Jessie Bates III is primed to take his NFL game to the next level as a playmaker and leader.
Recently NFL.com named Bates to their All-Under 25 Team after the fourth-year safety earned a Second Team All Pro selection in 2020. The 24-year-old finished with 109 tackles, three interceptions and 15 passes defensed last season.
The Bengals defense is going to look different this year. When the Bengals signed four new defensive starters during free agency, Bates was one of the first people to reach out and welcome them to the team.
"I've been here for three years now and I think Coach (Zac) Taylor is doing a good job of mixing things up," Bates said at the conclusion of mandatory minicamp. "The main part for us was getting those new guys up to speed. That's why we decided to come in. The guys that we brought in are very intelligent. I know that they ran a couple of different things from where they came from, but how fast they picked it up and them asking questions is the main part of us installing."
When the Bengals begin the season at home on Sept. 12 against the Minnesota Vikings, it's possible Bates will line up with three starting cornerbacks – Trae Waynes, Chidobe Awuzie and Mike Hilton — who did not take a snap for Cincinnati last year.
A pivotal year, for both Bates and the team, appears to be on a different course than last season when the COVID-19 pandemic wiped out OTAs and only allowed for virtual meetings.
"They threw a lot out at us," said Bates. "It says a lot about the guys Coach Taylor brought in here through free agency and the draft. There's no egos, that's the biggest thing I'm happy for. I'm taking a level up in terms of a leadership role and able to look at it differently."
Bates' production is certainly among the league's best. Last season he set career highs in solo tackles, passes defended and tackles for loss. Bates is also one of Pro Football Focus' top performers listing him as the highest graded safety in 2020 at 90.1.
Even though the defensive backfield could have as more new pieces as it had a year ago, Bates having a full offseason to work with many of them on the field should pay big dividends.
"Building relationships is an important part of leadership," Bates said. "Just being able to text those guys not just about football helps translate when you get on the field. Mike (Hilton) and I are getting chemistry on when he's about to show on a blitz or when I can step in on a slide and play man. It's tough to do that through Zoom. Getting guys comfortable is the main part through communication."