When you look back on the impact of a draft class, you have exhibit patience. A general rule is to wait three years. Then you can grade that class. It wasn't until his fourth season when T.J. Houshmandzadeh caught more than 41 passes in a season. Rudi Johnson didn't start until his third season -- only 17 career rush attempts through his first two. It takes time for rookies to adapt and develop. You will always have immediate impact players like the Shawn Merrimans or the Reggie Bushs. Which prompts: How many impact rookies have the Bengals had in recent memory? And who are the contributors now?
The 2005 draft class had impact players who contributed immediately -- David Pollack, Odell Thurman and Chris Henry. This was probably our best draft -- during that season. Thurman was close to winning defensive rookie of the year and Georgia Bulldog fans reiterated, if you like Thurman, you'll love Pollack. Chris Henry's potential, before knowing the troubles he'd run into, had no ceiling. Now? We have two linebackers that may never play again and a receiver that will risk being suspended at any given time. You could also make an argument for Tab Perry (1,562 kickoff return yards) as an impact rookie. In retrospect, drafting Eric Ghiaciuc turned out to be a good pick as the team's future center.
The 2004 draft brought Madieu Williams and Landon Johnson -- both made an impact that season. In retrospect, you can add Robert Geathers to that list. I'm still unsure about Chris Perry and I believe Caleb Miller and Keiwan Ratliff have performed like backups -- even though Miller shined in 2006. In 2003, Eric Steinbach and Jeremi Johnson made an impact. In retrospect, Carson Palmer has been alright.
What about 2006?
The 2006 draft class had three impact players: Johnathan Joseph, Ethan Kilmer and Andrew Whitworth. Domata Peko showed some potential. Bennie Brazell and Frostee Rucker went on the Injured Reserve list early and you were only reminded of A. J. Nicholson during injury reports.
Johnathan Joseph somewhat broke out against Baltimore knocking down four passes that should have been interceptions with seven tackles. In the season finale against Pittsburgh, Joseph knocked down two passes and finished with a team-high ten tackles. Joseph recorded four games with five or more tackles and six games with multiple pass deflections. Leading the team with 20 pass deflections, Joseph showed tremendous potential as a hard hitting cornerback that can also tackle in the open field. His 58 tackles ranked seventh on the team.
I think the guy that showed tremendous worth was offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth. When injury crushed the offensive line, Whitworth was the guy that stepped up. He started two games at left guard and ten games at left tackle. Once the offensive line's play stabilized, Whitworth was one reason for their success. You could make the argument Whitworth made the biggest impact among the rookie class simply for his ability to step up and play right away.
Ethan Kilmer made the Football Outsiders all-rookie team as the Special Team's gunner. He also returned an interception for touchdown and recovered a fumble on special teams. Kilmer has the Rudy persona. Undersized and limited in his talent. His grit and effort, compared to the more talented guys, is in another zip code.
THE 2006 DRAFT TROUBLES
Here's a stat for you: Five of the eight players drafted in 2006 were arrested -- either before or after the draft. I suppose with every draft class, you pick up the potential of players with "character concerns". However. Two months after the draft, Frostee Rucker was charged with spousal battery and vandalism. After being inactive through the first three games, Rucker was placed on IR after initially suffering a shoulder injury against the Redskins in pre-season game #1. He never saw a regular season snap. Do I blame Marvin Lewis for picking up Rucker with "character" risks? No, not really. He was charged AFTER the draft and no mainstream scouting service that I came across made mention of red flags.
Red flags for A.J. Nicholson? You could say that. ESPN said, in the opening line of the paragraph titled Weakness, "Character is a massive concern." Massive! Why? "He was charged with two separate alcohol-related offenses within a one-year span leading up to his senior season in 2005, including for resisting arrest after police tried to kick him out of a Tallahassee night club for "disorderly conduct and drinking violations." Also was suspended by the team for the 2005-'06 Orange Bowl and questioned by police after a 19-year-old woman accused him of sexually assaulting her."
I commented during the draft (bold and caps were in original post): FOR A COACH THAT SAYS LAST WEEK THAT CHARACTER WILL BE GRADED TOUGHER THIS YEAR, HE'S SURE PICKING UP A FEW RED FLAGS in Nicholson and PEKO.
Nicholson issued his "I'm an off-the-field distraction", as promised from prominent scouting services, when he was charged "with stealing electronic equipment worth approximately $1,700 from the home of a current player." But to his credit, after that "incident", Nicholson has made little if any noise -- including on the field. His 2006 season was marred with an early season hamstring injury limiting his play on the field.
Johnathan Joseph was the ninth Bengal arrested -- and unfairly strung up with his offense compared to the others. He became the straw that everyone saw breaking the camel's back -- even though the weight of the other arrests may have caused the most damage.
Being the third member of the three stooges the night Odell Thurman was arrested for a DUI after arriving at an announced checkpoint, Reggie McNeal made noise in Houston.
Oh, that wasn't it.
The AP quoted a police spokesman saying that McNeal allegedly had a cigarette that contained an antihistamine that is sometimes used as a sedative...
Domata Peko came to Cincinnati with some baggage after a misdemeanor disorderly conduct charge on May 21, 2005. Since becoming a Bengal, Peko has only appeared in discussion for his potential; not for being on any scanners. His play on the field was up and down. If the point of attack is directly at Peko, he was quickly eliminated. At other times, Peko showed signs of brilliance. He's a work in progress that will greatly depend on his work ethic. But here's a question for you, read Peko's initial weakness and let me know if anything's changed.
Peko finished the season with 44 tackles -- best among defensive tackles, second among defensive linemen and tenth on the team. (stats on Bengals.com)
It remains true that you need to wait a few years before grading a draft class. This class will follow that model.