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Top-Ten Draft Busts in Cincinnati Bengals History

We've examined the best draft picks in Bengals history. Now we take a look at a couple of busts.

10. David Pollak, 2005 NFL Draft, 1st round, 17th overall

When populating a list of draft busts, we must acknowledge that each entry is unique. Perhaps it's a matter of talent, bad coaching, or poor opportunities. And sometimes it's not the player's fault that forces them into an undesired category. It's circumstances. It's bad luck. A raw deal. But if you make a comparison on a player based on where he's drafted and how much he contributes, then you have to include them. Injuries contribute to draft busts discussions because, in the end, that player didn't fulfill an expectation that being a high-value draft pick brings. Again, it's not always their fault, nor fair.

David Pollack, a defensive end from Georgia, entered the draft after winning the SEC Defensive Player of the Year, the Chuck Bednarik Award (top defensive player), the Ted Hendricks Award (top defensive end), the Lombardi Award (top offensive/defensive lineman of the year) and the Lott Trophy during his '04 campaign. As a three-time All-American, stud doesn't even come close to describing the havoc Pollack caused.

Impressive enough with his versatility and tenacity, the Cincinnati Bengals selected him 17th overall in the '05 NFL Draft and said, since you were uber-successful at defensive end, we'll make you a linebacker. Pollack didn't start until week six but in the final seven regular season games, he began to produce, generating 3.5 quarterback sacks while starting three of the final five games. During the Wild Card game against the Pittsburgh Steelers in '05, Pollack posted eight tackles and a quarterback sack.

And before we could watch him progress, the football gods decided Pollack's career would end. In the first quarter during a week two game against the Browns, Pollack collided with running back Reuben Droughns. Pollack laid immobile on the field. Due to the neck injury, Pollack missed the entire '06 and '07 seasons before deciding to retire in April of '08. That Cleveland game later proved particularly costly. Richie Braham, the team's rugged and tough center, suffered a career-ending leg injury and Tab Perry never fully recovered from his own injury after having a great rookie season as a kickoff return specialist.

No. Pollack's injury isn't his fault and certainly it isn't his fault that he goes down as a draft bust. And to be perfectly honest, we'd be alright if others decided to keep him off the list. At the same time, injuries are as much of a cause for a failed pick as any.

9. Peter Warrick, 2000 NFL draft, 1st round, 4th overeall

In our continuing list of draft successes and busts, we're not so much calling Peter Warrick a bust as we are a disappointment. Then again, as bust definitions go, typically subjective to the reader, one could easily present a convincing argument. During his tenure at Florida State, Warrick played for a Seminoles squad that appeared in the National Championship game in back-to-back seasons and was awarded the MVP during the '00 Sugar Bowl with 160 yards receiving with three touchdowns. Here is a list of his accomplishments in college.

  • Two-time First Team All-American
  • Three-time First Team All-ACC
  • Two-time Biletnikoff finalist
  • Sugar Bowl MVP
  • 207 career receptions
  • 32 touchdown receptions (school record)
  • 937 return yards

There's no doubt that Warrick had a productive career with the Cincinnati Bengals -- 18 receiving touchdowns and posting nearly 3,000 yards receiving. When the Bengals transitioned in '03, Warrick submitted his best season with 79 receptions, 819 yards receiving and seven touchdowns. One of my most memorable moments in 2003 is Warrick's punt return for a touchdown against the Kansas City Chiefs, who were undefeated at the time. Boy, the Chiefs were awfully pouty too.

But the truth is, Warrick never filled the expectations of someone selected fourth overall. Perhaps it's the disappointing nature, at least in that era, that top-five picks often run so tragically deep. In 66 career games, Warrick posted only three 100-yard games -- his first coming during his 31st career game. During 13 of his first 16 career games in the NFL, Warrick failed to reach more than 50 yards receiving. Chad Johnson, selected in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft, quickly jumped Warrick to become the team's go-to receiver.

No doubt that Warrick played for bad squads. Akili Smith was his quarterback in '00 along with Scott Mitchell. Jon Kitna took over in 2001 with sparse contributions from Smith and Gus Frerotte. Unfortunately for Warrick, an injured knee that never healed prevented him from taking part of an explosive offense that was led by Carson Palmer, Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry. Warrick signed on with Seattle in 2005 and played 13 games; the last time Warrick played in the NFL.

8. Ki-Jana Carter, 1995 NFL Draft, 1st round, 1st overall

During his junior year at Penn State, his final season in college, running back Ki-Jana Carter rushed for 1,539 yards, scoring 23 touchdowns and averaged 7.8 yards/rush. He finished second in the Heisman voting that year, earned a co-MVP for the Rose Bowl with 156 yards and three touchdowns and led the Nittany Lions to an undefeated season in 1994.

After a season in which fullback Derrick Fenner led the Bengals with 468 yards rushing with the team's (typical) feature back Harold Green averaging only 2.9 yards/rush that year, the Bengals were in need of a running back. Carter's junior season generated a lot of interest for a team desperately needing a running back. So much interest that the Cincinnati Bengals traded their 5th and 36th overall draft picks to the Carolina Panthers so they could pick first overall. And you better believe that they're selecting the best running back in the class.

Remember that contracts were manageable back in the day (at least until the current CBA stabilized infuriating contract numbers for rookies). Carter, the league's first overall draft pick, signed a $19.2 million contract with a $7.125 signing bonus over seven seasons. This was the highest contract given to an NFL rookie at the time.

Out of nowhere, Carter took his third preseason snap and shredded his knee. Out for the entire 1995 season, Carter made a slight rebound the following two seasons, becoming primarily a goalline back, posting 15 touchdowns. However, he never became the team's feature back with Garrison Heart and Corey Dillon taking on that role in 1996 and 1997 respectively. Carter's final two seasons of his five-year career in Cincinnati ended with four games, eight carries and one touchdown.

Carter would finish his career with the Washington Redskins and New Orleans Saints.

We hate listing injured players as busts. But the truth is Carter was a stellar running back in college, drafted first overall because the Bengals traded away their first and second round picks and finished with just one 100-yard game and 747 yards rushing with the Bengals.

7. Archie Griffin, 1976 NFL Draft, 1st round, 24th overall

Archie Griffin will go down as one of the best running backs in Ohio State history, posting over 4,700 yards rushing in his final three seasons with 23 rushing touchdowns. Griffin is the only player in the history of college football to win two Heisman trophies. He also won two Big Ten MVP awards, 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. 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.

You literally couldn't do more than what Archie Griffin did in a college career, even if you rode into battle and sliced through the Orcs of Middle Earth, the Darkspawn of Ferelden, The Trollocs of Two Rivers or the Munchkins of Oz (what? They freak me out).

The Cincinnati Bengals '75 squad sported a running back force of Boobie Clark, Stan Fritts and Lenvil Elliot that combined for 1,277 yards rushing and 13 touchdowns -- Fritts and Elliot combined for another five touchdowns receiving. So the Bengals selected Oklahoma wide receiver Billy Brooks with their 11th overall selection in the 1976 NFL Draft. Brooks would go on to have a very quiet career, in the sense that no one would really take notice of him (bust too, really). In four seasons with the Bengals, Brooks caught 93 passes for 1,683 yards receiving and seven touchdowns.

Selected 24th overall in the same draft, Griffin scored only seven touchdowns in his seven-year NFL career (all with Cincinnati), without scoring a touchdown through four consecutive seasons and never leading the Bengals in rushing during any season. Griffin's career-year came in 1979, compiling 688 yards rushing in '79.

There are times that the word bust can incite obvious negativity. That's not always the case. In the technical-sense of this argument, a player with a great college career drafted in the first round can still be a bust; be it because of injury (ala David Pollack, Ki-Jana Carter) or the inability to surpass players on the depth chart. Griffin had a tremendous college career was drafted in the first round and never played up anything close to the production he had in college.

6. Chris Perry, 2004 NFL Draft, 1st round, 26th overall

Originally with the 17th overall selection, the Bengals engineered a trade that swapped first-round picks to Denver for the Broncos' first round pick (24th overall), the Broncos fourth round pick (117th overall) and cornerback Deltha O'Neal. Enjoying the idea of acquiring additional picks via draft-day trades, Cincinnati swapped first-round picks with St. Louis for the Rams 26th overall selection and fourth round pick (123rd overall).

After it was all said and done, the Bengals picked up two fourth round picks and cornerback Deltha O'Neal -- an '06 Pro Bowler. All things considered, this wasn't a bad idea. Cincinnati finally used their first-round pick on Michigan running back Chris Perry. During his senior year at the University of Michigan, Perry posted 1,674 yards rushing and scored 18 rushing touchdowns.Though he finished fourth in the '03 Heisman Trophy voting, Perry won the Doak Walker Award, given to the nation's best running back. Perry was also named the Big Ten MVP, the Jim Brown trophy winner in 2003 and First-Team All-American the same season.

As we've pointed out throughout this entire process, we do believe it's unfair that injured players could be featured as busts, like David Pollack or Ki-Jana Carter. Regardless, being a bust isn't a complex science. And injuries killed his career. Perry suffered a hamstring strain during the preseason that slowed his rookie season, which would abruptly end with a sports hernia during practice in late October.

Perry began the 2006 season on the PUP list (Players Unable to Perform) with knee and ankle injuries, finally returning to practice in mid-October. His season lasted a month before suffering a right ankle dislocation against the Cleveland Browns in late November. Perry was never medically cleared at the start of the 2007 season and his roster exemption expired by late November. Perry never played a down that season.

After Rudi Johnson was cut before the 2008 season, Perry was finally handed the keys as the team's feature back. After six starts, in which he averaged 2.6 yards/rush and fumbled five times, the Bengals shifted focus on the newly acquired Cedric Benson for the rest of the season.

Unquestionably, Perry's career-year came in 2005 where the running back nearly broke a franchise record for most receptions by a running back with 51 grabs. He also scored two receiving touchdowns that year and averaged 4.6 yards/rush on 61 carries. It was also the most games he played in a single year (14).

Perry was finally released on April 27, 2009 where he's become a journeyman for two United Football League teams; the Florida Tuskers and the Sacramento Mountain Lions.

5. Odell Thurman, 2005 NFL Draft, 2nd round, 48th overall

Busts are generally attributed to first round selections; but that's not always the case. Selected in the second round of the 2005 NFL Draft, Georgia linebacker Odell Thurman was the second of two linebackers that Cincinnati selected in the opening two rounds that year. Thurman and Pollack were expected to become the foundation of the team's defense. And it started beautifully.

Along with recording 100 tackles, Odell Thurman posted five interceptions, four forced fumbles, four passes defensed and 1.5 quarterback sacks. His first year led to a finalist nomination for NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year -- won by San Diego's Shawne Merriman.

Thurman's NFL career then came to an abrupt end.

Along with Pollack's injury, Thurman's issues, which we'll get to in a second, set the Bengals back with a rag-tag group of linebackers in 2007, forcing the team to address the position again during the 2008 and 2009 NFL Drafts.

During the offseason after his rookie season, Thurman was suspended for the first four games in 2006 after violating the league's substance abuse policy by failing to take a required test. Thurman was later arrested for drunk driving in late September 2006 and suspended for the rest of the season.

In early June 2007, Thurman and his brother were accused of assault against two men but the charges were dropped due to conflicting statements from witnesses. That didn't prevent NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell from denying Thurman's reinstatement into the NFL, suspending the inside linebacker for a second year.

In April 2008, the NFL finally reinstated Thurman and the Bengals placed him on their offseason roster. Not even a month later, the Bengals waived Thurman due to another failed drug test, which prompted the league to suspend Thurman indefinitely. Thurman has since resurfaced in the United Football League.

Nothing else to say on this.

4. Jack Thompson, 1979 NFL Draft, 1st round, 3rd overall

Between 1977 and 1978, Bengals quarterback Ken Anderson posted 21 touchdowns, 33 interceptions, a 53% completion rate and a winning percentage of 44% in 25 starts. Additionally, injuries took their toll. Anderson suffered from damaged knee ligaments in 1977, a broken throwing hand in 1978 during the preseason, a bruised back in 1979, all while dealing with a recurring knee injury. Anderson also dealt with a depleted receiving roster, save for Isaac Curtis, lost center Bob Johnson and tight end Bob Trumpy to retirement.

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.

Often cited by draft experts as a can't-miss quarterback before the draft, Thompson 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 and earning three all-conference awards.

Paul Brown was convinced and pulled the trigger, anticipating that he'll replace Anderson within a few seasons. During his rookie season, Thompson completed 44.8% of 87 passes with only one touchdown and five interceptions. During that same year, Anderson posted 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions with a passer rating of 80.7 -- which was higher than any of his three previous seasons.

Thompson's slow start and Anderson's slow rebound didn't prevent the young Washington State quarterback from having another opportunity in 1980. Thompson still completed less than half of his passes (49.1%) while scoring 11 touchdowns against 13 interceptions. Anderson's career took another step back with a meek 6-13 touchdown to interception ratio while Cincinnati produced a frustrating 6-10 end.

It was 1981 in which quarterbacks would have their destinies defined. Granted, it wasn't under after the season opener in which Anderson's career resumed course as being a Hall of Fame finalist in 1996 and 1998. After throwing three first half interceptions against the Seattle Seahawks, head coach Forrest Gregg pulled Anderson in favor of third string quarterback Turk Schonert -- not Thompson who was hurt at the time.

Anderson, given a second chance 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, only ten interceptions, 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, would play sparingly that season, posting only one touchdown and two interceptions, completing 42.9% of his passes. Thompson's fourth and final year with the Bengals, in 1982, ended with only one game played and no passes attempted. He signed on with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 1983, playing through the 1984 season and retiring 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

3. Rickey Hunley, 1984 NFL Draft, 1st round, 7th overall

We like pointing out how busts often disappoint a team's overall development. For the most part, it's usually true. But sometimes, in the end, a bust can actually become a benefit. We pointed out earlier that Jack Thompson, the third overall draft pick in the 1979 NFL Draft, actually ended up helping the Bengals because Ken Anderson, who started getting healthy again, re-focused into becoming an elite quarterback at the time.

Here's another example in an unlikely scenario. Most of Cincinnati's Super Bowl XXIII roster came from the 1984 NFL Draft. Let's quickly go through the draft. Bruce Kozerski, named as an alternate in three Pro Bowls (1988, 1989 and 1990), started 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, until 1991. 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. There was Boomer Esiason, drafted in the second round as the 38th overall pick. Most of you sort of remember him.

Then there was a hold-out, a former first round selection in the 1984 NFL Draft that actually improved the roster by refusing to sign with Cincinnati. That player was Arizona linebacker Ricky Hunley. A first consensus All-American linebacker in 1982 and 1983, Hunley was introduced into the college hall of fame in 1989.

This August 15, 1984 New York Times article updates the story:

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.''

Ever the trend-setter.

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).

By not signing with the Bengals, it forced the organization into sacrificing their seventh overall selection in the 1984 NFL Draft. But unlike other busts on our list, the Bengals actually became better for it. Hunley started two Super Bowls with the Broncos but had an otherwise ordinary career in Denver -- playing only four seasons before joining the Cardinals and Raiders to close out his career in 1990.

In return for the trade, the Bengals received draft picks and selected players that would become major contributors during the team's Super Bowl run in 1988.

Ironically, Hunley returned to Cincinnati in 2003 as a linebackers coach for then-rookie head coach Marvin Lewis, where the two met in Washington the previous year. Lewis eventually fired Hunley after five seasons.

2. David Klingler, 1992 NFL Draft, 1st round, 6th overall

Our series of ten draft busts in franchise history reaches its penultimate selection. Before we get to that, let's quickly recap. Of our eight previous busts, we've selected three linebackers, three running backs, a quarterback and a wide receiver. We're entering the final stretch with a pair of quarterbacks.

From 1988 through 1991, David Klingler set many passing records in college. If there was a record, he set it. With the Houston Cougars, Klingler recorded 716 yards in a single game and posted 54 passing touchdowns in a single season; an NCAA record until Hawaii's Colt Brennan broke it in 2006. In 1990 against Eastern Washington University, Klingler recorded 11 passing touchdowns. 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 left the team on Christmas Eve in 1991 -- the second Super Bowl participating Bengals coach to leave the Bengals on Christmas Eve behind Forrest Gregg in 1983 -- Boomer Esiason followed. Eventually Boomer privately, and secretly, asked Bengals president Mike Brown for a trade. Klingler was selected by the Bengals with their sixth overall draft pick and Boomer was shipped to New York after the season.

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

In fairness to Klingler, who took over Boomer's #7 as soon as Esiason was traded, he never had a chance. The Bengals picked the absolute worst head coach in David Shula to rebuild a franchise that lost so much. His offensive line failed to protect him long enough to find open receivers, sacked on 11% of his total drop backs -- though he tended to hold onto the football a lot too.

And in 1994, he was already on his way to losing his job. After going winless in his first seven starts in 1994, the team began easing Jeff Blake in as the starting quarterback; who began to breath life back into Cincinnati by winning two of the next three games.

As the sixth overall pick, David Klingler took on the impossible task of replacing Boomer Esiason, one of the legends in Bengals history. Though not entirely his fault, it was a disaster -- yet, the worst was yet to come.

1. Akili Smith, 1999 NFL Draft, 1st round, 3rd overall

Electing to perfect his mad passing skills before joining the ranks of the collegiate 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 where he posted an impressive 32 touchdown passes during his 11 starts in his senior year.

Because a one-year sample size for a player that was initially unwanted, is all one needs to redefine an entire franchise. Smith did generate some buzz for the 1999 NFL Draft; the Bengals took that buzz to an entirely different level.

While reasonable organizations would hesitate to base their third overall pick with a guy that employed such a limited sample size, this once-flailing organization, who had won five or fewer games in five of the previous eight seasons, needed to hit a homerun. Additionally, the Bengals had just completed a 3-13 season with three different starting quarterbacks.

Neil O'Donnell was actually very serviceable with a 15-4 touchdown-to-interception ratio completing over 60% of his passes. Jeff Blake and Paul Justin recorded starts that season. Yet when writers write, "Neil O'Donnell was actually very serviceable," red flags are perched upon the highest pile of manure.

The Bengals needed a franchise quarterback.

But this didn't come without its controversy. No. We couldn't have a quiet, needs-filling draft that applied fixes to a team with so many holes. 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 draft 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 quiet offseason) missing most of the 1999 Training Camp. From '99-'02, Smith started 17 games, posted a 3-14 record, completing only 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.