Whatever you think of T.J. Houshmandzadeh's departure after the 2008 season, there's no disputing that he was one of Cincinnati's very best receivers, more reliable if not more productive than Chad Johnson. During a three-year span (2006-2008), Houshmandzadeh averaged (AVERAGED!) 98 receptions per season, for over 1,000 yards receiving. During another three-year span starting in 2005, Houshmandzadeh generated 28 receiving touchdowns, including a streak of eight consecutive games of at least one touchdown reception in 2007 (12 total).
Yet his game didn't rely on talent. There was always someone faster or someone stronger on the field. What made Houshmandzadeh successful during his stint in Cincinnati was a combination of intelligence and physicality. He could sniff a hole developing in the zone before it happened, while using his body to box out defenders, generating enough of a window for Carson Palmer to needle the football.
But those days are gone. Age, attitude, value have all contributed to a lasting toll that's long separated from their perceived talents.
In the meantime the "New Age Bengals", the "Next Generation" crew, was missing a receiver of Houshmandzadeh's characteristics. It wasn't until the No. 83 pick overall, when Cincinnati addressed the wide receiver position at all during the 2012 NFL draft, by grabbing Rutgers wide receiver Mohamed Sanu, who was the first of two selections designed to close the rift between A.J. Green and everyone else on the team's wide receiver roster.
According to Geoff Hobson with the Mothership, the Cincinnati Bengals are making drawing vague comparisons with wide receiver Mohamed Sanu and how he could be to Andy Dalton what T.J. Houshmandzadeh was to Carson Palmer. Hobson remarks:
If Sanu can do for A.J. Green what Houshmandzadeh did for Chad Johnson, the Bengals have a Pro Bowl-type guy that catches 80 to 90 balls a year in and out of the slot.
One of the positive marks in Sanu's scouting reports among most draft experts is his versatility, reliability and toughness.
Joe Reedy with the Cincinnati Enquirer writes:
Sanu can play all the spots at receiver and has very good hands. He also is a physical receiver who has good power in breaking arm tackles and can enough leg drive to carry opponents forward after the catch. He also is not afraid to run over tacklers in the open field.
ESPN's Scout Inc service offers of Sanu's versatility (and competitiveness):
Versatile player; works outside, in the slot and occasionally as Wildcat trigger on offense, and also contributed in the return game in college (although appears to lack the speed to do so in NFL). Turns into a defender after a turnover."
NFL's draft page adds:
He is a natural at shielding himself from defenders and giving the quarterback a clear throwing lane. He is a reliable hands catcher who is very technical at the top of his routes and when competing with corners to give himself space to secure the catch
Save for the whole Wildcat thing, these are the attributes that often described Houshmandzadeh during the peak of Cincinnati's potent passing offense with Chad Johnson and Carson Palmer playing at a level that generated Pro Bowl berths with elite status (for a brief moment at least).
Is it too early to label the newest Bengals as anything other than rookies? Perhaps. Jerome Simpson for a time was believed to be the Chad Ochocinco replacement. But at least it's a good start.