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Remembering the Bengals’ best NFL Draft classes

The Bengals have had some great draft classes in recent history, but which ones were the best?

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Cincinnati Bengals have had a mix of some great and not-so-great draft classes over the years. The Bengals began their existence with a solid draft in 1968, netting players like center Bob Johnson, running back Paul Robinson, safety/running back Jess Phillips, linebacker Al Beauchamp, running back Essex Johnson, and tight end Bob Trumpy.

That’s six players who played for at least five years with the Bengals. Johnson and Trumpy, in particular, both played at least a decade with the team.

However, you should probably expect the Bengals to come up with a decent number of long-time contributors in a draft in which they were allotted 41 picks, due to being an expansion team. The 1968 draft class was fruitful primarily because the Bengals had so much room to make mistakes and get lucky on some of their picks. But the Bengals have had some truly excellent drafts over the years with much less room for error.

Some of the best were:


Key selections: DE Eddie Edwards, DT Wilson Whitley, RB Pete Johnson, OT Mike Wilson, CB Louis Breeden

The Bengals’ 1977 draft class will live on in history as a draft in which the Bengals were allotted 19 picks and got some production from almost all of them. For starters, the Bengals had three first-round picks and selected two long-time contributors in Edwards and Wilson.

They picked tight end Mike Cobb with their third first-round pick. He didn’t exactly pan-out for the Bengals, but they did manage to trade him to the Chicago Bears for an extra fourth-round pick in 1979, which turned into kick returner Vaughn Lusby.

The majority of the Bengals’ picks made the team in 1977, the best of whom eventually went on to help the Bengals reach their first Super Bowl and, according to ESPN, solidify this draft class as the 19th best in NFL history.

19. 1977 Cincinnati Bengals (307 AV)

The Bengals' 1977 draft class helped form the core of the team that made the franchise's first Super Bowl appearance in the 1981 season. Of the team's 19 selections, 16 made the roster, including one-time Bengals single-season sacks leader Eddie Edwards (first round) and tackle Mike Wilson (fourth round), who never missed a game in his eight seasons with Cincinnati.


Key selections: DE Justin Smith, WR Chad Johnson, RB Rudi Johnson, WR T.J. Houshmandzadeh

The Bengals’ 2001 draft class is impressive on multiple levels. For starters, they only had seven picks that year, one for each round of the draft at that point in time. Regardless, they managed to find three Pro Bowlers and four players who would last at least seven years with the team.

First-round pick Justin Smith eventually became a perennial Pro Bowler, but only after the Bengals allowed him to move to San Francisco after the 2007 season. Still, that’s a success rate of roughly 57 percent. Not to mention, any time a team can find an eight-year contributor and Pro Bowler like Houshmandzadeh in the seventh round, the draft class looks impressive.


Key selections: CB Jonathan Joseph, OT Andrew Whitworth, DE Frostee Rucker, DT Domata Peko

You could probably make the argument that the Bengals’ 2006 draft class doesn’t deserve to be on this list as only one player stuck around, long-term, as a Pro Bowler. However, that player was Andrew Whitworth, who was selected in the second round and eventually went on to be one of the best offensive linemen in the NFL over his 11-year career with the Bengals.

In addition, they found contributors in each of their first four picks that year and short-time contributor Ethan Kilmer in the seventh round. Unfortunately, this draft class is also marred by the selection of Reggie McNeal in the sixth round, who embarrassed the Bengals with a nightclub arrest in December of his only season with the team.


Key selections: CB Dre Kirkpatrick, OG Kevin Zeitler, WR Mohamed Sanu, DT Brandon Thompson, WR Marvin Jones, SS George Iloka

It is hard to truly evaluate such a young draft class, but the Bengals’ 2012 class is truly impressive. While it is true that a significant number of the team’s ‘key selections’ are no longer with the team, that is only the case because they performed so well during their tenure with the team that they were lured away in free agency by lucrative deals the Bengals simply couldn’t match.

In particular, Zeitler, Sanu, and Jones are now with the Browns, Falcons, and Lions, respectively, all because of their incredible production with the Bengals. However, the Bengals still have Kirkpatrick, Iloka, and Thompson. The former two have earned long-term spots with the team, while Thompson has been a stabilizing factor at defensive tackle, when healthy.

As you can tell, the Bengals’ best drafts have primarily come in recent years. The Bengals built Super Bowl teams with some of their early drafts, but in many cases, they were so saturated with picks that they were bound to come up with some solid picks here and there.

They went through a period of awful drafting in the late 80s and 90s, but they have seen mostly solid drafts since current Director of Player Personnel Duke Tobin started to turn the team’s draft fortunes around in 2001 and beyond.