Bell took a while to find his stride, but when he did, he was a key player for the Bengals.
Vonn Bell was one of the many pieces of the Bengals’ revamped defense in 2020.
Cincinnati spent over $100 million on defense last offseason, bringing in Bell, D.J. Reader, Trae Waynes, Mackensie Alexander, and Josh Bynes.
Unfortunately, the Bengals’ defense was hit hard with injuries, so the unit was never able to turn itself around. Waynes didn’t play a snap, Reader missed most of the year, and core veterans up front never contributed.
It even took Bell a while to find his rhythm. He, along with the rest of the defense, is hoping to turn the corner in 2021.
Weight: 205 lbs
College: Ohio State
Hometown: Chattanooga, TN
Experience: Entering his sixth year
Bell is in the second year of his three-year contract with the Bengals. He will earn a base salary of $4.1 million while $1 million of his signing bonus is applied to this year. His cap hit comes out to $5.1 million.
His dead cap figure is only $2 million, so in the unlikely event that the Bengals cut him, they can save $3.1 million.
Bell was on Ohio State’s 2015 National Championship team; recording 91 total tackles, a sack, six interceptions, and a fumble recovery. This lead to a second round selection to the Saints in the 2016 NFL draft. He started 14 games at strong safety his rookie year, with 87 combined tackles, a sack, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery.
Over his first four years, Bell would resemble as much linebacker as safety. He only had one interception, but with 348 combined tackles in 61 games. He had seven forced fumbles and seven fumble recoveries, as well as eight sacks and seven quarterback hits.
In 2017, Bell had 4.5 sacks. That number would have put above every member the 2020 Bengals’ defense aside from Carl Lawson.
In 2019, the Saints defense ranked 13th in the NFL, while the Bengals’ ranked 25th. Bell knew that he had his work cut out for him when he signed with the Bengals in the 2020 offseason.
Sure enough, the Bengals’ defense was dreadful. The lack of depth at cornerback and on the defensive line took its toll, which affected Bell adversely. He had to drop into coverage more often, and in general had to play away from his usual box safety position.
However, the defense found their stride in the second half of the season and put together a string of quality outings. They looked like a completely different unit compared to the one that started the season.
As a result, Bell had a Pro Football Focus grade of 71.5, the second-best grade of his career. He had three forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries, and a career-high 114 combined tackles by season’s end. Bell also started 16 games last year for the first time in his career, somehow avoiding the Bengals’ injury bug.
Outlook for 2021
Bell showed improvement at the end of 2020, so the Bengals are counting on that continuing this season.
If the rest of the defense plays up to their projected ability and Bell is allowed to play his usual role, then he can be a great player.
Regardless, having a second year in the system will help him feel comfortable as well. He and Jessie Bates III could be one of the best safety duos in the NFL if they play up to their potential.
The Bengals didn’t do much at safety this offseason, bringing in Ricardo Allen and Kavon Frazier. Allen is a free safety, and Frazier, though he is a sixth-year player, doesn’t have much playing experience.
Brandon Wilson will be Bell’s backup, but he can’t play Bell’s role as well. As long as Bell is healthy, that starting spot is his, and obviously, so is his roster spot.
Roster odds: 99%