Bengals 2010 Rookie Class Builds Solid Foundation

CINCINNATI - DECEMBER 26: Jermaine Gresham #84 of the Cincinnati Bengals runs with the ball during the NFL game against the San Diego Chargers at Paul Brown Stadium on December 26 2010 in Cincinnati Ohio. The Bengals 34-20. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

One of the few bright spots during a season in which the Bengals finished the season with only four wins, is the team's 2010 Rookie class. Before this season, the 2005 draft class was arguably (at least by me) the team's best rookie class that played during their rookie season. Amongst all NFL rookies, David Pollack's 4.5 quarterback sacks ranked fifth, Tab Perry's 1,562 yards on kickoff returns ranked third and no rookie in the NFL scored more receiving touchdowns than Chris Henry. Odell Thurman, the team's prized rookie and one of the defensive rookie of the year candidates in the NFL, ranked third among AFC rookies with 98 total tackles and his five interceptions lead all NFL rookies.

How big of an impact did the 2005 draft class have on that team? The Bengals only won eight games in 2004. After the 2005 class, the Bengals won 10 games and the AFC North. Odell Thurman was suspended the following season (eventually indefinitely), Henry missed three games due to discipline issues and Pollack's career ended after the second game of that season. The Bengals wouldn't produce another winning season until 2009.

Of course we're being simplistic in saying that the 2005 draft class had about as big of an impact on a team as one could have, with Cincinnati returning to the playoffs for the first time since 1990. There's obviously other factors for the team's eventual degradation. But they did have an impact.

Did this year's class have the same impact? One could argue either way. One could simply say no because the Bengals only won four games. How can anyone have an impact (at least positively) when a team loses 75% of their games? On the other hand, while no defensive player had the impact like Odell Thurman did during his rookie year, the Bengals introduced a core of quality players that could be lasting to building the Bengals foundations more than the 2005 class did (and we're talking the downfall of 2006).

While the 2005 draft class made a great impact during their rookie season, the 2010 draft class has a lasting impact that very well could lay the foundation for the future -- as murky as that future looks right now.

Lets take a look at each rookie in the Bengals 2010 draft class.

JERMAINE GRESHAM

Picked 21st overall, Jermaine Gresham set the franchise record for most receptions in a season by a rookie tight end. Additionally, Gresham's performance against the Indianapolis Colts almost single-handedly brought the Bengals back from a 23-10 deficit in the fourth quarter. Gresham finished the game with nine receptions for 85 yards receiving and a touchdown -- all in the second half.

For the season, Gresham caught 52 passes for 471 yards receiving and four touchdowns. Here's how Gresham ranks in the NFL and AFC amongst all rookie tight ends.

  Stat NFL Rank AFC Rank
Receptions 52 1st 1st
Yards Receiving 471 4th 4th
First Downs 25 4th 4th
Touchdowns 4 4th 3rd

The Patriots' Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez dominated most of the rookie tight ends this year.

CARLOS DUNLAP

Like Gresham, Carlos Dunlap set a franchise rookie record. With 9.5 quarterback sacks, the team's second round draft pick set the franchise rookie record for most quarterback sacks by a rookie. The rookie from Florida also recorded the most sacks by a Bengals player since Robert Geathers' 10.5 quarterback sacks in 2006. \

After being inactive through four of the team's first five games, Dunlap's regular playing time picked up against the Atlanta Falcons. He recorded his first career quarterback sack on Peyton Manning against the Colts. Dunlap finished the season with six straight games of at least a shared sack and 8.5 total quarterback sacks during that stretch.

JORDAN SHIPLEY

While Gresham set a franchise mark for most receptions by tight ends, he didn't exclusively lead all Bengals rookies in terms of receptions. Bengals third round pick Jordan Shipley led all AFC rookie wide receivers with 52 receptions and 600 yards receiving. Shipley ranked inside the top-five in virtually every major statistical category among rookie wide receivers.

  Stat NFL Rank AFC Rank
Receptions 52 2nd 1st
Yards Receiving 600 2nd 1st
First Downs 30 2nd 1st
Touchdowns 3 t-4th t-2nd
20-yard Receptions 7 5th t-3rd
40-yard Receptions 2 t-4th 2nd

Shipley is projected to be the team's primary slot receiver for the foreseeable future.

BRANDON GHEE

Even though he played in only six games this year -- placed on IR on December 8 with a groin injury -- Brandon Ghee finished the season ranked third with six special teams tackles. Ghee's rookie season was marred with injury, suffering a head injury during the preseason against the Buffalo Bills that knocked him out for the season's first two games.

Ghee would also suffer a quad injury in the preseason and a groin injury midway through the season that placed him on Injured Reserve. If Johnathan Joseph returns to the Bengals in 2011, Ghee is expected to be the team's fourth cornerback on depth chart.

GENO ATKINS

The Bengals' fifth draft pick of the 2010 draft is easily the most surprising. After recording a quarterback sack in his first four preseason games -- giving him a league leading 4.5 sacks -- Atkins translated that into constant pressure up the middle when his playing time increased after Tank Johnson went on IR in November.

Atkins finished the season with three quarterback sacks, and at least a shared sack in three of the season's final five games. More impressively is that Atkins finished the season with approximately 20 quarterback pressures, among the team leaders in pressuring the quarterback. Dunlap can largely thank Atkins, whose pressure up the middle forced quarterbacks to roll out of the pocket, giving the rookie defensive end an opportunity to add onto his record setting pace.

RODDRICK MUCKELROY

While not often showcased on defense, the Bengals rookie linebacker from Texas, ranked second on the team with over 10 special teams tackles and his two forced fumbles tied for most on the team.

Roddrick Muckelroy brings possible versatility to the linebacker spot in 2011, having played his entire junior season at outside linebacker before moving to inside linebacker for his entire senior year at Texas. If he makes the move as a regular on defense in 2011, it will be interesting where the Bengals move him with Dhani Jones entering the offseason as a free agent. The team has often said that Rey Maualuga is not ready to make the transition inside as the team's defensive quarterback. Could the Bengals move Muckelroy inside and leave Maualuga as the strong-side linebacker? Or will they move Maualuga inside and replace him with Muckelroy as the strong-side linebacker. Because of Muckelroy, Mike Zimmer (or whomever) has options.

OTIS HUDSON

Spent the season on the practice squad and often referred to the as the eventual replacement for Bobbie Williams at right guard.

DEZMON BRISCOE

Elected to sign with Tampa Bay, who offered him over $300,000 just to join their practice squad roster, after he was released on final cutdown day in favor of Jerome Simpson.

REGGIE STEPHENS

The Bengals backup center spent the entire season on the 53-man roster, but was never active on gameday.

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