With the 2016 NFL draft quickly approaching, we look back at the best and worst of the Bengals' draft picks throughout the last dozen years. The Bengals have selected 117 players since Marvin Lewis became the Bengals’ head coach. Round by round, which of these picks were the best? Which were the worst?
Best Pick: A.J. Green, WR, Georgia, 2011
Green has some solid competition for the top spot. Carson Palmer, Leon Hall, Tyler EIfert, Johnathan Joseph, and Andre Smith were all solid selections in round one, but ultimately Green tops the group.
Green has become one of the NFL’s premier wide receivers, already being named to five Pro-Bowls in his first five NFL seasons. Among the 419 wide receivers drafted since the 2003 NFL draft, Green ranks fifth with 81.2 yards per game, fourth with 0.6 touchdowns per game, and eighth with 5.5 receptions per game. Only Odell Beckham tops him in all three categories.
Worst Pick: Keith Rivers, LB, USC, 2008
There were several strong contenders here with David Pollack and Chris Perry fighting with Rivers for this distinction. Pollack’s short career was injury based, so it’s difficult to fault the team for a player getting hurt. Perry was an awful pick, but he was selected 26 overall, whereas the awfulness of the Rivers selection happened in the top 10.
The Bengals were rumored to be looking for a defensive lineman at #9. Thankfully for the Bengals, the Chiefs, Jets, Saints and Jaguars selected Glenn Dorsey, Vernon Gholston, and Sedrick Ellis just ahead of the Bengals, to make sure the Bengals wouldn’t was a pick on one of those defensive linemen (they were rumored to like Harvey quite a lot). The Saints and Jaguars even traded ahead of the Bengals to spare the Bengals the wasted pick. Unmoved by the attempts to spare them of reaching for a bad defensive player, the Bengals boldly drafted Keith Rivers, who impressed with a wonderful pro-day.
Unfortunately for the Bengals, Rivers’ successful Pro Day did not translate to a successful career. Rivers started 33 games in his four years as a Bengal, compiling 185 total tackles with two interceptions and two sacks. To put that into perspective, Geno Hayes, drafted 168 picks later by the Buccaneers, was more productive over the same span.
Best Pick: Andy Dalton, QB, Texas Christian, 2011
Andrew Whitworth and Carlos Dunlap are strong contenders for this spot, but it’s hard to skip past the quarterback who has done nothing but win in his five years as a Bengal. Not only is Dalton 50-26-1 as a starter, now on his third offensive coordinator, but he has progressed from a game manager to a very good NFL quarterback, finishing second last season for passing efficiency.
One of the reasons Dalton gets the nod here is the situation he stepped into. The Bengals were coming off a horrible 2010 season, had just lost long-time starter Carson Palmer, were adding a new offense, and facing a CBA shortened offseason, forcing Dalton to learn much quicker than most rookie quarterbacks were historically afforded. The Bengals were picked by many to finish among one of the worst teams in the NFL. Instead, Dalton led the Bengals to the playoffs and was named to the Pro-Bowl in that first season.
Worst Pick: Margus Hunt, DE, Southern Methodist, 2013
It was pretty much a coin flip between Margus Hunt and Devon Still. Both were taken at 53 overall, and neither panned out as more than a deep backup for a few seasons. Hunt earns the title of worst pick for two reasons. First, his overall production is actually worse than Still's over the same span of time. Secondly, he was seen as more of a reach when he was selected, whereas Still was a solid prospect who just didn’t pan out. Hunt was a reach who required go-go-gadget arms to achieve.
Best Pick: Michael Johnson, DE, Georgia Tech, 2009
The Bengals have found solid players in round three, but haven’t exactly struck gold with any Pro-Bowl caliber players. Among these solid players, Johnson tops the list which includes Pat Sims, Landon Johnson, and Frostee Rucker.
Johnson has produced a nice seven year career, becoming more of a run defender than a pass rusher. He averages just over five sacks per season, which is solid, although unspectacular.
Worst Pick: Dontay Moch, OLB, Nevada, 2011
Moch was an uber-athletic 3-4 outside linebacker drafted by the Bengals with the intention of squeezing into their 4-3 defense. He was too small to play defensive end for them, and unable to cut it as a linebacker for them, too.
His brief eight game NFL career only included one game for the Bengals. His athleticism led to multiple teams taking a chance on him, before he was out of the league, a few years after being drafted.
Another misery associated with this pick is that Justin Houston was drafted four picks after Moch. For the record, Houston has 55 more career sacks and four more Pro Bowl nominations than Moch.
Best Pick: Geno Atkins, DT, Georgia, 2010
Atkins has a strong claim not only the title as the best pick of the fourth round by the Bengals, but on the title of the best overall pick by the Bengals in the Marvin Lewis era. Atkins was very quick and strong, but scouts and draft pundits knocked him for being too small, and a lack of statistical production.
Atkins has proven the naysayers wrong, becoming the premier pass rusher from the interior of the defensive line. He is a constant presence in opposing backfields, and not only has racked up 43 sacks in his career, but also has a pair of All-Pro selections and four Pro Bowl berths.
Worst Pick: Dennis Weathersby, DB, Oregon State, 2003
Some may want to see Eric Ghiaciuc or Russell Bodine here, just on principle. But Weathersby is the clear winner of the worst pick award for round four. Weathersby was a good cover corner who had a good combine, and was projected by many to be drafted in the second or third round.
Between the combine and the NFL draft, something happened involving Weathersby that greatly diminished his draft stock. He was shot in a drive-by shooting. When the fourth round began, the Bengals felt he was too good of a value to pass up. Turns out they were very wrong. Weathersby was out of the league by the end of 2003, having compiled a total of zero tackles or interceptions.
Best Pick: George Iloka, S, Boise State, 2012
This is really a toss-up between Marvin Jones and Iloka, both taken back to back in 2012, with Jones selected at 166 overall, and Iloka at 167 overall. Jones only spent one season, 2015, as a full-time starter for the Bengals, so Iloka earns the nod, being a three year starter, and playing in eight more games. In his three seasons as a starting safety for the Bengals, Iloka has recorded 194 total tackles and five interceptions.
Worst Pick: Robert Sands, DB, West Virginia, 2011
No, this pick isn’t entirely based on the Bengals opting for the tall safety from West Virginia over the tall cornerback from Stanford, Richard Sherman. Sands is also the highest drafted fifth round pick, 134 overall, to produce nothing for the Bengals. In two seasons on the Bengals’ payroll, Sands appeared in one game accumulating zero stats.
Best Pick: Bernard Scott, RB, Abilene Christian, 2009
Scott spent five years in the NFL, compiling 1,049 yards and four rushing touchdowns. All but 14 of those rushing yards came from his time in Cincinnati, before a brief two game stop in Baltimore, before his career came to an end. Despite being the seventeenth running back selected in 2006, he finished seventh in that draft in rushing yards. Scott’s biggest game came in 2009 against the Raiders, accumulating 151 total yards on 24 touches filling in for Cedric Benson.
Worst Pick: Matt Sherry, TE, Villanova, 2008
Sherry is the only sixth round pick to never play in an NFL game, aside from 2013 draftee Cobi Hamilton. While the jury is still out on Hamilton, Sherry failed to make an NFL roster, which is something that Hamilton has accomplished.
Best Pick: Nedu Ndukwe, DB, Notre Dame, 2007
Jonathan Fanene was another good choice out of Utah in 2005, but I opted for the 2007 seventh round pick, Ndukwe. The Bengals drafted Marvin White a few rounds earlier to become a future starting safety, while Ndukwe wasn’t given much hope to be more than depth. But all Ndukwe did was come in and push the much higher drafted White out of his starting role in Cincinnati. Ndukwe went on to start for the Bengals over two and a half seasons, totaling 251 tackles and seven interceptions.
Worst Pick: Korey Lindsey, DB, Southern Illinois, 2011
Between Casey Bramlet, Bennie Brazell, Angelo Craig, Freddie Brown, among others, there are quite a few seventh round picks who never played for the Bengals. Vakapuna gets credited as the worst because he was the highest drafted seventh round pick (215 overall) to not make it out of training camp with a roster spot. I was tempted to name Korey Lindsey (drafted 207 overall) as the worst, but he at least managed to spend a couple years drawing a paycheck from the Cardinals and Redskins, although never playing in an NFL game.