Cincinnati Bengals safety Reggie Nelson suffered an ankle injury against the Pittsburgh Steelers, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette.
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Nelson Downgraded to Out
Saturday, Jan. 9
Nelson tied for the league lead with a career-high eight interceptions and has emerged as a dark horse in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation.
No defensive back has won the award since Troy Polamalu in 2010, and Nelson may be hindered by the Bengals’ late-season skid, but he’s nonetheless having a career year at age 32.
Nelson has recorded at least two picks per season since joining the Bengals in 2010, and he currently ranks sixth in franchise history with 23 interceptions.
Given his reliable health—he’s played in every game this season and has missed just three games since joining Cincinnati—the Bengals carry only two backups behind Nelson and George Iloka.
That's Shawn Williams and sixth-round rookie Derron Smith, whom coaches were high on this preseason, per Coley Harvey of ESPN.com.
"Keep an eye on Smith moving forward,” Harvey wrote in early September. "Two Bengals safeties, Reggie Nelson and George Iloka, are entering contract years. Smith could ultimately replace one of them depending upon how their contract talks progress after the season."
Nelson's injury shows the Bengals may need to beef up their secondary this offseason, since they already have limited depth and Nelson and Iloka are looming free agents.
The Bengals ranked 20th against the pass this year, but that figure is deceiving. Cincinnati allowed the second-fewest pass touchdowns (18) to only the Seattle Seahawks (14) and picked off passers 21 times, third-most in the league.
But Nelson accounted for more than one-third of those, and with the defensive catalyst on the sidelines, Cincy is in trouble.