Prior to Marvin Lewis arriving in 2003, the Bengals struggled to get the impact player that first round draft picks should bring. A number of these players never truly reached their full potential, helping to support the notion of the franchise being unable to select a franchise player. Players such as David Klingler and Ki-jana Carter were expected to become the player who would carry the team, but fell to circumstance. Whether it was injury or ineffective play, they soon found themselves no longer with the Bengals and later out of football.
Enter Marvin Lewis who garnered much influence over Mike Brown during the interview process, accepting the position that many felt was undesirable. Toxic, even. This influence has helped bring the franchise back to respectability not seen in over a decade by drafting top picks that are making an impact. When the draft opens on April 22nd, this will mark the eighth number one selection of his coaching career. Of those first seven picks many made an impact, but who should be considered the best of that group?
Before we start the debate, I have to set one little rule for which I expect to be assailed and that is Carson Palmer cannot be considered in the discussion. The reason is I have a feeling that most, if not all, are going to say he is the top pick, which very few can argue. He has established himself as one of the best quarterbacks in the league and most beloved Bengal amongst us fans. I believe his non-candidacy will make this more of a fair fight. So the following players are open for discussion to determine who deserves the enormous honor of being considered the best first round pick in the Marvin Lewis era.
The majority of Lewis' first round picks have focused on the defense. Since 2005, nearly every top pick has become a starter, helping to create a team which has gained much respect around the league. Starting this trend was the selection of David Pollack, who in his rookie season played in 14 games getting 22 tackles and 4.5 sacks. He never reached his full potential as his career was cut short by a fractured sixth cervical vertebrae suffered in week two against the Cleveland Browns in 2006. Although medically cleared to play in the 2007 season, Pollack opted to retire. No one faults him for that decision.
This unfortunate event didn't dissuade Lewis from continuing to build on defense selecting Jonathan Joseph in 2006, Leon Hall in 2007, and Keith Rivers in 2008 then returning to the offense in 2009 drafting André Smith. Each player has made the impact expected from a top pick. They either found their way into the starting rotation or are on the cusp, helping a beleaguered team become top tiered. Of the players recently selected by Lewis in the top spot, Rivers may be the best early selection as I believe he has made the biggest impact by helping plug a leaky run defense with 109 tackles in 20 games.
Chris Perry became the second offensive player drafted in the first round in 2004 by Lewis. Perry should be up for consideration, but I am sure will not garner much support as he struggled with injuries and poor performance. He proved he was effective out of the backfield in 2005 when he finished with 51 catches, tops on the team for running backs. With performance fading, Perry was released after the 2008 season. He surfaced in the fledgling United Football League in 2009. Aside from Pollack, Perry is the only first round pick not on the current roster.
Andre Smith is the third offensive player selected number in the first round by the Bengals since 2003. The decision to draft him was a no-brainer as the offensive line gave up 51 sacks in 2008. He was considered a stout run blocker and solid pass blocker coming out of college. Holding out during the preseason and then breaking his foot before the season started may have slowed his ascent to the starting role. Since last season was his rookie year, his potential is still to be seen. As time goes on and he gains more experience however, he could become revered at the same level as Anthony Munoz or Willie Anderson.
So who do you think the top first round pick is? I know I may have limited the field with the omission of Palmer, but I believe this will spark better debate. Bring your stats and assessments to support your case and help decide who is the best 1st round pick since Marvin Lewis came to Cincy.