Nick Scott, who has picked off Patrick Mahomes in the end zone, Tom Brady in the playoffs and Jared Goff in the final seconds, intercepted Joe Burrow on his way to the Paycor Stadium sauna Monday to shake hands and officially start his Bengals career.
But Scott, the new starting safety opposite Dax Hill, has been on the Bengals' radar a lot longer than that. When he was in for a visit last Thursday to meet defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo and safeties coach Robert Livingston, they had already been educated on all things Scott from the director of pro scouting Steven Radicevic and senior personnel executive Trey Brown.
Even before the call was made to Scott's agent last week at the beginning of NFL free agency, the coaches had been watching his Rams film because he came highly recommended by the scouts.
When he arrived in the media room Monday pushing a baby carriage stuffed with diapers and milk while his wife Holly held three-month-old Jackson, the intangibles on the scouting report had been confirmed.
"I'm doing this at this point in my life for my family," said Scott after the former Penn State captain signed off on an improbable journey from a non-combine invite to a second contract two months before turning 28.
"I want to just thank the Bengals organization for allowing me to have this opportunity to be able to take care of my wife and my kid and put food on the table and everything like that and everything you dream of."
Here's why a player rated the 13th-best safety on the market by Pro Football Focus was among the top candidates on the Bengals list:
"We're trying to get the best players for the Bengals and we can't really worry about what everybody else is doing around the league," Trey Brown said. "Everybody has different schemes, different cultures, different fits, but he's a guy we identified early as a guy that could factor in for us and I thought it was an outstanding fit for what we're trying to do.
"Great leader. He has experience playing at a high level. Versatile in the secondary. Highly explosive athlete. Very good range and ball skills. Plays with good instincts in both the run and pass game. Shows up as a tackler. Fits exactly what we're looking for as far as character in terms of intangibles, in terms of physical attributes."
Scott, son of a Harvard lecturer and father of a son wisely born in the 11 days between a Thursday and Monday night game back last December, left a trail of intangibles that was easy enough for the Bengals to follow. Head coach Zac Taylor's connections with the Rams and Livingston's ties with Penn State coach James Franklin endorsed Scott as a plus for Taylor's coveted locker room chemistry.
"He's obviously been given nothing in this league and knocked down every door to get here," Livingston said. "I think that's what we are. If you think about the cast of characters we have, we've got them on all levels. Probably people who have been told their whole life they can't do this. You look at him and you see this means a lot to him."
But it always gets back to the tape and Brown says this is what jumps off: "His explosiveness, his range, his play-making ability." Marvin Lewis taught us long ago there are no more strong safeties and free safeties. All safeties have to play centerfield as well as cover and scrounge the run in the box against the NFL's always-expanding passing offenses.
"He has shown up at every level," said Brown of special teams and playing both run and pass.
With Hill playing only about 60 snaps or so at safety as a rookie and Scott coming off his first full season as a starter, the Bengals no longer have that experience at safety they lost last week when Jessie Bates III and Von Bell departed.
But they are faster and a bit more athletic when pairing Hill's 4.38-second 40-yard dash at last year's NFL scouting combine with Scott's 4.43-second 40 at his 20129 pro day at Penn State.
Scott reportedly would have finished tied for the 11th-best 40-yard dash time among safeties at the 2019 combine. According to news stories at the time of his pro day, his 18 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press would have been tied for eighth and his 41-inch vertical would be in the top five.
"We're blessed to have really athletic guys," Livingston said. "A strong safety playing in the box, fitting in run games, that doesn't even exist. These college defenses, you're watching all these things in March and traveling. It's just changed. I don't know if it's people playing all year on 7-on-7 or whatever, maybe, but the scouting staff has done a phenomenal job for us to be successful and just point them in the right direction and go from there. So, there is a lot of speed out there and that is an exciting thing.
"We talked about versatility. Play style, play speed, you know, I heard him saying in there he's a 100 mile an hour hitting people all the time and he is, which is great. I think upside. You're talking about a guy who's only started for a year. The arrow is going up. Obviously he's been a part of successful teams. He knows what that's like. It was what it was. So I'm sure he's got a chip on his shoulder."
Scott has a chip, which makes him a great fit in a secondary with undrafted slot cornerback Mike Hilton and No. 1 cornerback Chidobe Awuzie playing at what he believes is an unrecognized Pro Bowl level. But instead of a chip on the shoulder, Scott is simply chipping away at his career.
"Being a seventh-round draft pick, I knew exactly what my initial role was going to be in the league and that was going to be special teams. So I was on top of the world. I was having fun, week in and week out," Scott said. "I was fortunate to be a rookie that was active and on the field every single game. I just looked at it as a tremendous blessing.
"Having access to top-tier DBs and everything like that, I was just able to chip away at my game and soak up whatever I could and become a better safety. I just look at it as an extreme blessing. I don't ever think to myself, 'Man, I was just special teams for three years' or anything like that. Football is football at the end of the day. I was having a ton of fun."
Livingston is the Bengals' longest-tenured position coach as he heads into his eighth season working with the secondary. Darrin Simmons has been here 20 years, but he's the coordinator for special teams, and defensive quality control coach Louie Cioffi is going into his 17th season here, the third year of his second stint.
Livingston has been here long enough to say goodbye to the combined 49 interceptions of Reggie Nelson and Leon Hall, the 424 tackles of Shawn Williams, and the 64 passes defensed of Adam Jones. So while saying goodbye to those 14 interceptions of Bates and the relentless leadership of Bates, it's tough.
But it's happened before.
"Never easy," said Livingston, who thinks Scott can make it easier. "He made a living out of being a special teamer early in his career and that's a selfless, thankless job and he did that. When his number was called in L.A., he's been successful. He played with some really good defenses and been a good leader."