This offseason, the Bengals found themselves in a similar situation at wide receiver as they did when Marvin Lewis first took over as head coach back in 2003. After losing Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu in free agency this offseason, Cincinnati was in need of more weapons to support their star No. 1 receiver, A.J. Green.
The University of Pittsburgh's Tyler Boyd was one of the answers to the wide receiver issue, with the team selecting him in the second round of the 2016 NFL Draft. Depending on the offensive package, he will be either the second or third receiver in the group along with free agent acquisition, Brandon LaFell, with the hope being that Boyd will fit in as an immediate contributor.
Lewis has used a number of picks on wide receiver within the first three rounds and the results have been mixed. Let's have a look back at receivers selected in Lewis' watch in the higher rounds of his previous 13 draft classes.
A.J. Green: Lewis' lone first round wide receiver selection might be the best pick he's ever made. Green has been a Pro Bowl selection in each of his five seasons and has paired up with Andy Dalton as one of the best quarterback/receiver tandems in their time in the league. He's averaging 1,234 yards, 83 catches and nine touchdowns per year. Needless to say, Green is on pace for a Hall of Fame career and might go down as one of the best Bengals ever.
Jerome Simpson: A guy who had all of the athleticism in the world but couldn't grasp the mental aspects of the game, nor could he keep out of some trouble off the field, Simpson had a tumultuous four-year stint with the Bengals. After providing the team with almost nothing for nearly three full seasons, he broke out in the final two games of 2010 with 18 catches and three touchdown receptions. After an overhaul to the roster the following year, he was a starter opposite of Green in 2011, garnering 50 catches for 725 yards and four scores. His most notable act with the Bengals came against the Cardinals that year:
Kelley Washington: "The squirrel" was a valuable member to the Bengals receiving corps in Lewis' first two seasons after being selected in the coach's inaugural draft class. Chad Johnson was an emerging NFL star, but T.J. Houshmandzadeh didn't become a household name until the 2004 season, so it paved the way for Washington to be a nice part of a trio of wideout threats. After logging seven touchdowns from 2003-2004, he got lost in the shuffle with the arrival of another exciting third round receiver drafted in 2005. Washington finished with 72 catches for 893 and nine receiving touchdowns in four Bengals seasons.
Chris Henry: A first round talent who had a ton of baggage, Henry became the poster boy of the bad boy Bengals in the mid-2000s. He also became a nice redemption story before his untimely death late in the 2009 season. The young man they lovingly called "Slim" had 21 receiving touchdowns in just 55 games played. It may not sound that impressive at first blush, but when he was taking a backseat to Johnson and Houshmandzadeh, while also battling suspension issues, the guy was absolutely electric when he touched the ball.
Andre Caldwell: In this writer's humble opinion, this guy received far too much hate from Bengals fans in his four-year tenure with the club. While Who Dey faithful like to mar his resume by highlighting some infamous drops, he also was a major key to the Bengals' improbable bounce-back division championship season of 2009. In that year, Caldwell had three receiving touchdowns, including a game-winner against Baltimore early in the season. He moved on to Denver and just won a Super Bowl with the Broncos.
Jordan Shipley: If there is a player who Boyd most closely emulates, it might be Shipley. The former Longhorn was a little shorter and might have had a little more short-area wiggle, but both players' knack to move the sticks and come down with contested catches give them similar "security blanket" monikers. Shipley was destined for a solid slot career in the mold of Wes Welker and even Golden Tate, but a knee injury in 2010 that never fully healed ended his career after a promising rookie year.
Mohamed Sanu: If you didn't like the Boyd/Shipley comparison, then perhaps the Sanu/Boyd likeliness will tickle your fancy. Sanu did a bit more as a passer and runner out of the wildcat and Boyd has greater straight line speed, but both have and will make their NFL careers out of the slot with the occasional bounce outside. The Bengals probably wanted to keep either Jones over Sanu this offseason, but No. 12 isn't necessarily an easy guy to replace in his own right. In often being a low man on the passing target totem pole, Sanu logged 152 catches, 1,793 yards and 11 touchdowns in four years with the Bengals.
What to make of it:
Bengals were quietly set at wide receiver early on: Though the coaching staff liked Johnson and Houshmandzadeh as Lewis took the reins, most didn't know what they truly had at the position at the time. Because of Johnson's breakout 2003 campaign and Houshmandzadeh's emergence in 2004, the team didn't need to force early-round picks in the first handful of years in the regime's tenure. This is a big reason why they didn't use a first round pick on a wideout until Green in 2011.
The team can find and develop talent: Most will point to Cam Newton, Patrick Peterson and Von Miller as the treasures of the 2011 Draft, but most forget that the consensus safest pick in the class was Green. The team wisely allowed teams to pass on Sanu and Jones in the 2012 class, while using both players to their respective strengths in Cincinnati, but they also garnered career years out of Simpson and Caldwell when needed for playoff seasons. This year, a lot of fans would have liked to have seen Cincinnati use a first round pick on a wideout, but instead of reaching, they waited for a sure-handed, solid route-runner in Boyd in the second.
The late picks largely haven't produced: Barring Jones' production and the fact that "Housh" wasn't a Lewis pick, the team hasn't drafted productive players in the back end of their draft classes. With names like Dezmon Briscoe, Cobi Hamilton, Ryan Whalen, Freddie Brown, Mario Urrutia and Reggie McNeal, the long-term success trend is working against guys like James Wright and this year's sixth-round pick, Cody Core.
Heavy reliance on free agents and veterans: Green is an outlier, as he's one of those generational talents, but most of these players have been relied on in supplemental roles early in their careers. Whether it was a preference to lean on Laveranues Coles, Terrell Owens or LaFell this year, Lewis doesn't like rookie mistakes.