To pick or not to pick. That is the question.
Or is it?
At one point, compensatory NFL Draft picks had become part of the Cincinnati Bengals’ psyche. As of 2015, the Bengals had received more compensatory picks than any team in the NFL. And that trend would continue until Zac Taylor became head coach.
In 2017, the Bengals had four compensatory draft picks and had four more in 2018. In 2019, in Taylor’s first season as head coach, Cincinnati had three compensatory draft picks.
Since then, however, the Bengals have had one compensatory pick (Offensive tackle D’Ante Smith of East Carolina) and will not receive any in the 2023 NFL Draft.
But just what is a compensatory draft pick? And have they really made much of a difference for the Bengals?
Compensatory draft picks were first implemented by the NFL in 1994 and were intended to give an extra measure of help to those teams that got out-spent in free agency. Teams that lose more in free agency than they gain are awarded compensatory picks, with the idea being to guard against the rich raiding the rosters of the poor. No team can receive more than four compensatory picks per year.
Cincinnati has received a total of 39 compensatory picks since the system was instituted. Of those, however, only a handful have made any kind of lasting impact on the team.
Landon Johnson, a linebacker out of Purdue who was selected in the third round of the 2003 NFL Draft, is probably the biggest name on that list. Johnson started every game for four straight seasons for the Bengals before becoming an unrestricted free agent in 2008. He finished with 396 total tackles over that span, including 3.5 sacks, six forced fumbles, and an interception.
Wide receiver Andre Caldwell, a third-round compensatory pick in 2008, caught 124 passes for 1,172 yards and six touchdowns over his four-year stay in Cincinnati. His most productive season came in 2009 when he had 51 catches for 432 yards and three scores.
Bernard Scott, a change-of-pace running back who was taken in round six at pick No. 209, amassed 1,000 yards on 247 carries in his first three seasons with the Bengals, for an average of just over four yards per carry.
Compensatory picks were included in a trade that brought quarterback Ryan Finley to Cincinnati in 2019 and Darius Phillips and Auden Tate were compensatory selections in 2018. Brandon Wilson was part of a trade involving compensatory picks in 2017.
Other compensatory selections who made significant contributions throughout the years included Marquise Flowers, T.J. Johnson, Brandon Thompson, and Brandon Gee.
As you can see, the list is not a long one and not a particularly impressive one. So, is there really an advantage to obtaining compensatory draft picks? Or is it all just smoke and mirrors?
You be the judge.