Say what you want about the Cincinnati Bengals’ operational practices, but they have had quite a bit of success in certain roster-building facets. When it comes to drafting offensive skill position players, the team has had its share of successes—namely with running backs and wide receivers.
A lot of those stars were actually selected after the first round, but an exception to that observation is A.J. Green. The star wideout was selected No. 4 overall in the 2011 NFL Draft and just signed his franchise tag tender, cementing his status with the team for 2020.
With a big move such as this, the inner historical nerds in us came knocking. The contributors at Cincy Jungle engaged in an online discussion to look back and gauge which wide receiver group was the most lethal in team history (we were prompted by an Orange and Black Insider Bengals podcast Twitter poll).
Some groups of yesteryear (depending on your definition of the term) were considered, but the Marvin Lewis and Zac Taylor groups still seem to top the list. Here’s what our contributors had to say about the top pass-catching groups in team history.
Obviously, there are different variations to some of the best receiver groups in team history. The heyday of Lewis and Carson Palmer obviously consisted of Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry.
The second chapter of Lewis’ coaching stint included Green, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu, which was a productive group for a couple of seasons. However, what about groups further back in team history?
Matt Minich: After drafting A.J. Green in 2011, the Bengals selected both Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones in 2012.
In 2013, this group established itself in the Bengals’ offensive attack. That year the young trio combined for 196 receptions, 2,593 yards and 23 touchdowns. Green was the leader of the pack with 98 receptions for 1,426 yards and 11 touchdowns. Although he had significantly fewer receptions and yards, Jones was a close second in touchdowns with 10. Another key player was rookie tight end Tyler Eifert, who added 39 receptions for 445 yards and two touchdowns.
In 2014, Jones suffered an ankle injury and Eifert dislocated his elbow. Both spent the season on IR. However, Sanu stepped into the No. 2 role with an impressive 56 receptions for 790 yards and five touchdowns.
In 2015, the Bengals were legitimate Super Bowl contenders and quarterback Andy Dalton was an MVP candidate before suffering a season-ending injury. That year Green had 86 receptions for 1,297 yards and 10 touchdowns; Jones had 65 receptions, 816 yards, and four touchdowns; and Sanu had 33 receptions for 394 yards and no touchdowns. Eifert played a huge role as well with 52 receptions, 615 yards, and a team-leading 13 touchdowns.
The 2015 Bengals’ offense was prolific. That unit was talented enough to adjust when injuries occurred. Unfortunately, that was the last season they would be together as both Jones and Sanu left in free agency.
Patrick Judis: Picking between the Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry combo and the A.J. Green, Mohammed Sanu and Mavin Jones Jr. groups is pretty hard. Unfortunately, I didn’t get a chance to watch some of the older groups to get a sense of how great they were, so it is down to those two for me.
Both of these groups had a player that was considered to be one of the best receivers in the league while they were playing (Johnson and Green), but I think Houshmandzadeh and Henry were just a better than Jones and Sanu.
Houshmandzadeh was a threat to catch over 100 passes a season and was so reliable as a possession receiver. Henry’s size and speed would have been unstoppable had he been around a few more years to really develop (RIP). If Palmer doesn’t go down in 2005, I’m not sure this is even that close.
Nick Manchester: Johnson/Houshmandzadeh/Henry.
Over the four years this trio played together, this group average almost 2,800 yards and 22 touchdowns per 16 games. This is the only trio with two players to average over 1,000 yards per 16 games. Johnson and Houshmandzadeh combined for five Pro Bowl appearances in that time, while Johnson had two First Team All-Pro selections. He led the league in yards in 2006 and Houshmandzadeh led the league in receptions in 2007.
These three players had their most productive seasons together. While Henry’s career was tragically cut short, Johnson and Houshmandzadeh were in their primes when they played with him. The latter two went on to play for other teams, but never even approached the kind of success they had with the trio.
John Sheeran: I’ve only seen two of these trios play live with my own eyes, and I can certainly respect the opinion of favoring the Super Bowl XXIII triumvirate, but I think the 2000s group of Ochocinco, Housh, and Slim takes this one.
From 2005-2009, the Bengals passing offense ranked 10th in expected points added per dropback and 8th in success rate. Carson Palmer’s three main receivers accounted for 11,738 of his passing yardage during that stretch. Each of them exhibited talent that fit their roles perfectly.
Chad Johnson hauled in over half of his career yardage on his way to making four of his six total Pro Bowls and becoming a two-time All Pro. He was the dominant X wideout and resides as the most decorated and perhaps most purely talented receiver in team history.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh wasn’t the exterior menace Johnson was as a route runner, but he was the bonafide underneath slot receiver as much as Chris Henry was the ideal vertical threat. Johnson recently recounted how incredible Henry was at tracking deep balls and how it mirrored Randy Moss, and honestly, he’s not crazy to say that.
Despite their respective limitations, Housh and Slim’s contributions were valuable to the offense as a whole and made it click the way it did. These three have the best combination of talent, production, and longevity compared to any receiving trio in team history.
Anthony Cosenza: Being the resident “old guy” around here, I have to give some love to players who were either instrumental to Super Bowl runs, or gave us brief rays of sunshine in the darkest of days.
Of course, the trios of Green/Sanu/Jones and Chad/Housh/Henry struck fear in opposing defenses, but if you follow the Bengals, you have to also have an internal “root for the underdog” mentality. Boomer Esiason’s crew in the 1980s ushered in a new era of a passing attack and defenses simply couldn’t key on one guy.
From 1985-1991, Eddie Brown averaged 876 receiving yards and nearly six touchdowns per season. Tim McGee was also a viable threat, notching over 1,200 yards in the 1989 season, along with 14 touchdown receptions in 1988-1989.
Cris Collinsworth had begun to wind down his illustrious career towards the end of the 1980s, but had two 1,000-yard receiving campaigns in 1985 and 1986, coinciding in part with the tenures of Brown and McGee.
Meanwhile, the “Lost Decade” of the 1990s had many forgettable moments, but there were a handful of years with some exciting aerial displays. Quarterback carousels were part and parcel of the era, but Jeff Blake and Esiason’s 1999 swan song brought some relief.
Carl Pickens and Darnay Scott played seven years together (1994-1999) and combined for 797 receptions, 12,043 yards and 90 touchdown catches. David Dunn was also a valuable third guy, contributing on special teams and grabbing four touchdowns along with 1,132 receiving yards in four seasons (1995-1998) with the Bengals. And, yes, this is with Blake and Esiason throwing passes to them, but it also includes names like Akili Smith, Neil O’Donnell, Paul Justin and David Klingler.
So, while the answer can easily be found in the respective groups that patrolled the field from roughly 2001-2015, a deeper dive may find more interested debates to be unearthed.
What is the best historical Bengals wide receiver group?
This poll is closed
Isaac Curtis and Charlie Joiner
Eddie Brown, Cris Collinsworth and Tim McGee
Carl Pickens, Darnay Scott and David Dunn
Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry
A.J. Green, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu
Which wide receiver group do you think was the best in Cincinnati Bengals history?