The Bengals have spent the offseason talking about getting more interceptions at safety and that’s part of the reason they opted for Wake Forest’s Jessie Bates III in Friday night’s second round of the NFL Draft.
The Bengals were able to get their coverage safety despite trading down from No. 46 to No. 54 in a trade with the Chiefs that also marked only their fifth trade ever at moving up in the draft. The second part of the deal consisted of the Bengals moving up from the last pick in the third round to No. 78 to pair with the pick they already had at 77. It’s the first time since they got wide receiver Marvin Jones and safety George Iloka with the last two picks in the 2012 fifth round that they have back-to-back selections.
The trade shows how they came into the draft thinking the meat was in rounds three to five. It also helped make Bates the highest drafted safety in the 16 seasons of head coach Marvin Lewis since he went two slots ahead of Madieu Williams in 2004.
The Bengals see the 6-1, 200-pound Bates as an ascending junior who started for two years and adds returner abilities. Even though he’s projected by some as a project that can eventually start, the Bengals are attracted to his ability to play both safety spots and understand all kinds of coverages at the tender age of 21.
“Instinctive and trusts what he sees,” says NFLDraftScout.com. “Reads the eyes of the quarterbacks and sniffs out routes … If he can hold up physically, Bates will compete for a starting role within his first few years in the league.”
Bates felt like the Bengals had their eye on him early. He had his first formal interview at the NFL scouting combine with the club and the day before his pro day he lunched with safeties coach Robert Livingston and worked on the grease board with him.
Bates gets around the ball, but could have had more than his six interceptions in his two seasons, according to the site. He one pick last year, but he did get his hands on it with five pass breakups and forced a fumble. Livingston said things were a lot different this year for him compared to last, such as working in a new system with a new coordinator. He particularly liked what Bates did against big-time foes playing a variety of spots.
"If you watch the Louisville game, if you watch the Florida State game, those were the ones that really stuck out for me," Livingston said. "He plays Louisville, they’re playing soft quarters, and he’s tackling Lamar Jackson. He’s playing Florida State, and he’s probably the fastest guy on defense and showed up. At a school like that, when they play their big games and he shows up, that sticks out to you. Your biggest game of the year, when your best player is playing well, it’s what you want to see.”
Bates thinks those picks will come, Lewis loves how he's able to get in positon.
“I really didn’t get much of a chance to have a lot of interceptions this year. They were running a lot of (run-pass options),” Bates said.
Bates only returned punts when the regular got injured, but he did it both years. Usually, he said he was on the safety return team, so he’s got good hands, but he took one all the way back in his last college game in the Belk Bowl.
“I feel like I can do a lot of things,” Bates said. “I’ll do whatever asked. I can be a three-down safety, play in (sub) packages, return punts, cover punts as a gunner. Whatever they need.”
Bates is a native of Fort Wayne, Ind., where he hosted a small gathering of family and friends at the bowling alley “Crazy Pins.” He went to Snider High School, a rival of Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert’s school.
“That should be a pretty good conversation. We’ve beaten them a lot,” Bates said.
Bates saw his first NFL game at Paul Brown Stadium when quarterback Andy Dalton’s Bengals beat the Ravens in what was probably the 2012 finale.
“My mom wanted to take a vacation and we also went to the (Newport) Aquarium,” Bates said. “I liked it there. I’m looking forward to getting there and meeting everybody.”