The Cincinnati Bengals have been fortune enough to have rostered back-to-back franchise receivers during the last decade.
It began in 2001, when Chad Johnson came to Cincinnati by way of the Oregon State Beavers. He became one of the game’s best receivers for much of the next decade before being traded to the New England Patriots during the 2011 offseason.
That same year saw A.J. Green join the Bengals after a standout career with the Georgia Bulldogs. Both Green and Johnson were recently named to a list of the 10 best college receivers that NFL.com writer and former NFL player Bucky Brooks ever scouted.
And, it makes sense as both the former and current Bengals receivers were excellent college players, though Green was a top five draft pick while Johnson was a Round 2 selection. Here’s what Brooks had to say about Green, his number five selection.
5. A.J. Green, Georgia
Drafted: Fourth overall, 2011, Cincinnati Bengals
There's nothing like having a big receiver with the size, speed and length to overwhelm defenders on the perimeter. That's why NFL coaches and scouts were fawning over the Bulldogs' WR1 after watching him terrorize SEC defenses for three seasons. Green showed rare balance, body control and agility as a vertical playmaker. He impressed evaluators with his crafty route-running skills and hands. He tallied 50-plus catches in each of his seasons with the Bulldogs and finished with 23 career touchdowns despite playing in a traditional offense that didn't inflate his production with bubble screens and other layups.
As a pro, Green has been nothing short of spectacular as the Bengals' lead receiver. He is a six-time Pro Bowl selectee with five 1,000-yard seasons on his resume. In addition, he has scored 49 career touchdowns in 86 games while displaying ballerina-like footwork and body control on the perimeter. Green is the master of the acrobatic catch and his extraordinary length (and vertical jump) expands the strike zone for the Bengals' quarterbacks. With Green posting outstanding numbers despite facing constant double teams, it's fair to say he has lived up to the hype as a transcendent talent.
Coming in at No. 10 was Johnson, who was a standout player at Oregon State before being drafted early in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft.
10. Chad Johnson, Oregon State
Drafted: 36th overall, 2001, Cincinnati Bengals
Before the Beavers' star became known for his fancy footwork and outlandish touchdown celebrations, he was a dazzling playmaker in the Pac-10 with an unstoppable game. Johnson torched opponents with extraordinary route-running ability, while also showing outstanding ball skills during his lone season in Corvallis.
The 6-foot-1, 192-pounder finished with 37 receptions for 806 yards and eight touchdowns on an 11-1 team that capped off the season with an impressive Fiesta Bowl win over Notre Dame. Although his modest numbers as a "one-year wonder" didn't necessarily suggest that he would blossom into a game changer as a pro, Johnson's unique combination of quickness, body control and ball skills helped him become one of the most prolific receivers in NFL history. The two-time All-Pro topped the 1,000-yard mark seven times and led the league in receiving yards in 2006 with 1,369. With more than 11,000 receiving yards and 67 touchdowns in a 10-year career, Johnson certainly exceeded the expectations that surrounded him as a second-round pick.
Green, who just finished his sixth NFL season, caught 66 passes for 964 yards and four touchdowns in essentially nine games last season. He suffered a hamstring strain in Week 11 that led to him missing the final six games last year. That’s how 2016 became the first time Green has failed to record 1,000 yards receiving in a season. Had he hit that mark, Green would have joined Randy Moss as the only players in NFL history to have six-straight 1,000-yard seasons to begin their career.
Green’s last full season came in 2015, where he caught 86 passes for 1,297 yards (15.1 yards per catch) and 10 scores. He is on pace to finish No. 1 among every receiver who's ever played for the Bengals, in nearly every category (many of which Johnson currently tops). Entering 2017, Green ranks No. 4 in catches (481), No. 2 in yards (7,135) and is No. 4 in touchdowns (49) in franchise history. According to Pro Football reference, Green ranks No. 1 in franchise history in receiving yards per game at 83.0 yards per contest, as well as catches per game at 5.6. At his current pace, Green will finished his NFL career as the most accomplished receiver to ever don the orange and black.
As for Johnson, he too was on pace at one time to become Cincinnati’s all-time leader in every receiving category. During his 10-year career with the Bengals, Johnson had 751 catches for 10,783 yards (14.4 ypc) with 66 touchdowns. He owns seven Bengals franchise receiving records, and is also a six-time NFL Pro Bowler who was named to three NFL All-Pro teams.
After brief stints with the New England Patriots and Miami Dolphins, Johnson finished his NFL career in 2012 with 766 catches for 11,059 yards and 67 touchdowns. He was known for his ability to produce big plays and let his opponents know it with his colorful and controversial attitude.
The Bengals have been fortune enough to have one of these two receivers on the field every year since 2001. With Green in the prime of his career, that should continue for the foreseeable future.