For the Bengals, the defensive line has been one of the most addressed positions in the draft. According to The Cincinnati Enquirer's Joe Reedy, Out of their 53 first-round selections, 12 of them have been used on the defensive line. Some of these selections have proven to be pivotal for the organization while others have ended in disaster. However, throughout the past 10 years, the Bengals have decided to stray from the defensive line selections in order to address other positions.
Defense is an important part of the game and the Bengals have selected three of their top five all-time sack leaders in the first round. Eddie Edwards (1977) is the Bengals all-time sacks leader with 83.5 in 12 seasons. He also set the single-game record of five which has since been matched by Antwan Odom. Ross Browner (1978) is third on the all-time list with 59 sacks in nine seasons. Rounding out the top five list is Justin Smith who was drafted in 2001 and compiled 43.5 sacks in seven seasons in the Queen City before moving onto San Francisco. An honorable mention goes out to Mike Reid who was a two-time Pro Bowl selection from 1972-73.
With the good there is always the bad and the ugly. The bad is Dan Wilkinson (1994) and the ugly is Pete Koch (1984). Although Wilkinson accumulated 25 sacks for the Bengals in four seasons he never lived up to all of the hype surrounding him and the potential that was place upon him for being a first round selection. In his four seasons here he never made it to the Pro Bowl once. Since leaving Cincinnati he played for the Washington Redskins, Detroit Lions, and the Miami Dolphins. He finished his career with 54.5 sacks. He had a respectable career, but not Hall of Fame worthy or anything.
As for the ugly part in the equation, that goes out to Koch who was a first round selection in 1984. He spent one season with the Bengals and never played a single down for them. Prior to the 1985 season the Bengals decided it was time for a change and ultimately released Koch. I don't feel as if I need to justify this anymore.
During the Marvin Lewis era the Bengals have drafted 15 defensive linemen, selecting seven over the past three years. In last year's draft the Bengals struck gold with the selections of Carlos Dunlap in the second round and Geno Atkins in the fourth round. Both players provided an immediate impact on the team and figure to play pivotal roles with the club in the future. In 2009 the Bengals selected Michael Johnson in the third round and he has proven to be a key member of the defense. He has the ability to play both linebacker and defensive end making him a versatile and attractive player to have on defense. A pair of fourth rounders in Robert Geathers (2004) and Domata Peko (2006) have also made their way into the Bengals starting lineup. Both Geather and Peko have been significant factors in stopping opposing offenses for the Bengals. As for the backups, the Bengals have Jonathan Fanene, a seventh round selection in 2005 and Frostee Rucker, a third round selection in 2006 have been impact players for the team off of the bench.
One interesting little tidbit is that ever since the beginning of the common draft in 1967 a total of 11 defensive lineman have been selected with the fourth overall pick.
It will be interesting to see what direction the Bengals head in with the upcoming draft. Do the Bengals decide that they have a solid enough defensive line to stop opposing offenses for years to come and address other areas of need, or do they select yet another defensive lineman at some point in the draft? Only time will tell, but for the most part the Bengals have had their share of success in drafting defensive linemen.