Cincinnati Bengals: Shawn Williams

CINCINNATI -- We've talked often in this space about the Cincinnati Bengals' recent draft efforts and the inroads they have made toward building their roster.

So, with less than a month until the 2014 draft, we've been taking a look back at how those draft classes came together. Thirty-two players on the team were drafted by the Bengals in the past 10 drafts. Robert Geathers is the oldest homegrown product; he was selected in the fourth round in 2004.

We started this look at the Bengals' recent drafts last week with the 2006 class. Then followed it with reviews of the 2007, 2008, 2009, 2010, 2011 and 2012 drafts. We close it out Thursday with the 2013 group headlined by Tyler Eifert and Giovani Bernard.

We're using Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value statistic to help evaluate how valuable a pick each player has been. The AV statistic is a unique metric that assigns value to each season of a player's career, and averages it out. The higher the number, the better.

First-round pick: No. 21 overall (Tyler Eifert, TE, Notre Dame ... on roster)

Number of picks: 10

Highest player AV: Giovani Bernard, AV of 9 (Bernard's career AV ties for fifth in the draft class; Bears OL Kyle Long has highest AV with a 12).

Eifert
How they fared: Only six of the Bengals' 10 draft picks from last April appeared in games as rookies last season. One of them, Reid Fragel, was waived and picked up by the Browns. The rest remain in Cincinnati and look to become bigger contributors as they enter their second seasons. As the first- and second-round picks, Eifert and Bernard rightfully received more attention than any other players in the class. For the most part, they lived up to the hype. Bernard might have played better than advertised, and Eifert wasn't too far off what was expected of him. Margus Hunt (second round) and Shawn Williams (third round) also saw limited action. Hunt was a reserve, and Williams was mostly used on special teams. Others like Tanner Hawkinson (fifth round), Rex Burkhead (sixth round), Cobi Hamilton (sixth round) and T.J. Johnson (seventh round) will be hoping to log more time on the active roster this season.

Pivotal pick: It might be difficult to see right now, but Williams could end up being the most pivotal pick in this draft. He spent his rookie season impressing in workouts as a reserve safety, and turning heads on special teams. With the likes of Reggie Nelson, George Iloka and Danieal Manning playing safety ahead of him, Williams' opportunities will be limited this season and maybe next season, too. But as long as he continues progressing, and performing on special teams, he could end up being the best pick in this class not named Eifert, Bernard or Hunt.

lastname
Bernard
Best pick: It's too early to determine a true best pick of the class, but because of where they were drafted, Eifert, Bernard and Hunt are the top candidates. Now that Hunt has the opportunity to play defensive end without losing snaps to Michael Johnson, he could emerge as a key weapon. Eifert could eventually replace Jermaine Gresham as the top tight end if Gresham isn't retained after his contract expires next offseason. And Bernard has a chance to develop into one of the best young backs in the league. At the moment, Bernard would be the choice for best pick. He's had the chance to do a little more as a playmaking pass-catcher and runner. A fan favorite for his knack of making defenders miss, Bernard has already had his play match his acclaim.

Worst pick: Just like selecting a best pick, it's tough to name a worst one, but Fragel has had the worst start of the Bengals' picks as the lone 2013 draftee to get released.
CINCINNATI -- Now that the Cincinnati Bengals have signed former Houston Texan Danieal Manning to a one-year deal, let's take a look at how his career numbers compare to the other safeties already on Cincinnati's roster.

Manning, an eight-year veteran who also spent five years with the Bears, joins a defensive backfield that includes safeties Reggie Nelson, George Iloka, Taylor Mays and Shawn Williams. Unrestricted free agent Chris Crocker is still technically in the mix at the position, too, even though Manning's signing seems a clear indicator that Crocker won't be re-signed before free agency ends. It was doubtful he'd want to make a comeback next season anyway after entering retirement the past two years. Still, we included Crocker's numbers to give an idea of how Manning compares.

One area where Manning will be a help, particularly at the strong safety position he and Iloka could conceivably battle for, is in forcing turnovers. The numbers show that, like Nelson, he has a knack for doing that.

As you can see, he stacks up quite favorably in other areas, too:

With their rookie seasons now done, let's take a day-by-day look at the Cincinnati Bengals' first-year players and examine what went right and what went wrong for them individually. Let's also examine the path ahead for the group that will comprise a key chunk of Cincinnati's foundation moving forward.

We started near the bottom of the depth and snap charts and are working our way up, culminating with the first- and second-round rookies who had a major impact on the direction of the Bengals' offense in 2013. Tyler Eifert emerged as a quality blocker and pass-catcher at tight end, while Giovani Bernard was Cincinnati's most explosive playmaking threat, catching passes and piling up yards after the catch, and pulling off numerous highlight-show worthy runs.

DiManche
Because of injuries predating the start of the 2013 season or time mostly spent on the practice squad, several first-year Bengals won't be discussed in this particular series. At a later date, we'll break down what their impact could be going forward. The names you shouldn't expect to see this week include: Cobi Hamilton, T.J. Johnson, David King, Onterio McCalebb, Quinn Sharp, Bruce Taylor, Larry Black, Brandon Joiner and Sean Porter.

After Shawn Williams, Tanner Hawkinson and Margus Hunt, next up on the Bengals rookie review:

LB Jayson DiManche

2013 stats: Appeared in every game and recorded four defensive tackles and 14 on special teams.

How acquired: Undrafted free agent.

The good: Most outside of Cincinnati remember DiManche from HBO's "Hard Knocks." On one of the final episodes from last summer's behind-the-scenes look at the Bengals, he showed pure, unadulterated joy when coach Marvin Lewis called to tell him he had finished training camp by making the team. One scene after rolling around on his bed in glee, DiManche called a number in his phone that cameras showed as "Mommy." She, too, let loose a proud scream when she learned the news. Those phone calls weren't the only highlights from DiManche's first season with the Bengals. He played often when the season began, appearing occasionally on defense, and serving as a regular member of an overall special teams unit that saw a lot more good than bad in 2013. Among DiManche's better moments was his blocked punt against Cleveland in November. The block preceded Tony Dye's 24-yard scoop and score. That key special teams play was one of several that effectively got the Bengals not only back in the game they once trailed by two scores, but helped establish a growing margin in what became a 41-20 win in an important division contest.

The bad: DiManche didn't have many glaring weaknesses during his first season. The former Southern Illinois Saluki was never noticeably in the wrong spots during the 47 plays he played defense. And he didn't seem to be at fault if something went wrong on the various special teams units he was part of. In addition to rushing the kicker on the punt return team, he also chased down returners on the punt coverage and kick coverage teams, and blocked for his own returners in the kick return game. Maybe the only real bad for DiManche was that despite a general lack of depth in the Bengals' linebacking corp, he didn't see extensive action in relief. Although, those 47 plays probably were many more than most might have predicted last August.

Looking ahead: So far in his young career, DiManche appears to be following the path of one of his locker room neighbors, Vincent Rey, who also was an undrafted when he was signed by the Bengals in 2010. Since then, Rey has starred on special teams, turning heads along the way. In 2013, injuries and the aforementioned lacking linebacker depth combined to get Rey the most extensive playing time of his career. When he got it, he ran completely away with it, recording career-highs in tackles, sacks and interceptions. DiManche has a chance to see his career progress similarly if he continues to impress on special teams. Because of Rey, Vontaze Burfict and Rey Maualuga in the lineup, DiManche likely won't see regular starting action this fall, but he still could be key to deepening Cincinnati's talent pool at linebacker.
With their rookie seasons now done, let's take a day-by-day look at the Cincinnati Bengals' first-year players and examine what went right and what went wrong for them individually. Let's also examine the path ahead for the group that will comprise a key chunk of Cincinnati's foundation moving forward.

We'll start near the bottom of the depth and snap charts and work our way up, culminating with the first- and second-round rookies who had a major impact on the direction of the Bengals' offense in 2013. Tyler Eifert emerged as a quality blocker and pass-catcher at tight end, while Giovani Bernard was Cincinnati's most explosive playmaking threat, catching passes and piling up yards after the catch, and pulling off numerous highlight-show worthy runs.

Due to injuries predating the start of the 2013 season or time mostly spent on the practice squad, several first-year Bengals won't be discussed in this particular series. At a later date, we'll break down what their impact could be going forward. The names you shouldn't expect to see this week include: Cobi Hamilton, T.J. Johnson, David King, Onterio McCalebb, Quinn Sharp, Bruce Taylor, Larry Black, Brandon Joiner and Sean Porter.

After Shawn Williams on Wednesday, next up on the Bengals rookie review:

OL Tanner Hawkinson

2013 stats: Played in one game. Received five snaps in the Week 16 win over Minnesota after injuries attacked the Bengals' offensive line.

How acquired: Fifth-round 2013 draft pick.

The good: There isn't a whole lot of good to highlight, mainly because the offensive lineman never really had a chance to get on the field and play last season. But as far as what he can do for the Bengals, he can provide them with an added measure of depth behind an otherwise veteran and cohesive unit that emerged as one of if not the best unit in the NFL last season. Pro Football Focus rated the Bengals as having the top pass-protecting unit in the league in 2013.

The bad: Because of his lack of opportunities, it was hard to say Hawkinson contributed to much "bad" during his rookie season. For him individually, though, the bad stems from not having many chances to get on the field simply because Kevin Zeitler, Mike Pollak (when healthy), Clint Boling and Andrew Whitworth were taking his playing time at guard. At tackle, a rotation that featured Whitworth, Andre Smith and Anthony Collins made it even more difficult to see action for the versatile lineman who can play both the inside and outside line positions.

Looking ahead: Hawkinson can expect more of the same in 2014 as the Bengals look to bring back most, if not all, of the players who factored into their primary offensive line rotations. Collins and fellow tackle Dennis Roland are question marks with free agency on the horizon, but everyone else will be back. Even Boling, who tore his ACL late in the season, is expected to return. Although it's not clear just yet if he'll be back to 100 percent in time for the start of training camp. Boling's status in the first few weeks of the season could impact what happens with Hawkinson. Whitworth, who moved from left tackle to left guard following Boling's injury might end up making the more permanent switch this offseason, particularly if the Bengals are able to retain Collins in free agency. If that happens, Collins will be a full-fledged starter at left tackle, and not the first man off the bench like he has been in recent seasons. As for Hawkinson, if Boling isn't fully healthy and Whitworth stays at left tackle, the starting left guard position could be his for the taking. It would depend on what the Bengals do about right guard with Zeitler and Pollak, but Hawkinson would certainly be more in play.
With their rookie seasons now done, let's take a day-by-day look at the Cincinnati Bengals' first-year players and examine what went right and what went wrong for them individually. Let's also examine the path ahead for the group that will comprise a key chunk of Cincinnati's foundation moving forward.

We'll start near the bottom of the depth and snap charts and work our way up, culminating with the first- and second-round rookies who had a major impact on the direction of the Bengals' offense in 2013. Tyler Eifert emerged as a quality blocker and pass-catcher at tight end, while Giovani Bernard was Cincinnati's most explosive playmaking threat, catching passes and piling up yards after the catch, and pulling off numerous highlight-show worthy runs.

Due to injuries predating the start of the 2013 season or time mostly spent on the practice squad, several first-year Bengals won't be discussed in this particular series. At a later date, we'll break down what their impact could be going forward. The names you shouldn't expect to see this week include: Cobi Hamilton, T.J. Johnson, David King, Onterio McCalebb, Quinn Sharp, Bruce Taylor, Larry Black, Brandon Joiner and Sean Porter.

First up on the Bengals rookie review:

S Shawn Williams

2013 stats: 2 defensive tackles, 10 special-teams tackles.

How acquired: Third-round 2013 draft pick.

The good: Williams didn't play much defensively, but was an active participant in every game. He earned significant playing time on special teams, appearing on both the kick return and kick coverage teams. He also played on the punt return team. It was on the kick coverage team where he saw the bulk of his tackles. On the kick return team, he was tasked with being one of the blockers closest to kick returner Brandon Tate. Set up on the edge of Tate's protection, it would typically be a Williams block that might help spring a longer return from Tate on the right side of the field. Williams' special-teams highlight came in Cincinnati's Week 11 win over the Browns when his tipped punt helped contribute to a comeback that ended in Cincinnati's 41-20 win. Williams' tip led to a 9-yard Cleveland punt. On the ensuing drive, the Bengals took a 14-13 lead they wouldn't give up. The tip also preceded a Jayson DiManche punt block that resulted in Tony Dye's scoop-and-score touchdown return.

The bad: The only real difficulties Williams had was getting on the field as a defender. With George Iloka and Reggie Nelson playing ahead of him, he didn't have many opportunities to see game action. His most significant playing time on defense came in the Week 9 49-9 blowout of the Jets. He played 10 snaps. Before he was lost to a season-ending injury in that same game, fourth-year player Taylor Mays also was seeing more action at safety over Williams, even starting in place of Nelson at Cleveland in Week 4 because of an injury.

Looking ahead: It will still be tough for Williams to get on the field as a defensive back this season with Nelson and Iloka playing well ahead of him. Expect this training camp to go much like the last one. Williams should compete for Iloka's spot again with Iloka and Mays, if Mays is brought back in free agency. While it's possible the competition could yield a rotation that gets Williams on the field more, it's most likely that he will continue primarily playing special teams. That's not bad, either. As we've seen with other recent young Bengals like linebacker Vincent Rey, coaches like to reward those who shine on special teams. He'll be a defensive contributor in time, but for now it appears Williams' main job is still getting after punters and clearing holes for Tate.

Bengals position outlook: Safeties

January, 30, 2014
Jan 30
10:00
AM ET
With the offseason here, we've been spending the last several days taking a position-by-position review of the Cincinnati Bengals' 2013 season and giving a sneak peek at what may lie ahead in 2014.

We've already looked at quarterbacks, running backs, receivers, tight ends, offensive tackles, guards/centers, defensive tackles, defensive ends, linebackers and cornerbacks. Up next:

SAFETIES

2014 free agents: Chris Crocker, Taylor Mays.

The good: You didn't much see the Bengals' safeties get burned deep or appear out of position much this season, and for that reason, you have to consider 2013 a rather strong season for them. If you constantly saw them sprinting to catch up to receivers who caught passes behind them, well, that would certainly be a different story. Some of the safeties' success can be measured in the pressure they got on quarterbacks. Reggie Nelson and Crocker were used often in the Bengals' most timely blitz packages. Crocker, who came out of retirement in Week 4 as a backup nickel corner, eventually had his responsibilities changed to the point that he became considered a safety. Nelson's most memorable blitz of the year was his pressure on Detroit quarterback Matthew Stafford on Cincinnati's final defensive play of the Week 7 game. After Stafford threw an incomplete pass, the Lions punted short, giving the Bengals enough time and distance to march into position for Mike Nugent's second game-winning field goal in as many weeks.

The bad: Perhaps the biggest issue for the Bengals' safeties was their difficulty in coming away with turnovers. Specifically, George Iloka struggled to get his hands on interceptions or fumbles, and that had him frustrated much of the season. The second-year safety was seldom in position to make an interception, although he did have six pass breakups. He ended up eventually causing and recovering a fumble at San Diego in Week 13, and grabbed the first interception of his career in Week 16. Nelson had two interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Crocker had two interceptions, as well.

The money (2014 salary-cap numbers): Nelson ($4.5 million), Shawn Williams ($653,986), Iloka ($610,075). The Bengals likely will break training camp with the same lineup at safety that worked this season. Look for Nelson and Iloka to get the bulk of the snaps at the secondary positions that are largely undefined in the Bengals' scheme. There is no true free safety or strong safety. Although responsibilities of the positions differ slightly, the Bengals regard them equally from a terminology standpoint. After a strong rookie season on special teams, Williams has probably earned himself some additional defensive playing time in 2014. The Bengals are hopeful about re-signing Mays, an unrestricted free agent, but nothing is guaranteed. After finally starting to contribute after his role had changed several times at the start of the season, Mays was lost for the year in Week 8 when he suffered a shoulder injury. Although Crocker has spent the bulk of his career in Cincinnati, he's likely not coming back next season. He's either heading into retirement for good, or might look to follow former defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to Minnesota.

Draft priority: Moderate. With Crocker likely gone, the Bengals will have a need for secondary depth. Since the cornerback position is an area of extreme need, they're more likely to add multiple corners than drafting say, two corners and a safety. Still, the fact remains that depth behind Nelson and Iloka could become quite thin if Mays isn't re-signed. With him out of the mix, that only leaves Williams. Drafting a safety who could star on special teams like Williams would be a smart addition.

SPONSORED HEADLINES