I know you're probably tired of "the Best of" articles that have recently appeared, but I couldn't help myself. We have discussed the best first round pick during the Marvin Lewis era and in franchise history. We all know what the impact a first round pick can bring. In stark contrast, late round picks are often overlooked with low expectations. Yet, many overcome adversity, even outshining top picks while making an impact.
As it relates to athletics, the phrase "diamond in the rough" is used to describe a player that begins their professional career either as an undrafted free agent or as a late round pick. These are the feel good stories of someone who has traveled a difficult path making it big in their chosen profession despite many obstacles. Since the founding of the Bengals, there have been a number of players drafted late making it to the pinnacle.
But which one should be considered the best of those who earned the label "diamond in the rough"?
When I was working on this, I discovered a criterion would need to be established to prevent this article from taking over the blog. So the criteria I used stipulated whether they were drafted in the fourth round or later while making the Pro Bowl at least once. The criterion whittled down hundreds drafted over the years that would take an eternity to research, to seven.
The 1968 draft can be considered the largest draft hull in Bengals history with forty players helping fill the fledgling franchise roster. Drafted in the twelfth round from Utah, Tight End Bob Trumpy took little time establishing himself his rookie season recording 37 catches for 639 yards and three touchdowns. He followed that up with another 37-catch season, increasing his yards receiving to 835 yards with nine touchdowns. Trumpy played ten years with the Bengals finishing with 298 catches, 4,600 yards receiving, 35 touchdowns, and four Pro Bowls selections.
The Bengals last appearance in the Super Bowl may not be remembered only by the Bengals nearly pulling out the win, but also the gruesome injury to NT Tim Krumrie. The image of his injury is etched forever in my memory (sorry, I will not describe it). Before the injury, he was drafted in the tenth round out of Wisconsin in 1983. He had made the Pro Bowl in 1987 and 1988, finishing his career in 1994 with 1,017 tackles, 34.5 sacks, 13 fumble recoveries and ten passes defended. At that time, 34.5 sacks ranked fourth in franchise history. After recovering from the injury, he played for another six years and led the team with 97 tackles in 1992.
The seventh round has produced the most diamonds in the rough with Lamar Parrish in 1970, Max Montoya in 1979 and T.J. Houshmandzadeh in 2001. Parrish was selected from Division II Lincoln University and instantly become a force on the team. Besides his duties as a defensive back, he held duties as a kick and punt returner. In the eight years with the Bengals, Parrish was selected to the Pro Bowl six times. He recorded a 30.1 yards per kick return average his rookie season and in 1974, he set a franchise record averaging 18.8 yards on punt returns. Montoya was a member of both Super Bowl teams earning four trips to the Pro Bowl playing for the Bengals until 1990.
Unlike Parrish and Montoya, Houshmandzadeh started slow, not becoming a starter until Peter Warrick went down with an injury in 2004. Taking advantage of this opportunity, he finished the season with 73 catches, 978 yards and four touchdowns. The following season, he became part of the one of the most feared pass catching tandems in the league. In 2007, Houshmandzadeh set a franchise record catching 112 passes and recording 1,143 yards and 12 touchdowns, rewarded with his first Pro Bowl.
Pat McInally was initially drafted as a wide receiver in 1975, but spent the majority of his time punting. He led the league with 43.1 yards-per-punt in 1978 and 45.4 in 1981, selected for the Pro Bowl. He is the first player from Harvard to participate in both the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl, and has the distinction of a perfect score on the Wonderlic test. McInally finished his career with a 41.9-yard per punt average, catching 57 passes for 808 yards and five touchdowns.
Rudi Johnson (2001) and Tremain Mack (1997) were both drafted in the fourth round and had a relatively short career with the Bengals. In just four short seasons, Mack set the franchise record for kick return yards with 3,583 and made the Pro Bowl in 1999. Johnson spent two of his first six seasons as the backup to Corey Dillon. After Dillon was traded, Rudi set the franchise rushing record in 2004 with 1,454 yards rushing, making the Pro Bowl. He followed that up in 2005 by breaking his own rushing record with 1,458 yards. Each of those seasons he scored 12 touchdowns.
Each of these players were never truly expected to make an impact on the team, solely based on their draft position. Opportunity knocked for each and they all rose to occasion. My criterion may have been limiting, but that should not stop you from nominating your own diamond in the rough.