State of the Cincinnati Bengals – Safety Room Short on Bodies, Sure Things

The Cincinnati Bengals are short on quantity at the safety position, and the jury is still out on how much they have in the way of quality.

CINCINNATI — The biggest question mark for the Cincinnati Bengals heading into 2023 ended up being the biggest problem — and one the team couldn’t solve over the course of 18 weeks.

No one expected a seamless transition from the safety tandem of Jessie Bates III and Vonn Bell to Dax Hill and Nick Scott. But most of the people inside Paycor Stadium believed the drop in chemistry and communication would be manageable.

It ended up being paralyzing.

State of the Cincinnati Bengals Franchise | Safeties

Bengals defenders still were lamenting miscommunication issues in the hours after a Week 17 loss to Kansas City eliminated them from the playoffs.

Rookie third-round pick Jordan Battle played much better than Scott after replacing him in the starting lineup in Week 11, but that only inserted a new variable into trying to create a cohesive secondary.

All four safeties are under contract in 2024, and the Bengals still believe the players they have can be the ones they need physically. Whether they can gel as a group once again will be the big question heading into next season.

Previous Position Breakdowns

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

 Dax Hill (Signed Through 2025)

The 2022 first-round pick played just 17 snaps at safety in his first season, so last year essentially was his rookie year. Hill showed the flashes of athleticism that led him to being a first-round pick, but he also had plenty of head-scratching moments. And there are questions about whether his best position may be at cornerback.

Where the Bengals target a safety in the draft could go a long way in determining what the team sees as Hill’s best fit moving forward.

Jordan Battle (Signed Through 2026)

Cincinnati’s coaching staff praised Battle’s intellect and leadership from the day they drafted him in Round 3.

The plan to bring him along slowly was upended by Scott’s poor play along with what Battle was proving in practice.

Making the switch in November reset the clock on Hill establishing a connection with the safety playing alongside him, as even though Battle played well enough to land on the PFWA All-Rookie Team, the explosive plays that plagued the Bengals throughout the season continued at the same pace after he took over.

A full session of OTAs and daily training camp practices should help the Hill-Battle tandem grow their communication skills. Ideally, for the Bengals, that pairing will have a long run together and the chance to build the chemistry Bell and Bates had.

Nick Scott (Signed Through 2025)

The plan always was for Scott to be a bridge to Battle, even before the Bengals drafted the latter. Cincinnati signed Scott to a three-year, $12 million free agent deal last March after his first season as a full-time starter.

But Scott struggled from the start, especially against the run. It got to the point early in the Nov. 16 game at Baltimore when defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo had seen enough. Anarumo subbed Battle into the game in the first quarter and named him the starter a few days later.

MORE: Trey Hendrickson Honored, Snubbed All at Once by PFWA

The Bengals can cut Scott with only a $2 million cost in dead money, but it’s likely they will keep him for at least another year.

He has value as a leader and was a strong special-teams player for the Los Angeles Rams. The Bengals dialed back those duties when Scott was starting, but the job belongs to Battle now. Scott will be going back to his special-teams roots, which is what kept him around in LA so long as a late seventh-round pick.

Tycen Anderson (Signed Through 2025)

After missing his entire rookie season due to a hamstring injury, Tycen Anderson tore his ACL in the seventh game of the season and still ended up leading the team in special-teams tackles.

Darrin Simmons said Anderson was on his way to a Pro Bowl-type of season for a special teamer. How he can perform at safety remains to be seen, as he’s never played a defensive snap in his two seasons.

What’s Next?

The biggest problem is the Bengals aren’t sure what Anderson can be and are all too aware of what they have in Scott. Even if Hill and Battle were solid locks to be the safety duo for the next several years, the depth would be an issue.

The good news is there are a number of solid safeties available in free agency for close to the amount they are (or would be) playing Scott, including the Baltimore Ravens’ Geno Stone, although it’s doubtful the AFC North champs will let him get away.

Hill and Anderson are the only safeties the Bengals have drafted since taking Bates in the second round in 2018. Targeting the position with a mid-round pick would make sense because there are bigger holes to address early in the draft.

The problem is that this is not a great safety class.

Additions to the room are coming. How aggressive the Bengals are in adding bodies will be a clear indicator of how they view the current group, both in terms of 2024 and beyond.

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