Where would the great players of today be without those who came before them? The success of today is largely dependent on overcoming the adversity of yesterday and that’s seen in the selection of the below five players who make up the No. 6-10 spots on our ranking of the top 50 Bengals players of all time.
We’ve made it through the players ranked between 11 and 50:
And now it’s time to reveal the players ranked between 6 and 10, before finally announcing the top five tomorrow.
10. Eddie Edwards, Defensive line
Edwards was drafted by the Bengals in the first round of the 1977 NFL Draft and was the third overall selection. He played for the Bengals for 12 seasons from 1977 until his retirement in 1988. During that time, he recovered 17 fumbles and set a franchise record with 83.5 sacks. Only 47.5 of those sacks are "official", however, as the NFL did not consider sacks an official statistic until 1982. His 47.5 official sacks remained a Bengals franchise record until Carlos Dunlap passed him in 2015, though in reality, he has far more sacks. What was the NFL thinking back then?
9. Bob Johnson, Offensive line
The first draft choice in team history is also the only Bengals player to have his uniform number (No. 54) retired. Johnson anchored the offensive line on the first three playoff teams in franchise history (1970, 1973 and 1975). He was selected to the American Football League Pro Bowl in 1968, which is the only time in Bengals history that a center made the Pro Bowl. Man, it’s been a long time since the Bengals had a good center.
8. Isaac Curtis, Wide receiver
Entering the 1973 NFL Draft, the Bengals needed a wide receiver who had enough speed to spread out opposing defenses for quarterback Ken Anderson. Curtis had world-class speed, having run the 100-yard dash in 9.3 seconds as a member of the University of California's track team. Curtis also recorded a time of 20.7 seconds in the 200-meter dash in Los Angeles in 1970. That was before he transferred to San Diego State for his final year of college and started playing wide receiver, after being a running back and kick returner at Cal. Despite limited experience at receiver, Paul Brown saw something in Curtis and took a chance on him.
Once in the NFL, Curtis made the starting lineup as a rookie and excelled immediately, recording 45 receptions for 843 yards, an average of 18.7 yards per catch, and nine touchdowns. In his second season, Curtis caught 30 passes for 630 yards (a 21.1 yard-per-catch average) and a career-best 10 touchdowns.
The following year, 1975, proved to be his most productive season. Curtis caught 44 passes for 934 yards for a league-leading and career-best 21.2 yard-per-catch average, along with scoring seven touchdowns. Curtis was quickly becoming one of the best players in the team’s then short history.
Curtis had another big year in 1976 with 41 receptions for 766 yards and six touchdowns, including a career-long 85-yard touchdown reception. In 1977, he was limited by injury to 20 catches in eight games, but bounced back in 1978 with a career-best 47 receptions for 737 yards and three touchdowns. He continued to play a major part in the Bengals' passing games until his 11th and final NFL season, 1984, when he had only 12 receptions.
Curtis was a Pro Bowl selection four times, from 1973 to 1976, and was chosen second Team All-Pro for three consecutive seasons from 1974 to 1976. He also helped lead the Bengals to a Super Bowl appearance after the 1981 season and had a solid performance in Super Bowl XVI, where he caught three passes for 42 yards. Years after his retirement, his quarterback, Ken Anderson, said Isaac Curtis was "The Jerry Rice before Jerry Rice."
In his 12 NFL seasons, Curtis totalled 416 receptions for 7,101 yards and 53 touchdowns, while also gaining 76 rushing yards on 25 carries. His 17.1 yards per catch average is a Bengals’ record and his 7,101 receiving yards was a franchise record until broken by Chad Johnson in 2007. Additionally, his 53 touchdown receptions were a Bengals record until surpassed by Carl Pickens in the late 1990s.
Because Curtis had world-class speed, defensive backs could not keep up with him and teams were forced to double and even triple cover him. In Curtis’ first year in 1973, the Bengals won the Central Division and faced the eventual Super Bowl Champion Miami Dolphins. Don Shula's defensive backs didn't have the speed to cover Curtis, so he decided he would have them push, bump, and hold Curtis down the field.
After that game, NFL defences, including the Steelers, started doing the same thing to stop Curtis. Paul Brown wanted the rule changed, telling the NFL Competition Committee, "What good is it for us to have performers, if they aren't allowed to perform."
"The Isaac Curtis Rule" states that a defender is only allowed to block a receiver within five yards of the line of scrimmage. After the initial five yards, any contact will be considered holding, which is a five-yard penalty and an automatic first down.
"He changed the game," said former Bengals teammate Cris Collinsworth in 2012. "There's no question because no one could keep up with him. They put in the five-yard bump rules and all that crazy stuff that it all eventually became.”
7. A.J. Green, Wide receiver
Green was drafted by the Bengals as fourth overall selection in the 2011 NFL Draft. Green made the Pro Bowl after his first season with the Bengals, becoming the first rookie receiver to make a Pro Bowl appearance since Anquan Boldin in 2003. From 2011 to 2013, Green caught more passes (260) than any other player in NFL history during their first three seasons, although that mark has since been surpassed by Odell Beckham, Jr.
Green's first NFL reception was a 41-yard touchdown catch against the Cleveland Browns. By the end of his rookie season, Green had recorded four 100-yard games and led all NFL rookies in receptions and receiving yards, catching 65 passes for 1,057 yards in 15 games. His seven touchdown receptions were second among rookies, just one behind Julio Jones of the Atlanta Falcons.
On December 18, 2011, Green and fellow rookie, quarterback Andy Dalton, surpassed the all-time NFL record for yards and receptions by a rookie quarterback/receiver tandem. One week later, on December 24, 2011, Green's 1,031 yards surpassed Cris Collinsworth’s franchise record of 1,009 yards set in 1981 for most receiving yards by a rookie. Collinsworth still holds the franchise record for most receptions by a rookie with 67.
In Week 3 of the 2012 regular season, Green caught nine passes for a career-high 183 yards in a 38-31 win over the Washington Redskins. In Week 9, he caught a 56-yard touchdown pass against the New York Giants, which extended his touchdown streak to eight consecutive games, the longest in the NFL by a receiver and second-longest overall. He extended the streak to nine, following a four-yard touchdown against Kansas City in Week 11.
Green gained more than 100 receiving yards in five different games that season and was selected to his second Pro Bowl in as many years in the league. He finished the season with 97 receptions for 1,350 yards and 11 touchdowns.
In 2013, Green set new career highs for receptions (98) and receiving yards. His total of 1,426 yards was the second highest total in Bengals history. Green also scored 11 touchdowns and had six 100-yard games, including a franchise-record five consecutive games from Week 6 to Week 10.
Despite missing three games and nearly all of two more during the 2014 season, Green still recorded his fourth consecutive 1,000 yard season, finishing the year with 69 receptions for 1,041 yards and 6 touchdowns. He also played in his fourth consecutive Pro Bowl.
In Week 3 of the 2015 season, Green caught 10 passes for a career-high 227 yards and two fourth quarter touchdowns in a win over the Baltimore Ravens. His 227 yards was the second highest single-game total in franchise history. Green finished the 2015 season with 86 receptions, 1,297 yards, and 10 touchdowns, earned his fifth straight Pro Bowl appearance and was ranked 16th on the NFL Top 100 Players of 2016. In that season, the Ravens started realizing they had no answer for Green.
Unfortunately, they didn’t need one in 2016 as he missed both matchups against Baltimore due to a Week 11 hamstring injury. Despite missing the last five games of the 2016 season and all but one snap of the game before because of a significant hamstring injury, Green still finished with 66 receptions, 964 receiving yards, and 4 touchdown catches. The 2016 season was Green's first in the NFL without surpassing the 1,000-yard barrier, coming up just 36 yards shy. Despite his injury, Green was named to his sixth straight Pro Bowl on December 20, 2016, though for the first time, he was unable to play in the game due to the injury.
6. James Brooks, Running back
In 1984, Brooks was traded to the Bengals for Pete Johnson, a trade widely regarded as the best in franchise history.
A four-time Pro Bowler (1986, 1988–1990), Brooks excelled at running, receiving, and kick returning. By the time he left the Bengals in 1991, he was the team's all-time leading rusher with 6,447 yards, although that total was later surpassed by Corey Dillon’s 8,061 yards. Brooks is still among the Bengals top-15 all-time leading receivers with 297 receptions for 3,012 yards.
By the time of his retirement after the 1992 season, Brooks amassed 7,962 rushing yards, 383 receptions for 3,621 receiving yards, 565 punt return yards, 2,762 kickoff return yards, and scored 79 touchdowns, 49 rushing and 30 receiving.
Between 1968 when John David Crow and Timmy Brown retired and 2005 (Marshall Faulk), Brooks was the only active member of the 30/30 club (more than 30 rushing and 30 receiving touchdowns), and one of only seven players all time. As of 2017, Brooks' 14,910 total yards from scrimmage ranks him No. 36 on the NFL's list of career all-purpose yards.
Brooks was used sparingly at first, only reaching 10 carries in three games in the 1984 season. Though he started every game in 1985, he and fullback Larry Kinnebrew finished the season with almost identical carry and yardage stats.
His breakthrough season came in 1986, which included arguably his most memorable run in a December 7 contest against the New England Patriots. On that play, Brooks made several cutbacks, broke several tackles and dragged defenders the final five yards across the goal line for a 56-yard touchdown run. Brooks finished the game with 163 yards rushing and 101 yards receiving, one of only two 100/100 games in Bengals history.
That was his sixth season in the league, but the first in which he reached 1,000 rushing yards (Brooks finished with a then-franchise record of 1,087 rushing yards) and a berth in the Pro Bowl. A determined rusher, Brooks was noted for his ability to make yards after contact, and continue fighting for extra inches in the process of being tackled.
After missing half of the 1987 season with an injury, Brooks came back strong in 1988 when he rushed for 931 yards and set career-bests in rushing touchdowns with eight and receiving touchdowns with six. He was instrumental in the Bengals run to Super Bowl XXIII.
In 1989, Brooks powered his way to a career-best and franchise-record 1,239 rushing yards, good for seventh place in the NFL. He again broke 1,000 yards in 1990, including a 201-yard performance against the Houston Oilers. Brooks started 1991 with two 100+ rushing games in Weeks 2 and 3, but had progressively fewer carries the rest of the season. During the next 12 games, Brooks had 102 rushes for two touchdowns and a 3.3 yards-per-carry average, never once breaking 50 yards. He was traded to the Browns in 1992 and then to the Buccaneers midway through the season, and retired after a minor injury in Game 6 of that year.
As of 2017 NFL offseason, Brooks held at least five Bengals franchise records, including:
- Rushing yards per attempt: career (4.8), season (5.61 in 1989)
- Yards from scrimmage: season (1,773 in 1986)
- All purpose yards: season (1,773 in 1986)
- Games with 3+ touchdowns: season (2 in 1988; tied with Carl Pickens)