The 2011 NFL Draft will forever be remembered as one of the key events in Bengals franchise history, and a big reason for that is the first pick Cincinnati made in that draft.
After enduring one of the worst offseasons an NFL franchise has ever endured, this was a pick that the Bengals absolutely had to get right, and they absolutely nailed it in the form of Georgia receiver A.J. Green. Viewed by some as the best prospect in that draft, Green was the kind of can't-miss prospect Cincinnati needed with that pick to help re-energize the franchise.
The Bengals ended up setting themselves up for five-straight playoff berths and one of the most successful periods in franchise history. Almost from the first time he stepped into an NFL practice, it was clear Green was a truly special player with a great future ahead of him.
Somehow, Green has managed to exceed the expectations even some of the biggest optimists had projected for his career. He broke just about every Bengals rookie receiving record en route to a Pro Bowl berth, which he's earned in all five years he's been in the NFL.
Sticking to the record theme, Green is carving his name into the franchise record books and should finish his career as the leader in every Bengals receiving category. He currently ranks No. 6 in catches (415), No. 5 in yards (6,171) and is No. 4 in touchdowns with 45. Every other Cincinnati receiver ahead of him on the list spent at least eight seasons with the team, and we should expect Green to have most, if not all of those records broken by his eighth season.
As for this past season, Green caught 86 passes for 1,297 yards (15.1 yards per catch) and 10 touchdowns, marking the fifth straight season in which Green topped the 1,000-yard mark. Only one other wideout in NFL history had previously accomplished that feat, and that's Randy Moss.
Green's signature game in 2015 came in Baltimore when he almost single-handily won the game for Cincinnati. He finished with a career-high 227 receiving yards on 10 catches to go with two scores, both of which gave the Bengals leads in the fourth quarter as they won a 27-24 shootout with the Ravens.
The only real down mark on Green's career to this point has been his occasional disappearance in big primetime games and in the playoffs. That theme continued this year as Green caught 'just' 23 balls for 327 yards and two touchdowns in five primetime/playoff games.
That averages out to 4.6 catches for 65.4 yards per game, which isn't bad production. It's just not what you['d expect from a star receiver who is capable of playing at an All-Pro level. To be fair to him, two of those games came with AJ McCarron as his quarterback, including the playoff loss to Pittsburgh. That game also saw Green catch his first postseason touchdown, and he still managed to make a big impact even with a backup quarterback throwing to him.
At this year's Pro Bowl, Hall of Fame receiver Michael Irvin called Green one of the game's best and someone who could make it to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Looking at all of the above points, there's no question Green is on a Hall of Fame pace, and if he does make it there, he'll have done so having played most, if not his entire career in the Queen City.
After signing a massive extension this offseason, Green is now signed through the 2019 season. That means the next time he's up for a new contract, Green will be 31-years-old, heading toward 32 in July. In other words, Green is going to be dominating in the NFL for many years to come, and he'll be doing so in Bengals stripes.