Only one Cincinnati Bengals player is currently enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. But that certainly does not mean Anthony Munoz is the only former Bengals player worthy of such an honor. The size of the market and zero Super Bowl wins have kept at least two of these names from receiving the ultimate honor in football recognition, and several others are knocking at the door.
We announce the final five names in our Top 50 Bengals of all time list. Be sure to catch up on and check out the rest of the list:
5. Chad Johnson, Wide Receiver
The Bengals selected Johnson in the second round of the 2001 NFL Draft with the 36th overall pick and he played for Cincinnati for 10 seasons. Johnson was a six-time NFL Pro Bowler, was named to four All-Pro teams and was voted as the number one wide receiver on the Bengals’ 40th and 50th Anniversary teams.
In Johnson's rookie year, he saw moderate playing time, catching 28 passes for 329 yards and one touchdown. He really broke on the scene in 2002 when he recorded 69 receptions for 1,166 yards (an average of 16.9 yards per catch) five touchdowns.
In 2003, Johnson set a Bengals franchise record by recording 1,355 receiving yards on 90 receptions and scored a career-best 10 touchdowns. He received his first Pro-Bowl selection after that season and was also named All-Pro.
Johnson caught 95 passes for 1,274 yards and nine touchdowns in 2004, including a 117-yard effort in a 58-48 win against the Cleveland Browns. He later surpassed his own receiving record in 2005 when he recorded 1,432 yards on 97 receptions and nine touchdowns.
In 2006, Johnson caught 87 passes for 1,369 yards and seven touchdowns and followed that up with a 2007 campaign that included 1,440 yards on 93 receptions and eight touchdowns. All told, Johnson led the AFC in receiving yards for four consecutive seasons, made the Pro Bowl five straight years from 2003 to 2007 and was named All-Pro every season from 2003 through 2006. He is also a member of the prestigious 10,000 receiving yards club.
For his career, which included one final season in New England and a trip to Super Bowl XLVI, Johnson caught 766 passes for 11,059 yards and 67 touchdowns. He also rushed 24 times for 175 yards.
As of the 2017 NFL offseason, Chad Johnson held at least 11 Bengals franchise records, including:
- Receptions: career (751)
- Receiving yards: career (10,783), season (1,440 in 2007), game (260 on 2006-11-12 SDG)
- Receiving touchdowns: career (66), game (3 on 2006-11-19 @NOR)
- Yards from scrimmage: career (10,958)
- All-purpose yards: career (10,964)
- 100+ yard receiving games: career (31)
- Games with 1+ touchdown scored: career (50)
- 1000+ receiving yard seasons: 7
4. Boomer Esiason, Quarterback
The Bengals selected Esiason with the 38th overall pick in the second round of the 1984 NFL Draft. ESPN draft analyst Mel Kiper was, in Esiason's words, "going ballistic" that he was still available in the latter stages of the first round. No quarterbacks were drafted in the first round. Esiason was actually the first quarterback selected since Steve Young signed with the L.A. Express of the USFL.
At the time of his retirement in 1997, Esiason was among the most successful quarterbacks in NFL history, finishing in the top 10 in many statistical categories. Esiason got his first professional start on October 7, 1984, in Cincinnati in a game against the Houston Oilers. On a rainy day, Esiason led the Bengals to a 13–3 win and scored the game's only touchdown on a three-yard run.
Esiason took over for Ken Anderson as the Bengals' full-time starting quarterback on September 22, 1985, in a game in Cincinnati against the San Diego Chargers. He could not repeat the victory of his first career start and the Bengals fell to the Chargers and eventual Hall of Famer Dan Fouts by a score of 44–41.
At 6'5" and 224 pounds (three inches taller and 10 pounds heavier than Anderson), and with a powerful arm, Esiason was the quarterback for one of the most potent offenses of the late 1980s. Though well short of Anderson's rushing total of 2,200+ yards, Esiason was also surprisingly mobile and rushed for 1,598 yards on 447 attempts with seven rushing touchdowns in his career.
He was particularly adept at running the difficult "no huddle" offense, devised by Bengal Head Coach Sam Wyche. Esiason led the Bengals to their second appearance in the Super Bowl, where they again lost a close game to the San Francisco 49ers.
In Super Bowl XXIII, the 49ers, led by Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana, marched 92 yards on their last drive and won the game on a touchdown pass to receiver John Taylor with 34 seconds remaining in the game. A last-ditch pass to wide receiver Cris Collinsworth was broken up and the Bengals fell with a final score of 20-16. Esiason won the 1988 NFL MVP award and was named to the Pro Bowl.
Esiason was named to the Pro Bowl game after the 1986, 1988, 1989 and 1993 seasons and holds several NFL career records for left-handed quarterbacks, including most touchdown passes (247), passing yards (37,920), and completions (2,969). Esiason also led the AFC in passing in both 1988 and 1989.
Among the awards Esiason earned during his career are the NFL Most Valuable Player Award in 1988, when he led the league with a quarterback rating of 97.4, and the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 1995 for his charitable work.
At his retirement in 1997, Esiason ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in all-time passing yards, career completions and career attempts. In addition, he is the only quarterback to hold franchise records in single-game passing yards with two different teams, having thrown for 522 yards with the Arizona Cardinals on November 10, 1996 and for 490 yards with the Bengals on October 7, 1990.
3. Ken Riley, Defensive Back
The Bengals selected Riley with pick No. 135 in the sixth round of the 1969 Common Draft. Riley played all 15 of his seasons with Cincinnati and was named All-Pro after the 1973, 1975, 1976 and 1983 seasons.
When Riley reported to training camp, Cincinnati head coach Paul Brown decided to convert Riley from quarterback, the position he played at Florida A&M University, to cornerback. Brown's decision turned out to be a very good one. Riley made an immediate impact for the Bengals as a defensive back, recording four interceptions and 66 interception return yards as a rookie. He also recovered two fumbles, added another 334 yards on 14 kickoff returns, and even caught two passes for 15 yards on offense.
For the rest of his career, Riley established himself as one of the top defensive backs in the NFL, recording three or more interceptions in all but three of his 15 seasons. His best season came in 1976 when he recorded nine interceptions, scored one touchdown, and had two fumble recoveries. His nine interceptions set a franchise record for most interceptions in one season, and would remain the team record for 30 years until it was broken by Deltha O’Neal in 2005.
Riley also set a record that year by intercepting three passes in the final game of the season; a 42-3 win over the New York Jets. Riley intercepted Richard Todd once and future Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Namath twice. It was Namath's final game as a New York Jet. Since then, several Bengals players have tied the record, including Riley, who did it again in a 1982 game by intercepting three passes from Oakland Raiders quarterback Jim Plunkett, but no one has broken it.
Despite his success in that 1976 season, Riley was not selected to play in the Pro Bowl. Meanwhile, his defensive back teammate, Lemar Parrish, who recorded just two interceptions and missed half the season with injuries, was a Pro Bowl selection.
Riley continued to be an impact player for Cincinnati throughout the rest of his career. In 1981, he recorded five interceptions and added a fumble recovery. His efforts helped the Bengals to their first ever Super Bowl appearance (Super Bowl XVI) against the San Francisco 49ers. In his final NFL season in 1983, the 36-year-old Riley recorded eight interceptions, had 89 return yards, scored two touchdowns, and made two fumble recoveries.
In his 15 seasons in the NFL, Riley recorded a total of 65 interceptions, had 596 return yards, scored five touchdowns, made 18 fumble recoveries for 96 fumble return yards, and added 334 kickoff return yards and 15 receiving yards. His interceptions, interception return yards, and interceptions returned for touchdowns are all Bengals records.
Riley’s 65 interceptions were the fourth most in Pro Football history at the time of his retirement behind three members of the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Dick Lane, Emlen Tunnell and Paul Krause. And, in spite of his accomplishments, Riley was never an exceptionally popular or well known player. In his 15 seasons, Riley was never once selected to play in the AFL All-Star Game or the AFC-NFC Pro Bowl and, to date, has not been voted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
2. Ken Anderson, Quarterback
Anderson was drafted 67th overall in the 1971 NFL Draft by the Bengals and earned the starting quarterback job in 1972. He would become one of the most accurate short-range passers in the history of the league, and was extremely effective at rushing the ball for a quarterback.
With Bill Walsh was his quarterbacks coach, Anderson was one of the first quarterbacks to run the “West Coast Offense.” One of the finest performances of his early career came in a Monday Night Football game against the Buffalo Bills in 1975. In that game, Anderson passed for a franchise-record 447 yards while the Bengals racked up a franchise-record 553 offensive yards on their way to a 33-24 win. It was the Bengals' first ever win in a Monday night game.
Anderson's best season was in 1981, although it started out very badly for him. In the Bengals opening game against the Seattle Seahawks, Anderson was intercepted twice in the first half as the Seahawks built up a 21-10 halftime advantage. In the second half, Cincinnati coach Forrest Gregg benched Anderson and brought in third-string quarterback Turk Schonert (back-up quarterback Jack Thompson was injured at the time).
With Schonert at the helm of the offense, the Bengals stormed back and won the game 27-21. Gregg considered starting either Schonert or Thompson for the next game against the Jets, but decided to stick with Anderson after an impassioned discussion between the two in the week leading up to the game. Anderson took advantage of his second chance by throwing for 246 yards and two touchdowns against the Jets, and the Bengals won the game 31-30.
By the time the season ended, Anderson had completed 62.6 percent of his passes for 3,754 yards and 29 touchdowns. He threw only 10 interceptions and led the NFL with a career-high 98.4 passer rating. He also gained another 320 yards and scored one touchdown on the ground.
Anderson’s performance during the 1981 season earned him both the Associated Press and Professional Football Writers of America NFL Most Valuable Player Awards and the NFL Comeback Player of the Year Award. Anderson then led the Bengals to their first-ever playoff victory, a 28-21 win over the Buffalo Bills. He followed that up with a 27-7 victory over the San Diego Chargers in the AFC championship game, a game which later became known as the Freezer Bowl, and earned the Bengals their first trip to the Super Bowl.
Anderson twice led the NFL in passing yards -- more often than Hall of Famers Troy Aikman, Terry Bradshaw, Len Dawson, John Elway, Bob Griese, Jim Kelly, Joe Montana, Bart Starr, Roger Staubach, Fran Tarkenton, Y.A. Tittle, Norm Van Brocklin, Bob Waterfield and Steve Young.
Anderson also led the NFL in passing yards per attempt on two occasions, an indicator which measures how well somebody passed, not just how often they passed. Anderson led the NFL more often in that category than Hall of Famers Aikman, George Blanda, Elway, Griese, Sonny Jurgensen, Kelly, Bobby Layne, Dan Marino, Montana, Warren Moon or Tarkenton.
The deadly-accurate Anderson led the NFL in completion percentage three times -- more often than Aikman, Blanda, Bradshaw, Elway, Dan Fouts, Griese, Jurgensen, Kelly, Layne, Marino, Moon, Namath, Starr, Staubach, Tarkenton, Tittle, Unitas, Van Brocklin or Waterfield.
The coldly-efficient Anderson led the NFL in passer rating an incredible four times. In the history of professional football, only Young (six times) led the NFL in passer rating more often than Anderson. Dawson, led the AFL in passer rating six times, while Anderson is joined by Starr on the short list of passers who led the NFL in passer rating four times.
Out of the 24 quarterbacks currently in the Hall of Fame, Anderson ranks 15th in average per pass attempt (7.338 YPA), just 4/1000th of a yard per attempt behind the prolific Marino and well ahead of Hall of Famers such as Elway (7.10 YPA) and Aikman (6.99 YPA).
Anderson ranks 15th in touchdown passes (197) and 12th in passing yards (32,838), just 104 yards behind Aikman (who needed 240 more attempts to get those 104 yards). Anderson ranks 11th in completions (2,654) and 11th in TD-INT ratio (1.23 to 1), well ahead of notable contemporaries such as Fouts (1.05 to 1).
Anderson ranks 8th in career passer rating (81.9), ahead of Aikman, Moon and Elway, and he ranks 6th in completion percentage (59.3). Only five quarterbacks in history completed more than 70 percent of their passes in a single season: Hall of Famer Sammy Baugh (1945), Hall of Famer Young (1994), Hall of Famer Montana (1989), potential future Hall of Famer Drew Brees (2009), and, Anderson (1982).
As of the 2017 NFL offseason, Anderson held at least 30 Bengals franchise records, including:
- Completions: career (2,654), game (40), playoffs (110), playoff season
- Passing attempts: career (4,475), playoffs (166), playoff season (77 in 1981)
- Passing yards: career (32,838), playoffs (1,321), playoff season (653 in 1981), playoff game (354)
- Passing touchdowns: career (197), playoffs (9), playoff season (5 in 1981), playoff game (2; tied with Boomer Esiason)
- Passer rating: playoffs (93.5)
- Yards/passing attempt: playoffs (7.96), playoff season (10.11 in 1982), playoff game (10.11 on 1983-01-09 NYJ)
- Passing yards/game: season (277.2 in 1982), playoffs (220.2), playoff season (354 in 1982)
- 300+ yard passing games: playoffs (2)
1. Anthony Munoz, Offensive Line
Muñoz was the third overall pick by the Bengals in the 1980 NFL Draft and is the Bengals only player in the Hall of Fame. Muñoz became a starter in his rookie season and remained a fixture at left tackle for the Bengals for 13 seasons. He is considered one of, if not the greatest, offensive linemen in NFL history. Muñoz missed just three games during his first 12 seasons.
In addition to his talents as a blocker, Muñoz was also a capable receiver, notching seven receptions for 18 yards and scoring four touchdowns on tackle-eligible plays, including one in 1984 from rookie quarterback Boomer Esiason against the Cleveland Browns.
Muñoz played in both of the Bengals' Super Bowl appearances, Super Bowls XVI and XXIII, both narrow losses to the San Francisco 49ers.
Muñoz was the Offensive Lineman of the Year in 1981, 1987 and 1988, and was awarded the NFL Players’ Association Lineman of the Year in 1981, 1985, 1988 and 1989. The NFL Alumni Association voted Munoz the Offensive Lineman of the Year four times, in 1987 and again from 1989 through 1991.
At the time of his retirement, his 11 Pro Bowl selections were tied with Tom Mack for the most ever by an offensive lineman in league history, and were a Bengals franchise record. His honors include:
- 9× AP First-Team All-Pro (1981-1983, 1985-1990)
- 2× AP Second-Team All-Pro (1984, 1991)
- 3× Offensive Lineman of the Year (1981, 1987, 1988)
- Bart Starr Man of the Year (1989)
- Walter Payton Man of the Year (1991)
- NFL 1980s All-Decade Team
- NFL 75th Anniversary All-Time Team
Muñoz was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998 and was named to the National Football League 75th Anniversary Team. In 1999, he was ranked No. 17 on the Sporting News’ list of the 100 greatest football players of all time. He was the highest-ranked offensive lineman.
In 2010, Muñoz was ranked No. 12 on the NFL Network’s The Top 100: NFL’s Greatest Players list, and again was the highest-ranked offensive lineman.
Munoz will go down in history as the Bengals’ best player until someone else proves more worthy of the honor.
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