Some former great Cincinnati Bengals players are finally getting proper recognition. In their recent release of 108 modern-era nominees, the Pro Football Hall of Fame gave a nod to some iconic former Queen City players.
Running back Corey Dillon, wide receiver Chad Johnson and offensive tackle Willie Anderson are all eligible players to be voted into Canton in the next round of those who will be enshrined. Unfortunately, all three were players on some pretty bad Bengals teams, particularly early in their respective careers, but all started to gain the proper notoriety once the team started winning games.
This list of 108 former greats will get chiseled down to 25 in November and then down to 15 in January. There are usually around half a dozen players or so who get enshrined every year.
Dillon was part of an insanely talented group of running backs who prowled the old AFC Central and current AFC North. The division was comprised of names like Eddie George, Fred Taylor and Jamal Lewis, among other talented players. The former two join Dillon on this list of players who are eligible for enshrinement.
The enigmatic Johnson gained a lot of national attention for his wild celebrations, but he was always one of the best receivers on the field in the AFC—particularly when Carson Palmer hit his professional stride. The Rams’ duo of Isaac Bruce and Torry Holt are also eligible at the position, as well as Randy Moss, Terrell Owens and Hines Ward.
Anderson was one of the best at his trade during his career, but a couple of unfair knocks disallowed his gaining of more accolades. The teams he played for from 1996-2002 only won 42 total games (an average of six per year), and he played on the right side, while most left tackles gained the media’s love.
Still, all three of these players have a number of items on their NFL resumes, which should give them a solid case to get into Canton at some point. All three also made the Bengals’ top-50 countdown in their 50th year of existence, with Johnson coming in at No. 4, Anderson at No. 14 and Dillon at No. 15.
Yes, there are some names on the list who likely deserve to make the Hall of Fame before these three, but these former Bengals all have some solid numbers and accolades. Unfortunately, the voting for the Hall of Fame can sometimes be a flawed process, often putting forward a fluid set of rules as to who gets in and who doesn’t.
Character, Pro Bowl berths (which may or may not have been deserved or not) and playing for a winning team often plays big roles into who makes the final cut. We’ll see if these three Bengals get the nod. If they do, they’ll be joining Munoz, who is currently the only player primarily representing Cincinnati in the Hall of Fame.
Corey Dillon, Bengals 1997-2003, Patriots 2004-2006: Dillon made three Pro Bowls with the Bengals (1999-2001) and another in 2004 with the Patriots. He was part of the Patriots’ Super Bowl XXXIX-winning squad and had seven 1,000-yard rushing seasons, including six consecutive performances from 1997-2002.
Dillon is the all-time Bengals leader in rushing yards with 8,061 and is No. 3 in team history with 45 rushing touchdowns. The former Bengals running back also set previous single-game rushing records as a rookie (246), only to break the overall single-game total with 278 in 2001. He is also 20th in NFL history in rushing yards with 11,241.
Chad Johnson, Bengals 2001-2010, Patriots 2011: Johnson’s antics brought the Bengals back to national relevance, but he backed up his celebrations with great play. Johnson/Ochocinco made six Pro Bowls (2003-2007, 2009) and was a first-team All-Pro twice.
Johnson currently holds all of the Bengals’ franchise records in all major categories, including receptions (751), yards (10,783) and touchdowns (66). In an era of some great receivers, Johnson was always at or near the top of the list in his prime.
Willie Anderson, Bengals 1996-2007, Ravens 2008: The big right tackle may very well have been one of the most under-appreciated Bengals players, by national media standards, of all-time. He began to get the needed recognition when the team began to turn things around upon Marvin Lewis’ arrival, gaining four straight Pro Bowl berths from 2003-2006 and three first team All-Pro designations from 2004-2006.
Anthony Munoz is widely-regarded as the team’s best offensive lineman and player in their history, but Anderson is likely the second-best big man Cincinnati has ever had. Anderson was criminally underrated throughout his career and deserved more Pro Bowl nods even though he was on some poor Bengals teams early in his career.