NOTE: These all-time draft posts are re-posts from previous years. Since there haven't been many changes over the years, our top-10 lists are relatively the same.
We like to point out how draft busts often hurt a team's overall development. For the most part, that's always true. But sometimes, in the end, a bust can actually become a benefit for a team. We pointed out earlier this week 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, resumed his focus as an elite quarterback in the league at the time.
Much of the Bengals Super Bowl XXIII roster came from the 1984 NFL Draft, including one highly drafted holdout that may have poured the cement for the team's successes in the late 80s. 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.
Then there was Boomer Esiason, drafted in the second round as the 38th overall pick. Most of you sort of remember him.
But who is this holdout, this first round draft selection in the 1984 NFL Draft that actually made the Bengals better by not signing with the team?
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. An August 15, 1984 New York Times article wrote of the lengthy holdout:
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.''
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).
After not signing with the Bengals, forcing the organization into sacrificing their seventh overall selection in the 1984 NFL Draft, you have no choice but to call Hunley a bust. But unlike other busts on our list, this is one where the Bengals actually benefited greatly. Hunley, who is arguably one of biggest busts for the Broncos as well even though he started in two Super Bowls, went on to have an average 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 who 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 rookie head coach Marvin Lewis; the two had met in Washington the previous year. Lewis was forced to fire Hunley after five seasons as the linebackers coach in 2007 for a defense that ranked as one of the worst in the league. Admittedly, it seemed somewhat unfair to fire a coach that had to deal with so many season-ending injuries at the position, but there you have it.