The Bengals were founded by Paul Brown in the old American Football League in 1968; later joining the NFL with the merger in 1970. A number of first round draft choices by the Bengals have reverberated throughout the league. From offensive tackle and Hall of Famer Anthony Munoz to defense end and sack master Eddie Edwards, these names are etched in the lore of Bengals history. The first pick by the fledgling franchise in 1968 was not a quarterback, but center Bob Johnson who made the AFL All-star team that season. He finally retired after 12 years with the Bengals and is the only player to have his number retired by the Bengals.
The last Super Bowl appearance by the Bengals was after the 1988 season, and the construction of that team may have started in 1984 when they had three first round selections. After taking Ricky Hunley, Pete Koch and Brian Blados that season (yes, they had three), it was followed up with two first round picks in 1985 by taking Eddie Brown and Emanuel King, and again in 1986 drafting Joe Kelly and Tim McGee. Each of these players was on the roster except Koch and Hunley. Edwards and Munoz, veterans from the Bengals first Super Bowl appearance in 1982, were members of this team as well.
The majority of quarterbacks taken in the first round by the Bengals have not always lived up to their college reputation, causing them to be considered among the NFL's worst draft busts. The first quarterback selected by the Bengals in the first round was Greg Cook in 1969. Despite suffering a torn rotator cuff in the third game of his rookie season, Cook set league rookie record for yards per pass attempt at 9.4 yards and yards per pass completion at 17.5. He never truly recovered from the injury, formally retiring in 1973. Many football experts, including Bill Walsh said if not for the injury, Cook might have gone down as the greatest quarterback ever.
Jack "The Throwin' Samoan" Thompson was the second quarterback taken in the first round in 1979. After a short NFL career, Thompson has landed on many draft bust lists. The sour taste of this may have led to the Bengals not selecting another quarterback in the first round until 1992 when they selected David Klingler and then Akili Smith in 1999, and both are considered draft busts. After these disasters, the Bengals selected Carson Palmer in 2003, who seems to have established himself as not being a draft bust (sarcasm, folks).
The wide receiver position has been considered a game changing position where a big catch can cause the momentum of a game to change. The Bengals were fortunate to get some of the best drafting Isaac Curtis in 1973, and Eddie Brown in 1985. Each were known for their average yards per catch with Curtis averaging 21.1 in 1974 and 1975 making the Pro Bowl those years, and Brown averaging 24 yards in 1988 setting a franchise record. Peter Warrick (drafted in 2000), Billy Brooks in 1976 and David Verser in 1981 never established themselves as being the elite receivers expected from a first round spot as they lasted just a few seasons before moving on.
The Bengals are known for not producing top defenses despite using sixty percent of their first round selections to choose a defensive player. Some were expected to change the team completely such as Dan "Big Daddy" Wilkinson drafted in 1994 and Justin Smith in 2001, but never living up to the hype. Others such as Hunley, Ricky Dixon in 1988, Jason Buck in 1987 and Joe Kelly helped fortify a defense that carried them to the Super Bowl in 1988. Glenn Cameron in 1975, Edwards and Ross Browner in 1978 were members of the team's first Super Bowl appearance in 1982. The first defensive player drafted by the Bengals during the first round was Mike Reid in 1970, recording 12 sacks in 1971 and 1972. The latest crop of defensive players taken in the top spot include Jonathan Joseph, Keith Rivers and Leon Hall, who have helped give the Bengals a defense that looks to be championship worthy. Other defensive players who were drafted by the Bengals in the first round include Sherman White (1972), Bill Kollar (1974), Glen Collins (1982), James Francis (1990), Alfred Williams (1991), John Copeland (1993), Reinard Wilson (1997), Takeo Spikes and Brian Simmons (1998), and David Pollack (2005).
Football pundits when asked who they would build an expansion franchise around, usually pick a quarterback or running back. In order for that player to excel, there must be an offensive line that can provide the necessary blocking. Over the years, the Bengals have been able to draft some of the best offensive lineman in the league with their first round pick. After Johnson was selected in 1968, Vernon Holland was selected in 1971 playing nine years for the Bengals. To fill the hole vacated by Holland, Munoz was selected in 1980, we know where he landed. Center Dave Remington was selected in 1983 becoming the last offensive lineman taken in the first round until Willie Anderson in 1996, who etched himself as a premier offensive tackle. With Anderson entering his prime, the Bengals drafted Levi Jones who quickly became part of one of the best offensive lines in the league in 2005. Now enter the latest offensive lineman taken in the first round, Andre Smith, who played just six games his rookie season. Despite having a somewhat pedestrian season, he comes with plenty of potential for the future.
One position the Bengals have paid little attention to is running back as they have only drafted two, Ki-Jana Carter and Chris Perry, in the top spot. Neither became the force initially thought due to injury and poor play.
Each of these players offered something to help the team in some form or another. Not all stayed with team long but those that did help the team accomplish success. But of these many picks, who is considered the best? The primary thought would be Munoz due to his entering the Hall of Fame. He is certainly worthy of that honor. But is he worth the acknowledgment of being the best first round pick when some very important stats for offensive linemen are not kept? So state your case, bring your stats, and let's decide who the best first round pick in franchise history.