One of the best draft classes in recent memory was the Bengals' draft class of 2010, following their first round playoff exit in 2009. The class was too young to help stave off an abysmal 4-12 end to the 2010 season, but it's no coincidence that as soon as many of these players broke into the starting lineup, the team started to win consistently. Pro Football Focus just re-evaluated this draft class and gave the Bengals' class the second highest overall grade (+297.2), behind only the New England Patriots (+331.2). The Bengals didn't strike gold on every single pick, but they did on enough picks to make this such a memorable class.
Pick 21: TE Jermaine Gresham, Oklahoma
A lot of people have mixed feelings about Jermaine Gresham's relatively short lived career in Cincinnati. The Bengals really liked him despite having missed his entire senior season at Oklahoma due to a knee injury suffered before the season started.
In five years, Gresham posted 2,722 yards and 24 touchdowns, but was primarily known for his key drops and fumbles at the most crucial times. However, he was a reliable starter who only missed seven games during his tenure. Tyler Eifert was drafted as a response to Gresham's lackluster play. The idea was that Gresham would fill the blocking tight end role and the prolific Eifert would play the role of the team's receiving tight end.
After a year during which rumors swirled regarding his level of effort, the Bengals let Gresham walk in free agency where he eventually got signed by the Cardinals. The pick was not a total bust because the Bengals still got a few good years of starting production out of Gresham, but you'd expect more out of a first round pick.
Pick 54: DE Carlos Dunlap, Florida
Not a whole lot needs to be said about the incredible play of Carlos Dunlap over the years. The dynamic second round pick could have easily been a top 10 draft pick based on his measurables alone, but character concerns and a less than legendary college career caused scouts to question his mindset and drive.
Needless to say, the Bengals made the right call when taking Dunlap in the second round. Since being drafted, Dunlap has exhibited precisely zero signs of a lack of drive or character. Not only did he start pretty much right away in his rookie season, but he has been one of the most productive defensive ends in the NFL since then. This year alone, he finished fourth in the NFL in total sacks (13.5) and has the most career sacks of any defensive end drafted that year (49.0). By comparison, the next closest is Jason Pierre-Paul with 43.0 career sacks. He was drafted 15th overall by the New York Giants.
As for the character concerns? Dunlap won the Bengals' nomination for the Walter Payton Man of the Year award for the 2015 season and has been a great role model in the Cincinnati community and beyond. He has shown no signs of what worried scouts going into the 2010 draft.
Pick 84: WR Jordan Shipley, Texas
Jordan Shipley is the classic case of "what could have been." Pro Football Focus ranked him as the Bengals' worst pick in 2010 with a very minor negative overall grade (-2.2). Their explanation of the ranking primarily centers around the facts that he didn't live up to his potential in his rookie season and he tore his ACL/MCL the following season. The injury resulted in him being cut after the 2011 season.
Shipley was about as productive as a player drafted with the intention of being (at best) the third wide receiver option in the slot. He put up 600 yards and three touchdowns in his rookie season. Those stats are comparable to the best year that the Bengals got from Andrew Hawkins (544 yards, 4 touchdowns) and that season only happened as a result of Shipley's release making room for Hawkins. Don't forget - those numbers caught the eye of the Cleveland Browns and resulted in a $13.6 million contract ($6.8 million guaranteed) for Hawkins at the end of the following season.
As far as the injury goes, it seems a bit unfair to consider this pick a "bad" pick by the Bengals, or to consider Shipley to be a "bust" simply because of a freak injury. At the same time, it's hard to disagree with PFF on this pick being the worst. That's because most of the other draft picks that the Bengals took in 2010 were so good that Shipley is clearly the odd-man out.
Pick 96: CB Brandon Ghee, Wake Forest
Brandon Ghee wasn't a great draft pick but he served a role with the Bengals for a short period of time. He never managed to climb any higher in the depth chart than No. 5 cornerback role. However, he did manage to be a reliable backup for the team during his short four-year tenure. The team elected to not resign him after the 2013 season, but he did provide some stability at the bottom of the depth chart, and came back for a short time in the 2015 offseason before being cut prior to the start of the season.
Pick 120: Geno Atkins, Georgia
If there were a higher possible grade to give the Geno Atkins pick than A+, I would gladly dole it out in a heartbeat. Finding Atkins at pick 120 is comparable to the Patriots finding Tom Brady at pick 199. It's not the same thing by any means, but it's the same idea of a team finding a potential future Hall of Famer after so many teams passed over them for one reason or another. For Atkins, scouts noted that his biggest drawback was his size. NFL scouts were worried that he would be overpowered by NFL sized offensive linemen.
That didn't happen. Earlier I mentioned that Dunlap has the most sacks among defensive ends from the 2010 draft class with 49.0 sacks and that his closest competition was 15th overall pick Pierre Paul with 43.0. Well, Atkins has been the top defensive tackle from that draft class (so far) with the same number of career sacks. That means he's the third most productive defensive lineman of the entire class regardless of position.
His closest competition at his position is Ndamukong Suh with 42.0 career sacks. After that, the only player who even comes remotely close to those numbers is Gerald McCoy with 35.5 sacks. Suh and McCoy were both picked second and third overall that year, respectively. As a result of all of this production, PFF ranked Atkins as the Bengals' best pick in 2010 with the highest cumulative grade of any player in the entire draft (+208.3). The next closest was Rob Gronkowski, who scored about 51 points less (+167.4).
Pick 131: LB Roddrick Muckelroy, Texas
Muckelroy has the unfortunate distinction of suffering from what I like to call the Drew Bledsoe effect. Unlike Muckelroy, Bledsoe was drafted No. 1 overall and was expected to be the next great quarterback who could lead the New England Patriots to many Super Bowl victories and the best period in franchise history. Unlike Bledsoe, Muckelroy was not a high draft pick or the "next big thing" in the NFL. However, like Bledoe, he lost his opportunity with the team that drafted him due to the combination of a serious injury and the stellar play of his little-known (at the time) replacement.
For Bledsoe, that player was Brady. For Muckelroy, that player was Burfict. Burfict went undrafted in 2012 due to character concerns, but his skills and talent were worthy of first round consideration. When Muckelroy ruptured his achilles tendon in the offseason of 2012, the undrafted signee Burfict got his chance to impress. He did, and Muckelroy was released as a result.
Pick 152: G Otis Hudson, Eastern Illinois
As far as players without much of an excuse as to their lack of productivity goes, Otis Hudson was by far the worst pick of the 2010 draft as far as I'm concerned. He isn't really considered a disastrous pick because he was drafted in the fifth round. At that point, teams are generally just taking fliers on players who they think have talent but aren't really very well known for one reason or another. He wasn't ever expected to do much at the NFL level, but the fact still remains that he currently is not on an NFL team and only managed to sign with the Chiefs briefly after stints on the Bengals practice squad and a very brief period on the active roster.
Pick 191: WR Dezmon Briscoe, Kansas
Briscoe was actually not a terrible idea for the Bengals to pick at the time. He was one of the last players to suffer cuts in the 2010 preseason, but he did go on to have a marginally productive season with the Buccaneers in 2011 (387 yards, six touchdowns). Obviously the pick didn't turn out great for the Bengals because they never got any production out of him, but the fact of the matter is, he was capable of production comparable to that of Jordan Shipley or Andrew Hawkins. Finding a player like that in the sixth round takes scouting talent, however, he didn't work out with the Bengals.
Pick 228: G Reggie Stephens, Iowa State
Stephens is another player who never really panned out and didn't really have much of an excuse for it. That's not to say it was a particularly bad pick, he did manage to stick around as a backup for the entire 2010 season as a rookie. Following his release in 2011, he signed as a backup with the Bears. He came back as a camp-body for the Bengals in 2012 and spent parts of the rest of the season with the Bills and Bears. Most recently, he spent a year on the Ravens' practice squad and hasn't seen an NFL contract since. Essentially, from this pick, the Bengals got a temporary backup who returned as a camp body - which isn't the worst thing to get from a seventh round pick.