Draft day is like an early Christmas for Cincinnati Bengals fans. The NFL Draft is the perfect time for teams like the Bengals to restock and rebuild the team in a way that will hopefully foster long-term success. While the Bengals are still looking for success in certain areas (ie: playoff wins), the club has been very successful in the draft during the last 10 years, making fantastic decisions on players in all rounds who go on to start for the team and make a significant impact.
The last major ‘turnaround’ draft for the Bengals was in 2011, when the club selected A.J. Green and Andy Dalton in the first and second rounds, respectively. Those two players have defined the current era of Cincinnati football, while fourth round pick Clint Boling has helped hold down the offensive line.
However, as successful as the Bengals were at certain points in the 2011 draft, they have continued to hit it big with many selections since. And while the 2014 and 2015 classes have been disappointing, there’s still time for those players to shine. It just goes to show you how good the Bengals are at finding talent in the draft. Here’s a look at some of the best selections the Bengals have made in the draft in recent years.
5. Marvin Jones, 5th round, 2012
The only reason Jones doesn’t rank higher on this list is because he wasn’t as effective as he could have been in Cincinnati, due to a few injuries, and he left for Detroit after four years. However, with a pick the Bengals received in a trade from the Patriots for the great Chad Johnson, the Bengals found a solid complement for Green, who played 43 games in four seasons and recorded 134 catches for 1,729 yards and 15 touchdowns in the process. When he was finally established and healthy enough to capitalize on his ability (2015), he performed so well he became one of the hottest names on the free agency market the following offseason. Essentially, he is no longer with the Bengals because he was too good to continue playing second fiddle to Green.
4. Giovani Bernard, 2nd round, 2013
The Bengals’ long line of great running backs selected in the second round continued with Bernard in 2013. In his first season, he split time with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and still managed to put up 1,209 all-purpose yards and eight all-purpose touchdowns in the process. His production has generally remained steady throughout his career with the Bengals, save for a bit of a dip in 2016 due to a torn ACL suffered in Week 11. Still, being able to help stabilize the running back position in the face of poor play along the offensive line and very little help from Jeremy Hill is a feat worth celebrating.
3. Shawn Williams, 3rd round, 2013
When the Bengals selected Williams in 2013, it was assumed he would eventually take over at the strong safety position, a position that was in flux and being filled by rookie George Iloka. The free safety position was held by Reggie Nelson, who was performing well at the time and not expected to be going anywhere. However, Nelson ended up leaving in free agency and Williams filled the vacated role in 2016 very well, after convincing the Bengals he was worth a long-term extension before ever holding down a starting position.
2. AJ McCarron, 5th round, 2014
It’s not often the Bengals invest in their backup quarterback position via the draft. Prior to McCarron, the last time the Bengals invested a draft pick into the position was in 2007 when they selected Nevada’s Jeff Rowe at pick No. 151. However, McCarron has performed much better than Rowe with, arguably, less opportunity to succeed. While McCarron did get to grab the spotlight from Dalton in 2015, following a season-ending injury to the starter, Dalton has taken every other relevant regular-season snap. Rowe came to the Bengals at a time when health was a major concern for starting quarterback Carson Palmer, yet he never played a meaningful snap for the Bengals. By most accounts, the Bengals aren’t expected to retain McCarron beyond his rookie contract, but he has brought so much more than he was ever expected to bring as a designated backup from the fifth round of the draft.
1. George Iloka, 5th round, 2012
The Bengals virtually struck gold when they selected George Iloka with the fifth round pick they received from the Giants for first-round draft bust Keith Rivers. As previously explained, he came to the Bengals at a time when the strong safety position was in a period of flux, but he took the starting job and ran with it. Unlike Jones, who was selected in the same round of the same draft, Iloka stayed with the Bengals after his rookie contract was up and is now part of a very solid safety tandem with Williams. If there is one player who shows the Bengals can find talent at any point in the draft, it’s Iloka.