Five candidates that could fill-in for the Bengals during Trae Waynes' absence
It's déjà vu of the worst kind for the Cincinnati Bengals, as they’ve lost a key piece on the roster just days into training camp. Head coach Zac Taylor confirmed this week that starting cornerback Trae Waynes has a significant pectoral injury that could keep him sidelined for an extended period of time.
Waynes was one of the Bengals' biggest free agent additions this offseason. He signed a three-year, $42 million contract with Cincinnati. The Bengals had high expectations after making him the sixth-highest paid cornerback in the league, but now those hopes are put on hold.
Here are a few candidates who could take Waynes' spot in the lineup.
Note: Mackenzie Alexander is not included in this group because he is the Bengals primary slot cornerback.
In House Options
Darius Phillips 5’10”, 190 pounds
Phillips led the team in interceptions (4) last season, even though he only appeared in eight games and played 108 snaps on defense.
He was dubbed a slot corner coming out of Western Michigan which made sense due to his slight frame, but he's fared much better on the boundary for the Bengals.
The WMU product was the Bengals highest-graded corner in coverage last year according to Pro Football Focus. He posted a 83.8 coverage grade.
Phillips was targeted 15 times on 75 coverage snaps in 2019. He got his hands on the ball on seven times and forced nine incompletions.
The four interceptions and three pass breakups highlight his knack for making plays and forcing turnovers.
"Obviously Darius (Phillips) did some great things for us at the end of the season last year," Taylor said on Tuesday. "There’s several guys in the mix there [to replace Waynes]. And those guys are all excited for the opportunity."
Phillips is also dangerous with the ball in his hands. Phillips set an FBS career record with 12 returns for touchdowns and ranks sixth in FBS history with 3,145 career kickoff return yards. He knows what it takes to find paydirt in the open field.
An interception every 27 snaps won't be the norm for Phillips, but after another year of development, he should get every opportunity to start on the outside.
LeShaun Sims – 6’0”, 203 pounds
If Phillips is the young player with upside, then LeShaun Sims is the grizzled veteran. Sims is one of three players in the Bengals secondary that is entering their fifth season. He spent the first four years of his career in Tennessee.
Last year was rough for Sims, as he notched a below-average 49.5 grade from PFF and didn’t have any interceptions for a second straight season. Sims has proven to be a solid tackler in the open field racking up 115 stops in four seasons — a trait the Bengals coveted this offseason.
At 26, he’s likely a finished product and shapes up to be more of a factor on special teams. Sims is the safe choice and has received praise from defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo.
Winston Rose – 6’0”, 180 pounds
Winston Rose rounds out the trio of in-house candidates. After bouncing around offseason programs with the Rams and Colts back in 2016, Rose decided to take his talents to the Great White North.
His move to the Canadian Football League was just what the doctor ordered. Rose totaled 14 interceptions over the last two seasons. That mark led the CFL and helped his Winnipeg Blue Bombers capture the 107th Grey Cup last November.
If Rose makes the roster and sees the field, he'll be a rare 26-year-old rookie but the coaching staff has already praised him by name during training camp. Those interception totals make it easy to understand why the team signed him in December. Outside of basic coverage, ball skills are arguably the most important skill a cornerback can have.
Becoming Waynes' replacement is a tall task for Rose in his first taste of NFL action since 2016, but if he plays well, he could shoot up the depth chart.
Free Agent Options
Brandon Carr -- 6'0", 210 pounds
Teams were recently given the green light to workout free agent players. It’s slim pickings for teams in need of corner depth but the NFL's defensive ironman is still on the market.
Brandon Carr, 34, has started every game since entering the league with Kansas City in 2008. His 192 consecutive starts rank as the longest active streak among defensive players and trails only quarterback Philip Rivers (224) overall.
Carr might just hang it up and retire if his phone doesn't ring soon, but he was a productive player for Baltimore in 2019 after being waived earlier in the offseason. Over the past three years, he ranked second on the team with six interceptions and 21 passes broken up.
Father time started to catch up to him last year. The Ravens moved him to safety after they traded for Marcus Peters, but Carr still notched a 67.3 overall grade according to PFF. He can't be asked to cover the outside for a full slate of snaps at this point, but his experience and reliability could help buoy the back end until Waynes returns.
Dre Kirkpatrick -- 6'2", 190 lbs
The Bengals haven't been afraid to dip back in the well of past players if the situation calls for it. The Waynes injury could force their hand once again. Kirkpatrick is well-known in Cincinnati after spending his first seven seasons with the Bengals.
The Alabama product never quite lived up to his first-round pedigree, but he was decent in coverage over the past two seasons. Kirkpatrick has faced 102 targets since 2018, allowing 55 completions and earning a 61.7 overall PFF grade last year.
As hard as it is for teams to find quality talent on the open market this time of year, it can be even harder to find a team if you're a player. The more days fly off the calendar, the more likely Kirkpatrick is to settle with any team giving him a chance — including the Bengals.
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