If the Bengals want to bring in a veteran, they may be forced make a trade for the third year in a row (although University of Cincinnati product Haruki Nakamura will be a free agent after spending most of 2011 on IR with the Ravens).
As for the draft, only Mark Barron of Alabama is projected to go in the first round. CBS Sports has him at #18. The Bengals will likely have a difficult decision to make when they go on the clock at #17. Several players at positions of need — Barron, a CB (Dennard or Jenkins), an RB (Miller, Martin, or some suspect even Richardson) and an OG (DeCastro or Glenn) are all likely to be available at #17.
I suspect that unless the Bengals are seriously impressed with Barron, they will choose from the other three positions, as safety becomes deeper in rounds 3-5. I would prefer to see safety addressed by round 3, as they have not had much success with safeties taken later in the draft.