State of the Cincinnati Bengals – Cornerbacks Are Young and About To Get Younger

The youth movement is underway in the Cincinnati Bengals' secondary, and the team is hoping the CB growing pains in 2023 are behind them.

CINCINNATI — The youth movement is underway in the secondary for the Cincinnati Bengals, and the growing pains are apparent.

The Bengals had three first-year starters on the back end of the defense, and Cam Taylor-Britt came into the season with a total of just nine starts.

State of the Cincinnati Bengals Franchise | Cornerbacks

You can point to that inexperience as the main reason for all of the explosive plays the Bengals allowed this year. They allowed 65 receptions of 20+ yards, which was tied for the second most in the NFL.

But as troubling as that was, it’s not a reason to blow things up and find new personnel. The Bengals have used four Day 1 and 2 picks on defensive backs the last two seasons in Dax Hill (first, 2022), Taylor-Britt (second, 2022), DJ Turner II (second, 2023), and Jordan Battle (third, 2023).

Cincinnati is also high on 2023 seventh-rounder DJ Ivey, and 2024 is going to be a big prove-it year for the group.

Previous Position Breakdowns

Let’s look at each cornerback on the 2023 roster and what to expect in 2024, followed by an overall assessment of the group and where it could be headed.

Chidobe Awuzie (Unrestricted Free Agent)

Chidobie Awuzie was everything the Bengals hoped he would be when they signed him to a three-year, $21.8 million contract as part of the 2021 free agency class. He was playing the best football of his career in 2022 before tearing his ACL on Halloween, an injury that slowed his start this season and led to Turner’s rise.

Awuzie could land a similar contract in free agency this year, but it won’t be in Cincinnati. The amount of draft capital the Bengals have invested in the secondary is a sure sign of the direction the team is going.

Mike Hilton (Signed Through 2024)

Mike Hilton took over as the senior member of the secondary last year when Vonn Bell left, and his leadership will be even more valuable in 2024 as he heads into his age-30 season. If Awuzie does indeed leave, Hilton will be the oldest by a lot.

Hilton has been a leader since he arrived, and that role will be especially important in 2024, as the young corners and safeties try to get back to the level defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo expects.

Cam Taylor-Britt (Signed Through 2025)

His first full season as a starter was interrupted for five weeks by an ankle injury, but Taylor-Britt built on his impressive rookie season, finishing tied for the team lead in passes defensed (11, Hill) and interceptions (four, Logan Wilson).

Taylor-Britt will be eligible for a contract extension next offseason, but he can guarantee himself a significant raise via the league’s proven performance escalator (PPE) simply by staying healthy.

Taylor-Britt played 57% of the snaps in 2022 and 60% last year. If he plays 60% in 2024, his 2025 salary will jump from $1.5 million to close to $4.5 million.

DJ Turner II (Signed Through 2025)

Impressive from Day 1 in training camp, the 2023 second-round pick fizzled down the stretch, appearing to fall victim to the rookie wall. And that was after splitting time early with Awuzie before claiming the starting job as his own.

There was a lot to like about Turner’s athleticism and ball skills — and plenty to work on in terms of technique and communication.

With Awuzie not expected back, Turner should have no trouble seizing a full-time starting position as one of the main pieces the Bengals plan to build their secondary around.

Jalen Davis (Signed Through 2024)

Jalen Davis wrapped his fourth season with the Bengals as the backup slot corner. He’s never played more than 72 defensive snaps in a season, but he’s been a special-teams staple on the kickoff coverage and punt return units.

He’ll turn 28 next month and should be in the mix for a backup role again in 2024.

DJ Ivey (Signed Through 2026)

The 2023 seventh-round pick was impressive on special teams and was starting to see a few snaps on defense when he tore his ACL in Week 15 against the Minnesota Vikings.

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The hope is Ivey will be healthy by the start of the season. But a more realistic expectation is that he starts the 2024 season on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list while working his way into shape once the knee is ready.

Allan George (Signed Through 2024)

A member of the 2022 UDFA class and the opening-day 53-man roster, Allan George has spent most of the last two seasons on the practice squad except for three standard elevations in 2022.

He signed a reserves/future contract and will compete for a backup spot in camp.

What’s Next?

As high as Cincinnati is on the young talent, depth is still a concern. Don’t be surprised if they target a cornerback early again this year, even though there are more immediate needs at other spots.

A long-term answer at slot corner is near the top of the list with this likely to be Hilton’s last season in Cincinnati. But getting through a year with both outside corners playing every game doesn’t happen often, and there currently isn’t a player on the roster they should feel comfortable starting in the event that Taylor-Britt or Turner miss time.

This year’s draft class of corners doesn’t have the top-10 talent of the past few years, but there is great depth, and the second round could be where they start flying off the board. The Bengals could be part of that, targeting a corner in Round 2 for the third year in a row.

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