For the Cincinnati Bengals, the 2005 NFL season wasn't just the first time in more than a decade that the Bengals made it to the playoffs, it was the rookie season of one of the most talented draft classes in the . era
The Bengals finished the 2004 season with an 8-8 record and came into the draft with the No. 17 pick. In the first round, they selected Georgia defensive end David Pollack. In the second round, they picked up Georgia linebacker Odell Thurman. Then, in the third, they drafted West Virginia wide receiver Chris Henry. In the fourth round, they selected Central Michigan center Eric Ghiaciuc. Then, in the fifth round, they selected Central Michigan offensive tackle Adam Kieft. In the sixth round, they drafted UCLA wide receiver Tab Perry. Finally, in the seventh round, they picked up Utah defensive end Jonathan Fanene. Of their seven draft picks in 2005, five would go on to make a significant impact on the team and three of them would make an immediate impact, helping the team make it to the playoffs. However, just six years later, there are only two of the players selected by the Bengals in the 2005 draft that are still playing today and only one for the Bengals.
The voice of the Mothership, Geoff Hobson, recently caught up with the Bengals 2005 first-round draft pick, David Pollack, who is now an ESPN analyst. He believes that, had the 2005 Bengals draft class been able to stay together, there would have been more division titles and playoff berths following the 2005 season.
"Absolutely; they won one two years ago," Pollack said. "We had a good enough nucleus to do some real damage. I think we had most of the parts on defense and we could have concentrated on offense a little bit more while we developed.
"Odell was going to be one of the best players in the league. Big, he could run, he could hit, make plays. And he was a charismatic guy. But he hung around with the wrong people. Chris was up and down, but it looked like he had finally come on."
The Bengals second-round pick, Thurman, was released from the Bengals after he played zero games in the 2006 season after he failed a drug test and then was arrested for a DUI. In his first season, though, he had 64 tackles, five interceptions, four fumbles and a touchdown. Thurman is now playing in the UFL.
Chris Henry was another player with character concerns from the Bengals 2005 draft class. He was arrested and suspended multiple times before he was released by the Bengals after the 2008 season because of his conduct. However, owner Mike Brown re-signed the troubled wide receiver in 2009 after he cleaned up his act. For the first time in the young receiver's career, his effort on the field was met with an equal effort to stay out of trouble off the field. Unfortunately, just when everything seemed to be coming together for Henry, he was badly injured after falling out of the bed of his truck. He died the next day.
Even though Henry and Thurman had red flags based on character concerns before the were drafted by the Bengals, Pollack says that you can't ever predict what will happen with a player after they're drafted.
"Lord no," said Pollack, pondering the improbability of it all. "The draft is such a crapshoot. (The losses) changes the dynamic ... so many things can happen when you get drafted. From my fluke play to Odell's problems off the field to Chris' accident to Tab's injury, I guess you could say that class had them all. It had whatever could happen."
The rest of the Bengals draft class, with an exception of Ghuaciuc, played a couple seasons with the Bengals but were either hurt badly enough that they couldn't play anymore (Perry), or just couldn't cut it in the NFL.
As for Pollack, after he was the first rookie to sack a quarterback in the playoffs in the Bengals history, he broke his neck on a freak play in his second game of his second season. Luckily, he's made a full recovery, but he won't ever be able to play football again.
"I've taken 300 hits that were a lot more violent than that one," Pollack said. "I used my head a lot, but that hit wasn't that bad. It was a fluke. It was the perfect angle."
There is no question that the '05 draft class was a talented one. Unfortunately, though, a bad mixture of injuries and character flaws drove the majority of the Bengals' 2005 selections to early retirement, other teams or to new careers. It's an interesting thought, though, when you really think about what might have been. The Bengals could have a linebacker corps of Rey Maualuga, Kieth Rivers, David Pollack and Odell Thurman. They might not have to worry about drafting a wide receiver to stretch the field because they'd have Chris Henry streaking down the sidelines. Tab Perry would be returning kicks and running routes with Henry.
It would be a completely different, and possibly, a better team. You never know how a draft class will work out, though. The NFL is a tough place to stick around for a long period of time. Despite how talented a draft class looks, unfortunate circumstances can make it just as ineffective as a draft class of busts.
Here's to hoping the 2011 draft class works out better for the Bengals and the players selected by them than the 2005 one did.