We already built what we feel is the best all-time Bengals team in all other facets aside from the defense. There were some disagreements on major positions on the offense, and some good debates were had with the special teams unit, as well as the coaching staff. However, now it's time to finalize the all-time roster with the defense.
Left Defensive End, Eddie Edwards: It would seem criminal to leave the team's career sack leader off of the list, although he really only contributed in six of his twelve seasons. Although, in true Bengals' fashion, they may have tried to fit a square peg in a round hole with Edwards, as he began his career as an interior lineman. His 47.5 career sacks (quite low as a franchise record, no?) might be in jeopardy soon, but he still was a solid player through the 1980s and is a top-five franchise-ranker in fumble recoveries.
Right Defensive End, Justin Smith: The former Missouri Tiger found the bulk of his fame after leaving for San Francisco, but was a quality player for the Bengals through seven seasons. Ironically, Smith made five Pro Bowls in his final seven years with the 49ers, but had just as many sacks with San Francisco (43.5) as his did with the Bengals. Though he never statistically lived up to the hype of being a No. 4 overall pick with Cincinnati, he did overall as a pro. He ranks just behind Edwards on the team's career sack list.
Backup, Carlos Dunlap: Some prefer Michael Johnson to Dunlap, but the former Florida Gator has been a model of consistency. He has become a solid all-around defensive end, able to rush the passer and defend the run and was arguably the best player on the Bengals' defense in 2014. He currently ranks fourth on the team's career sack list and will likely become the team leader before his current big contract expires.
Starter, Geno Atkins: With three Pro Bowls in five seasons, Atkins has cemented himself as a dominant player in today's NFL. He, too, is sniffing the franchise sack record mark with 32 in his five seasons and all indications show that he's close to being back to his 2012 All-Pro self. If he remains healthy and productive, he could end up being one of the best defensive players this team has ever had.
Starter, Tim Krumrie: A true underdog and blue-collar NFL player, Krumrie was a stalwart in the team's success in the 1980s. A two-time Pro Bowl selection, Krumrie ranks No. 5 all-time in the team's lead in sacks and owns the career tackle crown. Unfortunately, most fans remember his gruesome Super Bowl injury, but he was a solid player for 12 seasons--all in Cincinnati.
Backup, Dan Wilkinson: Here's the thing, even though "Big Daddy" was widely-considered a bust by fans' standards, not all of that was because of his own performance. Most who follow the Bengals get sour on his attitude, holdout and the fact that he was the choice over Hall of Fame running back Marshall Faulk (by the way, if you ever need reminding of that tidbit, just listen to Faulk on the NFL Network and his overall tone with the Bengals--he hasn't let that go more than 20 years later). But in four years with Cincinnati, Wilkinson still managed 25 sacks, good for 6.3 on average per season. Wilkinson was a product of being a No. 1 pick on a horrible roster, making him one of the focal points of fan scorn.
All-Time Bengals Team
Building the all-time Bengals Team: Offense
We're glossing through the pages of the Cincinnati Bengals' history to create the ultimate Bengals team. We've made our picks for the coaching staff and special teams. Now, let's have a look at the offense.
All-Time Bengals Team
Left Outside Linebacker, James Francis: Another player who had the displeasure of playing through "The Lost Decade", Francis was actually a productive defensive player for the Bengals. Through nine seasons, Francis garnered 33.5 sacks as was used as kind of a free roamer on the defense. His 1990, 1992, and 1994 campaigns were particularly solid, with such a poor roster. At 6'5", 253 pounds, Francis was used a bit as a "'tweener", but was a very imposing defensive player.
Middle Linebacker, Takeo Spikes: If only Spikes had some patience and believed in Marvin Lewis. After a terrible 2002 campaign, Spikes left for free agency after Lewis pleaded with him to stay in Cincinnati to work with what he was building. We place him at middle linebacker because the team employed a 3-4 defense during parts of his tenure and he would have been a Pro Bowl player with the Bengals if he, like so many others, weren't on a terrible team. In five years with the Bengals, he racked up 445 tackles, 14.5 sacks and 12 fumble recoveries.
Right Outside Linebacker, Reggie Williams: Would this be a guy who the Bengals would consider placing in a Ring of Honor, should they end up creating one? Williams was never a spectacular player, but was solid for 14 seasons, playing in three postseason appearances and two Super Bowls. He racked up 41 sacks in his career, good for third all-time in the team leader list.
Backup, Brian Simmons: Do you go with the potential flash-in-the-pan guy in Vontaze Burfict (of course, we hope not, but microfracture surgery and just three years under his belt make him take a slight back seat to Simmons), or the consistently solid linebacker in Simmons? Tough choice. Simmons played outside and inside for the Bengals and was one of the most productive and well-liked guys on the team. With 11 interceptions and 13 forced fumbles in nine seasons, as well as being third all-time in the team-leaders in tackles, Simmons would be a valuable backup.
Strong Safety, David Fulcher: There's little argument here as to who was the best to man this spot, given Fulcher's presence and productivity. The team's third-ranked career interceptions leader was a three-time Pro Bowl selection, who accounted for 40 total turnovers (31 interceptions, nine fumble recoveries) in just seven seasons with the Bengals. At 6'3" and 235 pounds, Fulcher was a true intimidator in the back of the defense.
Free Safety, Tommy Casanova: In the 1970s era of backyard football, Casanova was fun to watch. in that decade, good players were asked to do multiple things for their team, and Casanova played defensive back and kick returner. His prowess in both gave him three Pro Bowl nods, but most of it was because he was a big-play defensive back.
Backup, Reggie Nelson: In this Bengals' era, the safety positions is a bit interchangeable and that's where Nelson can fit in. He hasn't made a Pro Bowl since joining the Bengals, but should have been in the discussion for a a couple of years. After multiple seasons of instability at the position, Nelson came to Cincinnati in 2010 and has give the team five solid seasons of play. He's averaging three interceptions per year with the Bengals (three) and has racked up 263 tackles and five forced fumbles.
Starter, Ken Riley: The team's career leader in interceptions deserves a starting spot on this unit, doesn't he? In a staggering 15 seasons, Riley compiled 65 total interceptions. More of a solid player than an outstanding one, by most standards, but Riley still managed to garner anywhere from 5-9 interceptions in a 13-game season, which is no easy feat.
Starter, Lemar Parrish: Parrish gained his six Pro Bowl bids in nine seasons with the Bengals because of his abilities and return prowess, Parrish was a big-play corner who played most of his career with Riley. Since, the team has attempted to have more current incarnations with the Leon Hall/Johnathan Joseph and Dre Kirkpatrick/Darqueze Dennard combos, but this was one for the ages. Parrish had an astounding eight touchdowns--four on defense, four on special teams--and is yet another player who fans tend to put on their popularity train because of the time at which he played and being an early trend-setter of a player souring on the franchise.
Backup, Leon Hall: Though he has seemingly lost a step, Hall has been Mr. Bengals in his nine seasons with the team. He ranks No. 5 on the team career-leader list in interceptions, but has also shown a penchant for being an able run defender, as evidenced by ranking 9th in total tackles, good for third among the team's defensive backs, historically. His tenacity to return after two Achilles injuries, one to each of his legs, is highly admirable as well.