As free agency nears and the draft approaches, there is continued speculation about who the Bengals will acquire at guard, running back, cornerback, and safety. All those positions are considered to be significant needs. But is the last one really that significant? I’m not sure it is. Here’s why.
Most people expect the team to re-sign Reggie Nelson. The Bengals are expected to have the most salary cap room available and Nelson is perhaps the team’s No. 1 target. Thus, the deal should get done, giving the Bengals an above-average, although not breathtaking player at free safety. They also have Robert Sands behind him, who has great size (6-4), good athleticism, and should be familiar with the Bengals system in his second season.
(It should also be noted that Marvin Lewis and Mike Zimmer like their safeties to be rather hybrid types, so the lines between free safety and strong safety are blurred somewhat in coverage).
At strong safety, Chris Crocker will likely be relegated to a backup role if he’s kept at all, so the team will be looking for a replacement. Behind him is Taylor Mays, a second-round pick in 2010 that the team acquired from San Francisco. Mays also has tremendous size and athleticism (6-3, 230 pounds) and played rather well in limited action last season. He’s believed to have some limitations in coverage, but there are similar concerns about the top safety prospect in the draft, Mark Barron.
Therefore, the question must be asked. Do the Bengals really need a safety – especially if one of the top prospects available this season is similar to a player already on the roster?
My answer is yes and no. The team shouldn’t bother drafting a safety in the first round, but they need to acquire one somewhere for depth. Crocker and Gibril Wilson, who was a backup and a special teams staple last year, are in the final stages of their careers. The Bengals need another body, but it doesn’t have to be a big name. A second-tier safety in the draft (South Carolina’s Antonio Allen or Notre Dame’s Harrison Smith) or free agency would make more sense.
So forget going safety first.
It’s not an an overwhelming need.