As he has been for much of his third NFL season, Bengals free safety Jessie Bates III is the No. 1 graded player atop the positional board of Pro Football Focus.
That wasn't good enough for him to make the Pro Bowl (for the first time since 2010 no Bengal was named), but head coach Zac Taylor predicts Bates is going to go to plenty.
"I think he's very deserving. I'm glad we have him on our team. I wouldn't take anybody over him," Taylor said before Wednesday's practice. "Obviously the vote is what the vote is. Some guys really take issue with that, but the bottom line for us is Jessie has been a tremendous, tremendous player, leader on the practice field, on the game field. Whenever we need a play to be made, Jessie's one of those guys I go to and say 'It's your time to go make that play.' I count on him, the team counts on him, and he has yet to let us down."
Taylor isn't his only fan. Veteran safety Shawn Williams, who took Bates under his wing when he was selected in the second round of the 2018 draft, rarely takes to the public airwaves. But he felt saying something to Bates about the miss was worth posting on Instagram.
"Never really been the one to go to social media about anything, but I feel this is a rare instance in which I feel like speaking on," Williams said. "I know the feeling of being deserving of something, and not receiving the accolade. It's been fun watching the process of you becoming the player you are. I just want to be the first one to tell you that you're more than a pro bowler in my eyes. The consistency and production that you're playing with is well deserving of ALL Pro. Just Believe!!"
Taylor is getting terrific play out of Bates and Vonn Bell at the safety spot. Bell had the play of Monday night's win in the hit on Steelers wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster that forced a fumble and set up a touchdown. He's been in on a fumble in three of the last four games and has a career-high 103 tackles, third among NFL defensive backs.
"He's the first one in the building every day to get his lift in. It's always good to be around Vonn," Taylor said. "He's always got a good energy around him, and he's a tough, hard-nosed football player. He stepped up in some big moments for us, especially these last couple weeks. He really set the tone in this game. I appreciate everything Vonn brings to the table."
With Bell turning 26 last week and Bates not turning 24 until after the season, the Bengals middle of the field is set for a few years.
"(Bates) is going to be a tremendous player in this league for a long, long time. He's going to be in the Pro Bowl many, many years after this," Taylor said. "I hate to use the word 'mature' because Jessie's not an immature person. But sometimes your first year or two in the league, you're just kind of getting accustomed to things, a new coaching staff and the way everything is done. I just think this year his approach every single day he walks into the building is the same.
"You really don't see the difference with Jessie. That's really impressive to see a guy like mature, just in that way in that he's consistent in every single rep that he takes. I'm very pleased with the progress he's made. That's just a credit to him. A lot of that has to do with just the way he wanted to approach things this year, and it's been fun to watch."
INJURY UPDATE: Quarterback Brandon Allen (knee) went limited Wednesday and that means he could play Sunday in Houston (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Fox 19) because Taylor said he wants to see how his knee is before he names a starter. He didn't give Ryan Finley the job, but praised his work in Monday's win that included 47 rushing yards, believed to the most by a Bengals quarterback since Andy Dalton rambled for 48 nearly nine years to the day in a win over Arizona.
"We will continue to see where the health is at before making those decisions but I thought Ryan played a really tough, tough, gutsy effort on Monday night," Taylor said. "He took some big hits and was able to make some plays for us that helped us win that game. But again, we'll continue to make that decision as we go." …
Cornerback Darius Phillips (knee), who had a nice game Monday with three passes defensed, didn't practice Wednesday. Neither did linebacker Logan Wilson (ankle), who missed the Steelers game.
Also out was slot receiver Tyler Boyd. The concussion that knocked him out Monday with no catches left him 160 yards shy of a third straight 1,000-yard season. It's the first time in his 70 games he didn't have a catch.
Taylor said running back Joe Mixon (foot) won't practice this week and didn't rule him out for next week's finale at Paul Brown Stadium against the Ravens …
HUBBARD ENJOYS: Bengals defensive end Sam Hubbard, Cincinnati guy born and bred and cover of the Monday night program, may have enjoyed the win over the Steelers a little bit more than the other 45 guys on the Bengals' side of the flip card enjoying their first Bengals' win over the Steelers.
"That was my first one," Hubbard said. "We've lost 11 straight. And I just know what it did for Cincinnati, for the Bengals fans. I know on Monday Night Football, to beat the Steelers, it's huge for true Cincinnati fans. To be able to deliver that to the fan base and to the city was especially special to me and my family and friends."
Count Hubbard in on his Pro Bowl votes.
"We saw it right before kickoff. We didn't really pay it much attention," Hubbard said. "But afterwards, I definitely feel like some of our guys should (be) deserving to be there. Especially Jessie. Tyler Boyd. But the Pro Bowl, it is what it is. I think those guys are playing at a Pro Bowl, All-Pro level and deserve some recognition, but that's how it is."
TEED UP VS. BUCKS: Bengals wide receiver Tee Higgins, who is seven catches away from the club rookie record of 67 held by Cris Collinsworth, is keeping an eye on his Clemson Tigers.
"It's a week full of Ws," Higgins said of the Bengals, Clemson and the Brooklyn Nets. "That's all I can say. With Clemson we've got Ohio State coming up again. I've been talking my trash to the guys. To Billy Price. Vonn. It's going to be a great competition."
Higgins says he's got plenty of company in Ohio, since defensive line coach Nick Eason and slot cornerback Mackensie Alexander played at Clemson.
"I've got Mackensie and Coach Eason. I feel like we're pretty even," Higgins said.