Have you ever read something that made you go, “Huh?”
Well, that is exactly what happened when I read a recent article by Nate Davis of USA Today. In it, he tabs Jack “Throwin Samoan” Thompson as the biggest draft bust in the history of the Cincinnati Bengals. Thompson came in at No. 18 on the list of the NFL Draft’s 50 biggest busts of the last 50 years. Akili Smith comes in at No. 34, with Ki-Jana Carter and Dan “Big Daddy” Wilkinson in a tie at No. 44.
Clearly, the man never saw either Thompson or Smith play in person. I did, and to borrow from World War II General Anthony McAuliffe when presented with a surrender demand, the only word that comes to mind is “Nuts!”
Thompson was selected No. 3 overall in the 1979 NFL Draft as the heir apparent to Kenny Anderson. Of course, someone forgot to tell Anderson that. The future Bengals Hall-of-Famer went on to be named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player, Offensive Player of the Year and Comeback Player of the Year in 1981, and led the NFL in completion percentage in 1981 and 1982. He also led Cincinnati to its first Super Bowl appearance in 1982.
At the time Thompson was drafted, the Bengals were coming off a 4-12 season. Cincinnati went 4-12 in that 1979 season and finished 6-10 the following year.
One big reason for the Bengals’ struggles during that time was an offensive line that was just not very good. Anthony Munoz did not come to town until the year after Thompson was drafted, and not even two-time Heisman Trophy winner Archie Griffin could make much happen behind that line.
Thompson was a three-year starter at Washington State, where he earned first-team All-Pac-10 honors in 1976 and 1978 and finished ninth in Heisman Trophy voting in 1978.
His best season in the pros came in 1980 when he started four games for Cincinnati and completed 115 of 234 passes for 1,324 yards, 11 touchdowns, and 12 interceptions. During a week 3 game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Thompson entered in relief of Anderson and passed for two fourth-quarter touchdowns in leading the Bengals to a come-from-behind 30-28 victory.
In 1983, Thompson was traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, where he finally showed glimpses of what he might have become. Thompson started 13 games for the Bucs that year and completed 249 of 423 passes for 2,906 yards, 18 touchdowns and 21 interceptions. He was also sacked 39 times.
During his six-year career in the NFL, Thompson started 21 games, completed 53% of his passes, and threw for 5,315 yards, 33 touchdowns, and 45 interceptions. He also had 262 rushing yards and six rushing scores.
On the other hand, Akili Smith, the No. 3 pick in the first round of the 1999 NFL Draft, never could find the magic that he wielded for a single year at the University of Oregon. In 1998, Smith completed 215 of 371 passes for 3,763 yards for the Ducks with 32 touchdowns and eight interceptions and was named second-team All-American and Pac-10 Conference Offensive Player of the Year.
Smith played in portions of four seasons for the Bengals, from 1999 to 2002, and started 11 games in 2000 when Cincinnati finished with a record of 4-12. He was out of football by 2002 and finished with career statistics of 215 completions in 461 attempts, 2,212 yards, five touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. He also fumbled 13 times.
But wait. It gets worse. For some reason that defies explanation, Davis decided to include Carter, the first overall pick in the 1995 NFL Draft, and Wilkinson, the top pick in the 1994 NFL Draft, on his list.
For anybody who saw Carter play at Penn State, this was clearly a running back who was destined for greatness. But Carter tore the ACL in his left knee in the first preseason game in just his third carry and was never the same.
Wilkinson is the real injustice. The 6-foot-4, 334-pound behemoth of a defensive tackle played four years in Cincinnati, started 59 of 64 games and recorded 25 sacks. He also managed over 40 total tackles in each of his first three seasons and left the Bengals with 128 solo stops.
Just for comparison purposes, Cincinnati’s DJ Reader, who is considered one of the top defensive tackles in the NFL, has recorded over 40 total tackles four times in his seven-year career and has a total of 8.5 sacks during that time.
Wilkinson retired in 2006 after a 13-year career that saw him amass 54.5 sacks, five interceptions, including one that went 88 yards for a touchdown while with the Redskins in 1999, six forced fumbles, four fumble recoveries and 390 total tackles. Did someone just call Wilkinson a bust? Excuse me?
I guess I just have a different definition of the word.
What do you think?
Who was the biggest draft bust in Bengals’ history?
This poll is closed
Cincinnati’s failure to trade the No. 3 pick in the 1999 Draft (Akili Smith) for all of Mike Ditka’s picks