The 2011 offseason was such a pivotal time for the direction of the Bengals franchise that a couple of wrong decisions could lead to another era resembling the 1990s. Fortunately, the had a plan and were able to resurrect themselves from a massively disappointing 2010 season, as well as the subsequent "retirement" of their then-franchise quarterback.
One of those moves was selecting one of the most sure-fire players at No.4 overall in University of Georgia wide receiver A.J. Green. Though he had been suspended for the first four games of his final year in college, Green had a squeaky-clean image to go along with immense talent. Though the Bengals had a glaring need at quarterback, they passed on taking guys like Jake Locker or Blaine Gabbert to grab Green at the top of the first round.
Whoever their next quarterback was going to be, they had the right idea in giving him a player like Green to throw the ball to. Andy Dalton was selected in the top of the second round and the rest is history. And by history, I mean two Pro Bowl berths, 162 receptions, 2,407 yards and 18 touchdown receptions in Green's first two years. Those 18 touchdown grabs make up almost 40% of Dalton's touchdown passes in his first two years and Green is quickly becoming a household name. Though he's doing it in a completely different way than his predecessor, Chad Ochocinco--namely letting his on-field play do the talking and not his mouth.
WHY HE RANKED HERE:
Green is already being hailed as a top-five wide receiver in the NFL and is just starting to hit his prime. As he goes, so does Dalton and the rest of the Bengals offense. Even when he gets ushered out of the offensive game plan for inexplicable reasons, Green still finds a way to have an impact and is one of the most consistent performers on the offense.
He is a receiver that can literally do it all: catch screen passes, go across the middle and beat a defensive back deep. He's tall, pretty physical for his lean frame and has outstanding balance. His hands are some of the better ones in the NFL and is one of the key young core players on this Bengals roster.
He broke the Bengals record for touchdown receptions in consecutive games last year and is a human highlight reel. Though it will be had for him to replicate the numbers from last season, he could very well surpass them and continue on his Hall of Fame pace. All of this and he remains a humble, even-keeled player in this new era of Bengals football, led by true professionals.
WHY HE SHOULDN'T RANK HERE:
Though there isn't a way that Green shouldn't be ranked within the top two spots of this list, one could argue that Geno Atkins is the No.1 player on this team. In truth, we wouldn't fault you for thinking that way, given his own immense talents.
There are some valid complaints about dropped passes last year, even with his solid hands, as Green was one of the tops in that category. However, he was also ranked highly on overall targeted passes his way, so it's hard to get on him too hard about that. He also had two fumbles last year, which he didn't have any as a rookie and his yards per reception dropped by about two and a half yards.
We expect Green and the Bengals to have another huge year in 2013. He has steadily improved and his third year together with Dalton and Jay Gruden should prove to be a great one. We truly are seeing one of the best draft picks that the Bengals have made in their franchise's history blossom before our eyes, and there seems to be plenty more good times ahead. If you are more in favor of Atkins topping the list that's fine, but consider those two Nos. 1A and 1B.