Top-Five Busts In Cincinnati Bengals History

Matthew Emmons-US PRESSWIRE

On Monday we listed the top-five best draft picks of all-time. Tuesday we feature the opposite; the biggest draft busts of all time.

No. 5: Running Back Archie Griffin

Archie Griffin will go down as one of the best running backs in Buckeyes history, posting over 4,700 yards rushing during his final three seasons with 23 touchdowns. Griffin is the only player in the history of college football to win two Heisman trophies and he also won two Big Ten MVP awards. He was a two-time Walter Camp Foundation top player of the year and the Maxwell Award winner in 1975. Griffin is also only one of two players ever to start in four Rose Bowl games during a career. His number 45 was retired by the Buckeyes, he's enshrined in the College Football Hall of Fame, the Varsity O Hall of Fame and the Rose Bowl Hall of Fame.

The running back roster for the Cincinnati Bengals in 1975--comprised of Boobie Clark, Stan Fritts and Lenvil Elliot--combined for 1,277 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns -- Fritts and Elliot combined for another five touchdowns receiving. With two first-round selections in 1976, the Bengals had options. First they selected Oklahoma wide receiver Billy Brooks with their 11th overall selection to give Kenny Anderson help. Sadly, he wasn't any. In four seasons with the Bengals, Brooks caught 93 passes for 1,683 yards receiving and seven touchdowns. Another bust.

Cincinnati needed help at running back, and selected Archie Griffin No. 24 overall.

Unfortunately his storied college career failed to translate in the NFL. Griffin only scored seven rushing touchdowns during his seven-year career (all with Cincinnati), even failing to score a rushing touchdown from 1977-1980. Griffin never led the team in rushing touchdowns during any year and his best season was 688 yards rushing in 1979. Though a decent receiver out of the backfield, during four of his last five seasons, Griffin recorded a yard/rush average below four yards.

Griffin had a tremendous college career but is a forgotten man in NFL history.

No. 4: Quarterback Jack Thompson

Believe it or not, at one point in his career, Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson was struggling. During a two-year stretch from 1977 through 1978, Anderson posted 21 touchdowns, 33 interceptions, a completion rate of 53% and a winning percentage of 44% in 25 starts. Injuries took a significant toll; so much so that his career was showing hints of decline. Anderson suffered from damaged knee ligaments in 1977, a broken throwing hand in 1978 during the preseason, a bruised back in 1979, along with a re-aggravated knee injury. Anderson dealt with a depleted receiving roster, save for Isaac Curtis, lost center Bob Johnson and tight end Bob Trumpy to retirement, and listened to fans cheer when he was injured.

It was bad.

Even though Anderson was already a Pro-Bowl quarterback, having started (and lost) two playoff games, Bengals founder Paul Brown was ready to move on. With the third overall selection in 1979 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals selected Washington State quarterback Jack Thompson.

Thompson, often cited by experts at the time as a can't-miss quarterback before the draft, left Washington State as one of the most prolific passers in college history, posting 7,818 yards passing, setting numerous PAC-10 and NCAA records while earning three all-conference awards. Anticipating that he would replace Anderson within a few seasons, Paul Brown viewed Cincinnati's future with a young quarterback bringing in a new era of Bengals football.

Not quite.

During his rookie season, Thompson completed only 44.8 percent of his 87 attempts, posting only one touchdown and five interceptions. During the same year Anderson began to rebound with 16 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and a passer rating of 80.7 -- which was higher than any of his three previous seasons. Thompson's slow start and Anderson's second wind didn't prevent the young Washington State quarterback from having another chance during his sophomore season. Thompson still completed less than half of his passes (49.1%), generating 11 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. Anderson's career also took a step back, posting a 6-13 touchdown to interception ratio as the Bengals finished with a frustrating six wins.

In Thompson's third season, his destiny would be defined. When Ken Anderson threw three first half interceptions against the Seattle Seahawks in the season opener, head coach Forrest Gregg pulled him in favor of third string quarterback Turk Schonert -- not Thompson who was hurt at the time.

Anderson, given the start the following week, began putting together the best season in his career. When it was over, Anderson completed 62.6% of his passes, recorded a career-high 29 touchdowns, threw only ten interceptions, and posted a career-high 98.4 passer rating while leading the Bengals to their first Super Bowl appearance in franchise history.

Thompson, on the other hand, played sparingly that season, posting only one touchdown and two interceptions, and completing 42.9% of his passes. Thompson's fourth and final year with the Bengals ended with only one game played and no passes attempted. He signed on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1983, played through the 1984 season and retired as an NFL quarterback.

SEASON Games Cmp Att Cmp% Yrds TD INT Rating
1979 9 39 87 44.8 481 1 5 53.4
1980 14 115 234 49.1 1,324 11 12 60.9
1981 8 21 49 42.9 267 1 2 50.3
1982 1 0 0 0% 0 0 0 0.0
32 175 370 47.3 2,072 13 19 55.1

No. 3: Linebacker Ricky Hunley

It's obvious to the novice that busted draft picks often hurt a team's overall development. Sometimes a bust can actually become a benefit. We pointed out that Jack Thompson, the third overall draft pick in the 1979 NFL Draft, actually ended up helping Ken Anderson, who began feeling healthier again and thrived under the pressure of a young quarterback selected in the first round.

Much of the Bengals Super Bowl XXIII roster came from the 1984 NFL Draft, including one top-ten holdout that may have boosted the team's successes in the late 80s. Let's quickly go through the draft:

Bruce Kozerski, named as an alternate in three Pro Bowls (1988, 1989 and 1990) while starting 138 games in 12 seasons for Cincinnati. Bruce Reimers started 64 games, primarily as an offensive guard for eight seasons. Linebacker Leo Barker was one of the team's linebackers in nickel packages for eight seasons. Brian Blados, somewhat of a disappointment as the team's third first-round pick that year, only started 60 games. Drafted in the third round, running back Stanford Jennings' career is highlighted with a 93-yard touchdown return in Super Bowl XXIII for Cincinnati.

Then there was Boomer Esiason, drafted in the second round as the 38th overall pick.

But who is this holdout, this first round draft selection in the 1984 NFL Draft that actually made the Bengals better by not signing with the team? That player was Arizona linebacker Ricky Hunley. A consensus All-American linebacker in 1982 and 1983, Hunley was introduced into the college football hall of fame in 1989.

This August 15, 1984 New York Times article updates the lengthy holdout that was once status quo in the NFL.

Hunley, a linebacker from Arizona, has missed a month of training camp and, through his agent, Howard Slusher, has reportedly been seeking as much as $500,000 a year in a package that would include an expensive car, insurance policies and real estate as well as cash. In announcing the team's refusal to negotiate a deal with another club, Mike Brown, assistant general manger, said, ''While this will cost the Bengals a draft choice, we prefer to pay this price instead of setting a precedent whereby a player can force our club to trade him by holding out.''

Does Mike Brown's stance sound familiar?

Eventually the Bengals did trade Hunley's rights to the Broncos for three draft picks, which ended up being Tim McGee (1986 first round pick), David Fulcher (1986 third round pick) and Greg Horne (1987 fifth round pick).

Not signing with the Bengals and forcing the organization into trading their seventh overall pick, one has no choice but to call Hunley a bust. But unlike other busts on any list ever devised, this is one where Cincinnati actually benefited. Despite starting two Super Bowls, Hunley went on to have an average career in Denver, playing only four seasons before joining the Cardinals and Raiders to close out his career in 1990.

Ironically, Hunley returned to Cincinnati in 2003 as a linebackers coach for rookie head coach Marvin Lewis, where the two met in Washington in 2002.

No. 2: Quarterback David Klingler

From 1988 through 1991, David Klingler was a record-setting machine. With the Houston Cougars, Klingler threw for 716 yards in a single game and 54 passing touchdowns in a single season; an NCAA record until Hawaii's Colt Brennan broke it in 2006. Against Eastern Washington University in 1990, Klingler threw for 11 passing touchdowns... in a single game. So the guy had a passing pedigree; outdated run and shoot offense or not.

Klinger's College Career
Att Cmp Cmp% Yards TDs
726 1,262 58% 9,430 91

After Sam Wyche resigned was fired left the team on Christmas Eve in 1991 -- shockingly the second Bengals coach who participated in a Super Bowl to leave the Bengals on Christmas Eve (Forrest Gregg in 1983) -- Boomer Esiason desperately wanted out. After Esiason agreed to play out the 1992 season, Brown traded him to the New York Jets during the offseason.

David Klingler was selected by the Bengals using their No. 6 overall draft pick.

In four seasons with the Bengals, Klingler started 24 games, compiling a 4-20 overall starting record, posting 16 touchdowns, 22 interceptions, a 5.6 yard/pass average and a 54.2 completion percentage. Klingler left the sport after 1997, playing only six seasons; the final two with the Oakland Raiders.

In fairness to Klingler, who took over Boomer's No. 7 as soon as Esiason was traded, he never had a chance. The Bengals hired an under-qualified head coach who managed a .268 winning percentage. Klingler's offensive line didn't provide enough protection to find open receivers, sacked during 11 percent of his total drops -- though he also held onto the football far too often. By 1994, he was already on his way to losing his job. After going 0-7 during his seven starts in 1994, the team began easing Jeff Blake in as the starting quarterback, breathing life back into an offense that helped Cincinnati win two of the next three games.

As the sixth overall pick, David Klingler was meant to replace Boomer Esiason. He didn't. The lasting Klingler legacy indirectly established a foundation of mistrust from Cincinnati's fanbase for nearly two decades with the NFL draft; mostly because of the next "franchise quarterback" that they drafted in 1999.

No. 1: Akili Smith

Perfecting mad passing skills with notable arm strength before joining the ranks of the college elite (or maybe because no one wanted him), Kabisa Akili Maradufu Smith spent two years at Grossmont College before transferring to the University of Oregon, posting an impressive 32 touchdown passes during his 11 starts. This was all that was needed to garner significant buzz for the 1999 NFL Draft.

While many would express hesitancy pulling the trigger on an unproven one-year wonder with a limited resume, the Bengals were a flailing organization that had won five games or less in five of the previous eight seasons. Cincinnati had several needs and quarterback was just part of those discussions. The Bengals had just submitted a three-win season with three starting quarterbacks. Neil O'Donnell was actually serviceable with a 15-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio completing over 60% of his passes. Jeff Blake and Paul Justin also made starts that season.

Yet the prospects of a franchise quarterback, especially one that Mike Brown salivates over, were hard to ignore.

But this didn't come without controversy. We couldn't have had a quiet, needs-filling draft that applied proposed fixes to a team that desperately needed significant talent. Before the draft, New Orleans head coach Mike Ditka offered the Bengals nine draft picks for the 1999 and 2000 NFL Drafts, hoping to move up and grab running back Ricky Williams. The Bengals, feeling that they were obviously on the short end of the one-sided deal, refused. So with the third overall selection in the 1999 NFL Draft, the Cincinnati Bengals selected Oregon quarterback Akili Smith.

As his first act as quarterback, Smith held out with a contract dispute (so much for a quiet offseason) missing most of the 1999 Training Camp. From 1999-2002, Smith started 17 games only winning three, completing 46.6% of his passes, five touchdowns and 13 interceptions for a career quarterback rating of 52.8.

During his second season (2000), the Bengals benched him.

"I'm kind of baffled that they drafted me. Ten games into my second season, they benched me, and it was over after that."

Jon Kitna came in 2001 with offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski, both coming from Seattle.

"Kitna and Brat were together in Seattle, and I knew Kit was Brat's guy," Smith said. "I knew I was done."

Smith would only make one start in 2001, only one appearance in 2002 and was told that he was done in Cincinnati on May 31, 2003.

The Honorable Mentions:

Ricky Dixon: Selected fifth overall during the 1988 NFL draft, Dixon played primarily on special teams. He started only 32 games in five seasons with Cincinnati; 16 of those games were as the team's free safety in 1989. Eventually Dixon was traded to the Raiders.

David Verser: Selected No. 10 during the '81 NFL draft, Verser held out for more money. Selected in the second round of the same draft, Cris Collinsworth signed immediately and became a darling to the coaching staff. Collinsworth posted 67 receptions during his rookie season; Verser generated 23 during his four-year career with Cincinnati. Interestingly enough, Verser went on to become a Cincinnati cop.

Dave Rimington: Selected by the Cincinnati Bengals at No. 25 overall during the 1983 NFL draft, Rimington was so good at Nebraska that the award for best center in college football was renamed the Rimington Trophy. Cincinnati released him five years later, citing a failed physical. Rimington has been the President for the Boomer Esiason Foundation since 1995.

The Honorable Mention II:

We tried hard to avoid players that suffered injuries, only because they are random events that are out of the player's control.

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