There is a strong possibility that the New York Jets are in the market for a free-agent safety this offseason. One of the top players at the position set to hit the open market next month is Jessie Bates.
Bates has spent all of his five years in the NFL with the Cincinnati Bengals. He was drafted by the team in the second round of the 2018 NFL draft. After playing out his four-year rookie contract, Bates played last year with the Bengals on the franchise tag, something he will likely not receive again. Bates is still a young player who will turn 26 in a little over a week.
Physically, Bates has some gifts. He is listed at 6-foot-1, 200 pounds, with 31 5/8″ arm length. His speed is solid (1.58 10-yard split, 4.50 40-yard dash), and he does have some quickness that shows up on tape.
Over the course of his five seasons with the Bengals, Bates, at times, played at a very high level. Arguably his best single season was in 2020 when he earned second-team All-Pro. From a team standpoint, Bates played an integral part in the Bengals winning five playoff games over the last two years, making a Super Bowl in 2021 and an AFC Championship game in 2022.
Bates has played in 79 games in his five-year career, with at least 15 games played every year. Durability with Bates is a huge plus. From there, he has 14 career interceptions (2.8 per year), with at least three in four of his five seasons. He has 43 career passes defended (8.6 per year), with a career-high of 15 in 2020, and at least seven pass breakups in four out of five years. Lastly, from a statistical standpoint, Bates recorded 100 tackles in each of his first three years with the Bengals.
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New York Jets Free Agent Safety target Jessie Bates:
Strengths and weaknesses:
The three games of Bates that I reviewed on tape from the 2022 regular season were Week 4 (vs Miami), Week 9 (vs Carolina), and Week 14 (vs Cleveland). In total, 175 snaps. From those 175 reps, 17 cut-ups are shared below, diving into different aspects of Bates’ game.
While going over his game, there were many things to get excited by, with few weaknesses.
- Ball Skills
- Quickness/Hip Fluidity
- Ability to play as single-high FS and as field-side safety in two-high looks
- Mental processing/reading and reacting
- Instincts & pursuit angles
Bates’ intelligence and confidence while operating deep, on the third level of the defense were clear and obvious plus attributes from the games studied. He wins a lot due to his mental capacity, as his pursuit angles are almost always on point. Whether it be from the deep middle of the field to the sideline, or, just working downhill to play the run, Bates is a smart and instinctual player as much as anything.
The concerns with Bates’ game were far and few between. Perhaps, his speed is not elite. But, still, it is not bad either.
There was not much versatility shown, like a C.J. Gardner-Johnson, who I discussed in-depth last week. As noted in the strengths, Bates aligned primarily as a single-high free safety or to the field side, covering more ground in split, two-high safety looks.
It’s not to say that Bates does not provide versatility, but he was hardly put in various positions. In particular, he was rarely ever in man coverage and was just frequently deployed in the box. There were a few occurrences where he lined up at the end of the line of scrimmage. But, he would typically drop back into coverage.
Without further ado, let’s review the film.
New York Jets Film Room: S Jessie Bates:
Poise and Coverage Downfield:
To me, this first play is the exact reason why a team will so willingly pay Bates potentially north of $15 million per year. His ability to remain calm, roam the deep part of the field and cause an incompletion here is great.
As noted above, Bates typically aligned to the field side in split-safety looks, which here is up top.
Off the ball, he starts with a backpedal and keeps outside leverage against the two Dolphins receivers to his side up top. As soon as he starts to see Tyreek Hill pick up speed (45-yard line), notice Bates (around the 35-yard line), open up his hips, and get into a side shuffle. While doing so, he does a good job of staying patient and reading Hill, who tempos his route.
Bates remains over the top all the way and starts to then locate the football in the air. As Bates gets near the 20-yard line, he shows some of his effortless hip fluidity.
Due to his ability to locate the ball in the air, Bates knows he is in a good position over Hill and is simply able to just play under control and make a play on the ball, causing an incompletion. This was an incredible rep by Bates.
On this second play, Bates is again, playing to the field side of the formation in a two-high look.
The Dolphins go off play action, and Bates is once more assigned to Hill’s side. Bates backpedals and keeps outside leverage which works perfectly against Hill’s corner route.
He displays some of his good movement ability while backpedaling and is able to stay in a good position over the top forcing Tua Tagovailoa to hold onto the football.
Bates plays to the field side in the split-safety look on the play below. The Bengals are in quarters. DJ Moore has relatively easy access to the inside on his post route against Cam Taylor-Britt’s outside shade.
Bates briefly backpedals off the snap but quickly recognizes Moore’s route, opens up his hips (around the 45-yard line), turns on the jets, and takes a good angle to stay over the top. Once Bates realizes he is well-positioned, (other 45-yard line) he locates the ball and helps cause an incompletion.
This time, Bates works to the boundary side in a two-deep safety look. He is assigned with staying over the top of Amari Cooper on his deep post route.
Bates backpedals slowly off the ball before quickly picking up his speed (around the 35-yard line) as he reads Cooper’s tempo. Bates opens up and turns his hips at the 40 as Cooper quickly sells outside before breaking to the middle of the field.
What Bates does a great job of when flipping his hips is keeping his head on Cooper, not leaving his blind spot susceptible. Therefore, as Cooper breaks to the post, Bates is not caught off guard and is able to turn again to stay over the top.
Instincts and Pursuit Angles:
As noted in the strengths section, Bates is usually always on point with his angles in pursuit.
Here, he operates as the lone deep safety, very deep (20 yards), and in the middle of the field. He reads Tagovailoa all the way and as soon as he sees him wind up, breaks.
The ball is thrown to Hill on a go route at the bottom. As Bates turns and breaks at the 30-yard line, notice how he widens his angle a bit to make sure he remains over the top of Hill.
If Hill were to catch this ball (penalty), he would likely be stopped, thanks to the angle taken by Bates.
Bates is again aligned in the post here, roughly 20 yards deep.
What he shows here is a great quick trigger with his mental processing. Bates reads Tagovailoa all the way, and it enables him to quickly break and cause an incompletion. On the play above, Bates shows his angles while working horizontally. Here, a sound angle operating downhill to make a play against Jaylen Waddle.
Some positional flexibility on this next play from Bates as he lines up in the box.
Bates is in a robber responsibility and not assigned a skill position player here in the Bengals man coverage call. It allows him to read PJ Walker all the way. As he sees Walker keying in on Moore’s slant route up top, Bates is able to quickly break, pick up some speed, and take a good angle to get in the throwing lane.
Bates aligns about 15 yards deep here as the single-high free safety.
He reads Baker Mayfield, who is looking left all the way, which also allows Bates to notice Shi Smith open underneath on a drag route. Bates immediately starts working toward the sideline. He keeps a perfectly straight angle toward the sideline and is able to lower his shoulder and get Smith out of bounds.
Bates works closer to the line of scrimmage here but once again to the field side of the formation in a two-high look.
Here, he displays an ability to take good pursuit angles in run defense, working downhill from depth. Bates reads the run breaking outside and around the 50-yard line, widens his angle toward the sideline. It enables him to get in a position to help finish the play.
Bates is to the field side in the Bengals’ split-safety look.
They are in zone coverage here, and Bates works his way downhill a bit pre-snap during the motion at the bottom, which creates a tight split. Bates reads Deshaun Watson roll right and quickly explodes. Knowing the line to gain on third down is short, Bates picks a perfect time to take a sharp angle and get underneath in the way of the throwing lane. Bates showcases some speed and lands in a good enough position to take away the quick-out route in the smash/high-low concept.
Tackling and Run Defense:
Bates proved himself to be a sound tackler.
In this play below, he takes a good, flat angle operating east and west and keeps outside contain against Hill after the catch. Bates, getting himself in a good position, over the top and outside, forces Hill to slow down. From there, Bates shows an ability to get low and wrap up as the last line of defense.
Bates immediately shoots through a wide-open C-Gap here in a goal-to-go scenario to help plug the run. He again shows a willingness to go low to help make the stop.
The Bengals operate with two deep safeties here, Bates aligned to the field side.
He does not get fooled by the jet motion and reads the run going up the middle all the way. Bates gradually works both downhill and laterally to get himself well-positioned to finish the play in the hole.
What Bates shows here, as much as anything, is a physicality and willingness at the point of contact.
In order for the Jets’ defense to take the next step and be the best unit in the NFL in 2023, they need better playmaking skills and the ability to generate turnovers. Bates, coming off a four-interception season, can provide just that.
This first play here is not a takeaway, but still, an impressive play made on the ball. Bates is responsible for the back middle of the endzone in the Bengals’ zone coverage.
As pressure forces Teddy Bridgewater to escape, Bates quickly recognizes and does an incredible job of staying in phase with Hill on the scramble drill from the middle of the field to the sideline. Finally, Bates gets his hand in at the catch point to break up the pass, finishing a fantastic play.
Bates gains depth backpedaling off the ball on this rep in the Bengals Tampa-2 call.
He reads Moore’s route, and as he sees him start breaking down toward the sideline, Bates begins to transition right away. Bates is well positioned over the top. As he starts committing down with his angle toward Moore, he notices the ball in the air and makes a good grab.
The Bengals are in Cover 3 here, and Bates is the center fielder.
A perfect play design is called by the Browns to defeat the Cover 3 with the deep post and the over coming behind. Bates and Taylor-Britt do a terrific job of working through it as Taylor-Britt takes Michael Woods II on the post and Bates breaks down on Donovan Peoples-Jones on the deep crosser. Bates takes a safe, flat pursuit angle remaining over the top.
Watson is late with the throw but nonetheless, Bates does a good job of undercutting the route and taking the ball away.
The final play here is one of the examples of Bates’ usage versatility throughout this film study.
He ends up dropping into the deep middle third of the Bengals three deep call.
However, he does align on the end of the line of scrimmage up top pre-snap.
Overall, as shown in the film review, there is a whole lot to like about Bates and some appealing skills he would bring to an already talented Jets secondary. His ability to play with such poise downfield as a single-high safety and playmaking ability could take this Jets’ defense over the top.
His mental processing and instincts play a huge part in his success. Bates is one to hardly make mistakes, in both pursuit and as a tackler, some obviously needed traits in a free safety.
The Jets ran a lot of two-high looks last year with Jordan Whitehead and Lamarcus Joyner. Adding Bates could potentially allow Robert Saleh and Jeff Ulbrich to integrate some more single-high and allow Whitehead to play in the box more. And, as shown throughout this review, Bates is more than capable of making plays in two-deep safety looks as well.
He will likely command a three to four-year contract worth in the range of $15 million per year. It will be interesting to see if Joe Douglas and Saleh choose to go after Bates.