Bengals Cornerback Breakdown: Free agents boost room, Jackson wants to stay and a sleeper
The defensive overhaul impacted the cornerback room this offseason. The Bengals added former Vikings teammates Trae Waynes and Mackensie Alexander. They also signed LeShaun Sims.
Waynes and Alexander are expected to make an immediate impact in the Bengals’ secondary. As part of their overhaul, the team moved on from former first-round pick Dre Kirkpatrick in the process.
William Jackson III is coming off of a down year, but he’s expected to be 100 percent healthy after undergoing shoulder surgery. He played through the injury for most of last season.
Darius Phillips started to make a name for himself last season. His emergence puts him in position to make an even bigger impact this year.
Even with the additions at cornerback, Conor Orr of Sports Illustrated still believes it’s still the Bengals’ biggest weakness.
Let’s take an in-depth look at the corners.
William Jackson III – 6’0”, 196 pounds
Entering the final year of his contract, the future of Jackson in Cincinnati remains unknown.
Despite the uncertainty, he would love to sign a long-term deal with the Bengals.
Jackson missed his entire rookie season in 2016 with a torn pectoral muscle. He burst onto the scene a year later and established himself as one of the NFL’s great young cornerbacks. He had fourteen passes defended and one interception — a 75-yard pick-six against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers.
He played with a torn labrum in his right shoulder last season, which is a big reason why he struggled. Jackson finished with just one interception and gave up 14.1 yards per reception. He was placed on injured reserve before the final game of the season. He had surgery to repair his labrum in January.
Expect Jackson to be the starting cornerback with Waynes lined up on the other side.
If Jackson can stay healthy and reach his full potential as a shutdown corner this season, the Bengals should be more than willing to give him a long-term contract.
The Bengals picked up Jackson’s fifth-year option for this season. His base salary jumps to $9.6 million.
The Bengals are hoping their investment pays off. They believe he can be the same guy he was in 2017.
Trae Waynes – 6’0”, 190 pounds
Waynes is expected to be an upgrade from Kirkpatrick. The 27-year-old is a former first-round pick out of Michigan State.
He brings toughness and great tackling ability to the Bengals’ defense. Waynes finished 2019 with 56 tackles and two forced fumbles.
They also believe he’ll be an upgrade from Kirkpatrick in the passing game. Pro Football Focus named Waynes to their All Clutch Team for last season’s performance. He forced incompletions in 3-of-7 targets during critical moments. According to PFF, Waynes finished sixth in the league for receptions allowed (61).
The team will look for Waynes to create more turnovers. He only has seven career interceptions.
Waynes signed at three-year, $42 million deal at the beginning of free agency. He has been pleased with the moves the team has made this offseason, but frustration looms since he hasn’t finalized his contract due to the NFL’s safety protocols.
The NFL isn’t letting players into team facilities as part of their COVID-19 restrictions. The Bengals aren’t allowing players to undergo their physical at a private practice, which is the route a lot of other NFL teams have chosen as well.
As of right now, teams are scheduled to report for training camp on July 28, which could be the day Waynes undergoes a physical at Paul Brown Stadium and finalizes his contract.
Mackensie Alexander – 5’10”, 192 pounds
With the departure of Darqueze Dennard, Alexander will takeover as the starting nickel cornerback.
Alexander signed a one-year, $4 million deal with the team this offseason and may end up being the biggest steal of the Bengals’ free agency class.
Speed, superb ball skills, and a sure-tackler are all traits Alexander brings to the secondary. According to PFF, he had zero missed tackles and was the only cornerback in the league to play 500 or more snaps and not miss a tackle.
Alexander finished his 2019 season with 38 tackles and one interception. He has the ideal size for a slot corner. He has all the traits the Bengals like and if he plays well this season, he’s another guy that could stick around long-term.
Darius Phillips – 5’10”, 190 pounds
Phillips led the team with four interceptions last season while only playing in eight games. After a knee injury in Buffalo, he landed on injured reserve and was designated to return in the second half of the season.
Phillips’ emergence could continue. He’s a sleeper pick to be one of the Bengals’ breakout players in 2020. Phillips has 27 tackles, one forced fumble, and nine passes defended in 23 games.
His role in the secondary will likely increase and he’ll continue to have a big role on special teams.
Phillips is currently listed as the number one kick returner on the Bengals depth chart. He split time with Alex Erickson returning kicks in 2019. Phillips had a 92-yard touchdown return against Buffalo, but it was nullified by a controversial holding call.
Although Phillips has not seen much time returning the ball in the NFL, his return abilities are a big reason why the Bengals selected him in the fifth-round of the 2018 NFL Draft. While at Western Michigan, Phillips set a FBS career record with 12 returns for touchdown and ranks sixth in FBS history with 3,145 career kickoff return yards.
LeShaun Sims – 6’0”, 203 pounds
As a reserve player for the Tennessee Titans, Sims played in 56 games with eleven starts in his first four seasons in the NFL.
He will likely fill the role of Tony McRae in the secondary and on special teams.
Sims has recorded 115 tackles, three forced fumbles, eight passes deflected, and two interceptions in his career.
Expect him to fill one of the final cornerback spots on the roster. He’ll have to earn his spot by excelling on special teams.
Rest of the Room…
Torry McTyer – 5’11”, 188 pounds
The team resigned McTyer to a one-year deal this offseason
McTyer appeared in five games and had two tackles in 2019. He has played in 27 games and recorded 32 tackles in his four-year career.
Expect McTyer to compete for the final cornerback position on the roster and contribute to special teams.
Greg Mabin – 6’2”, 195 pounds
Mabin resigned with the Bengals this offseason after joining the team in the middle of 2019.
Mabin has played in 29 games with the Bills, 49ers, and Bengals over his five-year career. He’s had a total of 19 tackles and three passes defended.
Much like McTyer, Mabin will have to cut his teeth on special teams in hopes of making the roster.
Tony Brown – 6’0”, 199 pounds
The Bengals signed Brown to a one-year deal in March after claiming him off of waivers on December 30. He played in 20 regular season games for the Packers logging 39 tackles, two forced fumbles, and five passes defended. He also added value to special teams with six tackles and a blocked PAT.
Expect Brown to compete for the final cornerback spot and contribute to special teams.
Winston Rose – 6’0”, 180 pounds
Rose signed a two-year deal with the Bengals this offseason.
The Canadian Football League star led the league with ten interceptions last season.
Rose signed with the Rams after the 2016 Draft. He also spent time with the Colts, but didn’t make their final roster.
After his short time in the NFL, Rose joined the CFL and had plenty of success.
He’ll compete for the final cornerback spot.
Isiah Swann – 6’0”, 195 pounds
The undrafted free agent put up a great career at Dartmouth finishing with 17 career interceptions.
Swann played in 37 games. He finished with 49 passes defended, 141 total tackles, one forced fumble and one fumble recovery.
Expect Swann to compete for a spot on the practice squad.