The Cincinnati Bengals are officially on the clock with the No. 1 pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
The obvious choice is Joe Burrow, but if the Bengals opt to retain Andy Dalton for a few more seasons, they could select the nation’s best defender in Chase Young, potentially a huge mistake.
That said, when looking back on the team’s top-five draft history, there should be hope that they’ll make the right decision.
The Bengals have had 15 top-five picks. I would consider five of those 15 to have been home run picks for Cincinnati.
It all started back in 1968. They secured center Bob Johnson, with the second pick. A year later they took Greg Cook with the fifth-overall pick. He played just one season as the team’s full-time starter. Johnson was the team’s primary starter for ten seasons yet went to just one Pro Bowl.
Throughout the 70s, we selected DE Sherman White, QB Jack Thompson, and DE Eddie Edwards, all of which didn’t find success in the Queen City. The first five top-five picks did not pan out well for Cincinnati, but it gets significantly better in the next few decades.
In 1980, they struck gold though. Tackle Anthony Munoz was taken, and he ended his illustrious career with 11 Pro Bowls and 9 All-Pro selections. Munoz was one of the most gifted Bengals in franchise history and was a solid selection at No. 3.
A prosperous era, Rickey Dixon was the only other top-five pick. He didn’t pan out, being drafted in 1988 and out of the league after 1993. Sadly, Dixon has since been diagnosed with ALS.
The 1990s were a new era of Bengals’ football, one of which gives life-long fans painful experiences with top-five picks. They drafted John Copeland in ‘93, Dan Wilkinson in ‘94, Ki-Jana Carter in ‘95 (Wilkinson and Carter were both No. 1 overall selections), and then finally Akili Smith in ‘99.
All four of those picks weren’t overly successful in Cincinnati.
The start of the 2000s wasn’t easy for the Bengals either. They had three top-five picks in the first four drafts.
WR Peter Warrick kicked off the decade yet was overshadowed by Justin Smith and Carson Palmer in 2001 and 2003 respectively. Smith ended his career with 87 sacks and five Pro Bowl appearances, none of which were with Cincinnati.
However, Palmer, one of Cincinnati’s three top-overall picks, brought some dominance back to the Queen City. The three-time Pro Bowler led Cincinnati to an 11-5 record his second season and threw a league-high 32 touchdowns.
Thankfully, Cincinnati didn’t return to the top five for eight seasons. When they finally were gifted another top pick, they crushed it by selecting A.J. Green, who has been arguably the most dominant receiver in Bengals history.
Green had seven-straight Pro Bowl appearances to start his career. He also had five-straight 1,000-yard seasons. While he’s had some recent injuries that have set him back, Green has put together a full career with the Bengals.
With a return to the top pick imminent, Cincinnati should learn from the past, and that’ll likely mean they’re taking Joe Burrow who is easily college football’s best quarterback.