AFC North: Cincinnati Bengals
CINCINNATI -- If you see Cincinnati Bengals offensive line coach Paul Alexander around town, do him a favor, OK?
Don't ask him about Russell Bodine.
Alexander was trying to get his haircut recently at a popular downtown Cincinnati barber shop when he was jokingly harassed about starting Bodine at center. Now entering his third season, Bodine has been the Bengals' starting center since his rookie year. Although he hasn't really had them in games, snap issues have overshadowed Bodine's previous offseasons. He's also been criticized by Pro Football Focus for his problematic protection skills.
Like many in the Bengals fanbase, the men in the barber shop that day tried to convince Alexander it was time to draft a new center.
"I finally had to tell one to F-off. I mean geez," Alexander said, laughing. "I can't even get my haircut."
Expletives aside, maybe the barbers got their wish Saturday?
With the fifth-round selection of Arizona State offensive lineman Christian Westerman, the Bengals added to their locker room a player who has experience playing offensive tackle and guard in college. Westerman was also worked out at center during the pre-draft process, and the Bengals project him as an interior lineman.
"He's tougher than hell," Alexander said. "He's the toughest kid in the draft.
"When he's the toughest guy in the draft, I put a nice box around [his name], and in this division, you have to. It's not for the feeble."
So what does the selection of tough, non-feeble Westerman mean for Bodine? Could he one day take Bodine's job?
The short answer? No.
"Let me tell you about Bodine," Alexander said. "He's better than [Bengals guard Clint] Boling was after two years. He's similar to what [fellow Bengals guard Kevin] Zeitler was. Zeitler didn't start out all that great."
Pro Football Focus credited Bodine with a rather massive drop in pass-blocking efficiency between his first and second seasons. In 2014, he was 14th in pass-blocking efficiency, per PFF. In 2015, he was 25th. He allowed 30 pressures on 571 pass-blocking snaps, according to PFF, and he also registered nine penalties, which was the third-most among league centers.
Still, Alexander is standing by his man.
"This is a young player who's playing with a bunch of veterans who are very good offensive linemen, and he's the last one right now because he's the youngest," Alexander said of the 23-year-old. "But I don't care what anyone else says.
"I think Bodine's going to be a hell of a player."
Another year, another relatively unconventional NFL draft class for the Cincinnati Bengals.
Although practically everyone outside Paul Brown Stadium -- including me -- said the Bengals would be best served by doing everything in their power to get a receiver in Round 1, team decision-makers didn't listen. Instead, they were adamant about sticking close to their prearranged draft board. Sure, a run on the receiver position just before the Bengals' first-round pick didn't help my cause, but that didn't matter. The Bengals selected a first-round player who addressed a need and ought to fit in perfectly with the rest of the team.
If there was another theme to this draft, it was this: speed and strength. The Bengals got both in this draft.
Best move: Without question, the Bengals' best draft move was selecting defensive tackle Andrew Billings in the fourth round. Chosen 122nd overall, Billings took one of the draft's biggest tumbles, as he fell well out of the first round. A little more than a week ago, ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay selected Billings for the Bengals in the first round of a live televised mock draft. Once Billings fell out of the first round in real life, Cincinnati thought about taking him in the second round. It instead used the 55th overall pick on receiver Tyler Boyd, a selection also in the running for "best move." By staying patient and taking a chance on selecting the 6-foot Billings in Round 4, the Bengals picked up a physical, strong player -- in high school, he squatted 805 pounds and benched 605 -- who now has a massive chip on his shoulder.
Riskiest move: It's hard to really consider any of the Bengals' selections reaches, particularly when you look at each player's measurables, statistics and game film. That said, the riskiest move had to be selecting linebacker Nick Vigil in the third round. The Utah State product had been told he would be a Day 3 pick, likely in the middle of the fourth round and possibly as late as the middle of the fifth. Like most of the Bengals' picks, he was a versatile player in college. Vigil can play any of the linebacker positions, and he comes to Cincinnati boasting a 4.66 40 time.
Most surprising move: The first-round selection of corner William Jackson III came as a surprise, primarily because Jackson plays a position that wasn't as big of a draft need as receiver. It also came as a surprise because Jackson had been predicted for so long to go to the Steelers, who picked a spot later. The run on receivers that preceded the Bengals' pick led them to Jackson, but he's a solid pick who could contribute right away.
File it away: Look for Jackson to compete immediately for playing time at the outside cornerback spot occupied by Dre Kirkpatrick. Although Kirkpatrick has earned the right to enter 2016 as the primary starter there, Jackson could factor into a rotation at some point. Billings almost certainly should see playing time this season, even if only as an occasional two-down player.
Thumbs-up: Once again, the Cincinnati Bengals are going to receive widespread praise for the way they put together a draft class. That has been happening since 2011, when they landed A.J. Green and Andy Dalton in Rounds 1 and 2. This time around, the Bengals targeted speed and strength in an effort to bolster an already deep roster with younger talent. Jackson's selection might have been stunning, given the need for a first-round receiver, but Boyd's pick quickly took care of that. Both players have been lauded for their quickness, as has Vigil. Billings and his bench press made the Bengals stronger. Some of these picks might play this season, but their real value will be seen a few years from now.
With the 245th pick in the 2016 NFL draft Saturday, the Cincinnati Bengals wrapped up their efforts by adding some back-end depth to their defense.
My take: Clayton Fejedelem's name isn't the only thing that's unique about him. While the safety's college career ended at Illinois, it began at NAIA school St. Xavier. It's a rare rise from a little-known school to the NFL. In Fejedelem, the Bengals picked up a player who likely will spend any playing time he receives this fall on special teams. That said, he'll be given every chance to make the roster in the mold of Derron Smith, the 2015 sixth-round safety who came off the special-teams squads as a rookie to fill in on occasion on defense. Fejedelem doesn't come to the Bengals quite as highly decorated as Smith, though.
Tackle machine: Fejedelem was best-known at Illinois for his ability to get to ball carriers, compiling a team-best 140 tackles his senior season, the most for an Illini player since 2006. He also had seven games last season with 10 or more tackles. That tackling prowess is one reason why he would be a perfect special-teams fit.
Once the draft started entering it's final stretch, the Cincinnati Bengals began looking to bolster some of the depth they previously added at the receiver position. While Tyler Boyd should slide fairly quickly into the Bengals' No. 2 or No. 3 receiver role behind A.J. Green and/or Brandon LaFell, Mississippi product Cody Core could be used to help complement each of them.
My take: Laquon Treadwell was the big-name Mississippi receiver who was the talk of mock drafts all throughout the pre-draft process. Some of that attention took away from college teammate Core, one of four other Mississippi receivers who had more than 30 receptions last season. Each of those catches still helped him get drafted Saturday, as the Bengals selected him with their lone sixth-round pick. He's used to playing second, third and fourth fiddle in a passing offense that thrives upon the usage of a diversity of targets. Core will have to maintain that mentality in Cincinnati, where he likely will be playing behind the likes of Green, LaFell and Boyd, and more veteran wideouts Brandon Tate, Mario Alford, James Wright and Jake Kumerow. This isn't the splashiest selection, but it could pan out as the Bengals start offseason competition at receiver.
Special teams to start: Core could begin his time with the Bengals on special teams. Although he was a valued pass-catcher at Mississippi, he also was a defensive back and did play on punt and kickoff teams during his college career. He had eight tackles in both 2012 and 2013 when he played in all three phases of the game.
My take: The Bengals have done a good job of using all five of their draft picks to this point on players from different positions. They've gone cornerback, receiver, linebacker, defensive line and now offensive line. These moves are all about bolstering depth, and particularly the back-end depth as it comes to the most recent three picks. That said, though, in typical Bengals fashion, don't be surprised if some of these rookies contribute in some capacity this season. Westerman probably isn't going to be one of them, but he could help jolt starting center Russell Bodine, a former fourth-rounder who has started since he was selected in 2014. A guard and tackle in college, Westerman projects to be an interior lineman. Even if he doesn't play center -- the Bengals have worked him out there before -- Westerman's arrival also could have an impact on guard Kevin Zeitler. The veteran is entering a contract year.
More Bengals versatility: After receiver Tyler Boyd's (second round) and linebacker Nick Vigil's respective versatility was celebrated Friday, the Bengals have reason to do the same with Westerman. His ability to play all over the offensive line is similar to the way the Bengals are hoping Vigil resumes his ability to play at several linebacker spots like he did at Utah State. Similarly, Boyd lined up in the slot, on the outside and in the backfield at Pitt. It will be interesting to track his development the next couple of years.
Dismiss the Cincinnati Bengals' draft efforts if you want to, but once again the franchise is quietly assembling a strong class. After getting caught in the worst possible part of a first-round run on the receiver position, they still snatched up a quality cornerback who can be disruptive in the passing game. In the second round, they got their receiver. By the third, they could have made the move for a much-needed defensive tackle, but they stood pat until after scooping up a linebacker many predicted would be a Day 3 selection.
That patience paid off Saturday afternoon when a player who was once mocked to the Bengals as a first-rounder -- yes, first-rounder -- was still on the board for their fourth-round pick. At that point, they wasted little time to snatch up Baylor defensive tackle Andrew Billings:
My take: Bengals director of player personnel Duke Tobin doesn't get anywhere near the credit he ought to nationally, but he has been successfully guiding the Bengals to unexpectedly strong draft hauls the past five years. For him and his staff to demonstrate the patience to wait on a player like Billings said something. It said that unlike some teams that might give in to popular opinion and go with the players who have been mocked to them in specific rounds, the Bengals consistently stay true to their draft board. Coach Marvin Lewis believes Billings likely slipped all the way into the fourth round because of his height. At 6-foot, Billings is shorter than most players at his position. In that way, he's similar to Geno Atkins, the Bengals' Pro Bowler who is only 6-foot-1. Atkins also fell into the fourth round in 2010. Along with Atkins and Billings, the Bengals also took defensive tackles Domata Peko (2006) and Marcus Hardison (2015) in the fourth round.
Pancake power: When Billings was in high school, he played offensive tackle in addition to the defensive line. As an offensive lineman, he had 266 pancake blocks his junior and senior seasons. Asked on a conference call just after his selection if he had ever been pancaked, the 311-pound Billings simply replied: "No." Billings' strength is what had the Bengals convinced they needed to draft him. He has previously squatted reps at 805 pounds, and benched at 605.
Comparatively speaking, the Cincinnati Bengals' Day 2 draft efforts ended without some of the punch and panache that was associated with the start of the day. Following Thursday night's first-round selection of cornerback William Jackson III -- a player some draft experts considered the best or second-best corner in the entire draft -- the Bengals scooped up a versatile playmaker in Round 2 when they picked Pitt receiver Tyler Boyd. Both players had the kind of name recognition that could appease fans.
But the third-round pick on Friday night, Utah State linebacker Nick Vigil, didn't. That doesn't necessarily mean he was a bad pick, though.
My take: Give the Bengals credit for carefully examining their draft board and then having the resolve to stick so closely to it that they selected a player at a time no one else likely would have. That takes some courage. Prior to his selection at No. 87 overall, Vigil had been expecting to be taken as early as the middle of the third round, and as late as the middle of the fifth. At the very least, he was banking on a Day-3 selection that was most likely to come in the fourth round. But no, the Bengals took him one round prior. In most instances, such an earlier-than-expected selection might be considered lunacy. But this time, maybe not. The Bengals are so secure in their roster that their only worry at this point is to lock down the back end. As a quick, multi-positional linebacker, Vigil should take care of that well.
Fast, instinctual ... running back?: The three on-field characteristics you need to know about Vigil are the ones here in bold. Timed by the Bengals with a 4.66-second 40-yard dash, he's a quick player who plays that way. Although coaches tried to shy away from comparing him to another NFL player, they do believe his game tape revealed flashes of Luke Kuechly-style instincts and pass coverage ability. Vigil appears to understand the game well, and that carries a lot of weight in the minds of Marvin Lewis, Paul Guenther and Jim Haslett, three Bengals coaches who have all coached the linebacker position at some point during their careers. Oh, by the way, Vigil also was a running back briefly at Utah State. Last season, he had 41 rushes with three touchdowns in mostly goal-line and short-yardage activity.
Bring back the rat-tail: Along with being a bit of a throwback on the field, Vigil has some of that style off it, as well. Up until the combine, he sported a rat-tail that he grew in college. When he was in high school, he always wanted the unique hairstyle that had its peak popularity in the early 1990s. Vigil cut the rat-tail just before the pre-draft period because he didn't want it to take away from any visits he had with coaches and general managers. But now that he's been drafted, maybe he'll bring it back?
What's next? Now that the first three rounds are in the books, the Bengals turn their focus to Rounds 4-7 on Saturday, when they attempt to continue bolstering the back end of their roster. Minutes after the draft ends, they hope to create even more depth by signing undrafted free agents. Last year, Cincinnati followed up its two third-round picks with a pair of Round-4 selections. Josh Shaw, Marcus Hardison, C.J. Uzomah, Derron Smith and Mario Alford were the Bengals' Day 3 draft adds.
Right after Thursday night's run on receivers that occurred just before the Cincinnati Bengals made their first-round selection, there were legitimate concerns about whether the team would be able to land a player at that position who could contribute fairly quickly. Those fears were put to rest late in the second round Friday, when the Bengals secured a prolific playmaker in Tyler Boyd. The former Pitt standout finished his college career as the school's record holder in receptions (254) and yards (3,361).
My take: The Bengals continue to quietly hit home runs in this draft. Are we really surprised, though? After all, this is the same team that caught the league off guard last year with back-to-back picks of offensive tackles in Rounds 1 and 2, then ended up giving both players legitimate playing time at the end of their rookie seasons. As quickly as Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher panned out, the Bengals are hoping Boyd will do the same now that he's in stripes. Yes, it would have been nice if the Bengals could have gotten a receiver in the first round, but this was perhaps the best alternative.
Sanu Part 2: One of Boyd's most valued traits is his versatility. If you'll recall, after Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu left in free agency, "versatility" was the buzzword around the Bengals. That was specifically the case after Sanu's departure because he was Cincinnati's Swiss Army knife on offense the past four seasons. That's very much the role Boyd played at Pitt. There, he ran the ball off jet sweeps, lined up in the backfield at times, played in the slot, threw on a rare occasion, and made plays as an outside receiver. While the Bengals will want Boyd to catch passes as a traditional receiver, don't be surprised if he helps their offense showcase a few of the wrinkles that made it so unique in recent seasons.
Terrible Towel waver: Not only did Boyd play at Pitt, but he's from western Pennsylvania, meaning he grew up a Steelers fan. On a conference call with Bengals media, he admitted to having pictures in his home of him as a kid in a Hines Ward jersey. Naturally, that won't go over big in Cincinnati, but he promised to sacrifice himself for the team that drafted him. He knows he's a Bengal now, and he's proud of that. The Terrible Towel is being buried for now.
What's next? Immediately on the Bengals' horizon will be one final Friday night pick in Round 3. Once they make that pick, the Bengals will turn to Rounds 4-7 on Saturday, when they will focus on bolstering the back end of their roster. Minutes after the draft ends, they hope to create even more depth by signing undrafted free agents. Last year, Cincinnati followed up its two third-round picks with a pair of Round 4 selections. Josh Shaw, Marcus Hardison, C.J. Uzomah, Derron Smith and Mario Alford were their Day 3 draft adds.
Whatever the Cincinnati Bengals consider their selection of cornerback William Jackson III at No. 24 overall Thursday night, the pick has clearly sent reverberations throughout the always contentious AFC North.
For virtually the entire pre-draft process, mock drafts had the Pittsburgh Steelers picking a cornerback. And with Ohio State's Eli Apple expected to be off the board when Pittsburgh picked at No. 25 -- one spot after the Bengals had been long anticipated to go with a receiver, mind you -- draft analysts almost unanimously expected Jackson to be right there for the Steelers to take.
Even Jackson had been preparing himself for the inevitability of playing in Pittsburgh.
"[The Bengals] definitely surprised me," Jackson said on a conference call with Bengals media late Thursday.
As he waited on the only phone call that mattered that night, Jackson, who spent the opening round at home with family in Houston, was expecting to see Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's name pop up on his screen. Not Marvin Lewis' name.
"It took me by surprise," Jackson said. "I was not expecting it."
That's because although Jackson spent his share of time with the Bengals, it appeared Pittsburgh was wining and dining him more. When evaluating corners, the Steelers put a great emphasis on how well he defends passes. Jackson's 28 passes defensed in 2015 were the most in the nation. That was reason enough to want him.
"I had dinner with them and we had great chemistry," Jackson said. "We talked about a lot of things, so I thought it was coming. But I'm happy to be a Cincinnati Bengal."
It's worth noting that Jackson also felt a strong connection to Bengals defensive backs coach Kevin Coyle during a visit to Cincinnati.
There's little need for a reminder about how tense things have been between the Bengals and Steelers recently. The teams, fan bases and the cities already didn't like each other. But across the past three seasons, the animosity has risen because of a series of devastating, injury-inducing hits and games that have determined both teams' postseason fates.
In 2013, Terence Garvin's blindside hit on Bengals punter Kevin Huber broke Huber's jaw and ended his season. The next year, then-Bengals safety Reggie Nelson cost Le'Veon Bell a playoff appearance after delivering a hard shot to the running back's knee. Bell also was lost for the last half of the 2015 season after being tackled in Week 8 by Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict, who has drawn the Steelers' ire in all four seasons he's been in the league. It was also Burfict's hit to Antonio Brown's head at the end of January's playoff game that gave Brown a concussion and forced the receiver to miss Pittsburgh's divisional-round meeting with Denver a week later.
Then there were the threatening tweets Burfict got from Steelers players in the middle of last season. Those messages were at the heart of a pregame scuffle before last season's Week 15 meeting. During that game, Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton was lost for the season when he broke a thumb trying to complete a post-interception tackle.
With all of that as the backdrop to the draft, it's easy to see why fans on both sides think the Bengals' selection of Jackson was partly some payback, a draft-night thievery of a good corner.
Then again, had it not been for Houston, Washington and Minnesota all taking key receivers in the three picks ahead of the Bengals, perhaps Jackson would have fallen to the Steelers, as expected. Who knows?
The UCLA product who has been recovering from a knee injury since September dropped from his once-promising top-10 perch and completely out of Thursday night's opening round. The long fall was enough to prompt Jack's agent, former Bengals defensive tackle John Thornton, to tweet that while Jack understood the tenuous nature of the business side of football, he was still a little upset by the events of Round 1.
Feel bad for my client @MylesJack. He's upset but understands how it goes with these things. Said this won't stop him next year.
— JohnThornton (@JohnThornton) April 29, 2016
At points during the first round, the Bengals were apparently trying to figure out if they could use their pick at No. 24 overall if he fell to them.
"He was part of the process, just like we do everything," defensive coordinator Paul Guenther said. "We follow the draft board as we see it."
The way the Bengals view the draft board is by picking the best player available. As arguably one of the most athletic players in the draft, Jack certainly would have been exactly that for every team in the first round had his knee not been an issue.
Despite Jack still being available at 24, the Bengals ultimately used their pick on Houston cornerback William Jackson III. Deemed one of the draft's top corners, Jackson was regarded highly by the Bengals. That doesn't necessarily mean they had been fully convinced they were drafting him earlier in the day. The receiver position was a more immediate need, and it appeared they were going to address it until a run on receivers took place in the three picks that immediately preceded theirs. That run virtually wiped clean the pass-catching options that were supposedly atop the Bengals' list.
It meant they had to turn to another player they still trusted. In the case of Jackson, it was a player who spent the bulk of the pre-draft process tied to their rival Pittsburgh Steelers.
"I had dinner with them [Steelers] and we had great chemistry," Jackson said. "We talked about a lot of things, so I thought that was coming."
In the end, Jackson's selection was the perfect rebuttal to the receiver snatching that had occurred.
But a Jack pick might have been, too.
Crazy as it might have sounded -- the Bengals drafting a second straight first-rounder who entered the league with injury concerns (their 2015 pick, Cedric Ogbuehi, was recovering from a torn ACL) -- there were legitimate reasons for Cincinnati to consider picking Jack. For starters, Thornton still is well connected to Cincinnati and has been working out deals with the Bengals for a few years now. He also reps Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson.
There's also the fact the Bengals are in need of players who could play any of their three linebacker positions. They need someone like Jack.
So what accounts for his fall? Comments Jack made to the New York Post's Bart Hubbuch about his knee just two days before the draft likely had teams shying away from him.
"[The degenerative problems] are there, but it's nothing extreme," Jack told Hubbuch. "Down the line, possibly, I could have microfracture surgery -- potentially. Who knows what will happen? Nobody knows how long anybody is going to play in this league. To play three years in this league would be above average."
Call it high drama. In the 15 minutes or so before the Cincinnati Bengals made their first-round pick Thursday night, there was all kinds of intrigue as a couple of former Bengals assistants ended up claiming receivers who might have been on Cincinnati's radar. In part because of that, the Bengals ended up selecting a cornerback -- Houston's William Jackson III, at No. 24 -- to help bolster their aging secondary.
My take: If you're a Bengals fan, you may now start rueing the respective days the organization was unable to hang on to assistant coaches Jay Gruden, Mike Zimmer and Hue Jackson. All three made selections Thursday night that ultimately caused the Bengals to deviate from what many saw as the course that would have them taking a receiver in the first round. Hue Jackson, the Browns' current head coach, started the domino effect by drafting Corey Coleman 15th overall. Then Gruden and Zimmer took Josh Doctson and Laquon Treadwell at Nos. 22 and 23, to Washington and Minnesota, respectively. Because of those moves, the Bengals had to focus on one of their defensive possibilities. One of this draft class' fastest players and top cover corners, Jackson is a strong selection. The fact he came to Cincinnati after several overtures from rival Pittsburgh (25th selection) during the draft process makes it an even better pick for the Bengals.
Cornerback kings: Cornerbacks have defined the first round for the Bengals in recent history. Three of their past five first-round selections have come at that position. Dre Kirkpatrick (2012) and Darqueze Dennard (2014) are their other more recent selections. Before that, Leon Hall (2007) and Johnathan Joseph (2006) were other first-round picks. Current corner Adam Jones wasn't drafted by Cincinnati, but he also is a former first-rounder. As for Kirkpatrick and Dennard, it took both a couple of seasons before becoming regular contributors in the defense. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis doesn't anticipate it will take William Jackson too long before getting onto the field, although Lewis stressed Thursday night that the corner would have to show he could play on special teams first.
What does it mean for Kirkpatrick? This will become one of the big questions of the remainder of the offseason: What happens to Kirkpatrick from here? The veteran is entering a contract year after having his fifth-year option picked up last spring. This could be a make-or-break season for him as the Bengals now have another a taller corner to compete for long-term playing time with him. Why are the Bengals so high on Jackson? Perhaps his nation-leading 28 pass breakups and 4.37 40-yard combine time help explain it.
What's next? Be prepared for more defense to come as the Bengals go through the next two days of the draft. Still, there remains a serious need to be addressed at the receiver position. The second round could be the perfect time for them to land a viable pass-catcher. Last year, the Bengals had three Day 2 picks, selecting offensive tackle Jake Fisher (53rd overall), tight end Tyler Kroft (85th) and linebacker P.J. Dawson (99th) in the second and third rounds. Kroft and Dawson were third-rounders.
Even after a series of strong draft classes, the Cincinnati Bengals are mostly remembered for their draft busts. But left tackle Anthony Munoz, the No. 3 overall selection in 1980, is proof the Bengals do have a history of bringing quality draft picks into their locker room. Munoz heads a list of players that features a few Super Bowl participants and a current perennial Pro Bowl selection.
Why Munoz is the best draft pick in Bengals history: One reason trumps all others when it comes to Munoz's status as the Bengals' best draft pick: He is the franchise's only Hall of Famer. Yes, there are other former Bengals deserving of busts in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but at the moment Munoz stands alone. Munoz is also among a select group who played in both Super Bowls for the Bengals. He was only in his second year when Cincinnati advanced to Super Bowl XVI. Then as an eight-year veteran in 1988, he was the foundation of an offensive line that protected for the No. 1 offense in the league. It was an offense that helped lead the Bengals into Super Bowl XXIII. In his 13 seasons, Munoz was selected to the Pro Bowl 11 times.
Ken Anderson, QB: Perhaps the Bengal most deserving of a spot in Canton with Munoz, Anderson was the quarterback who put the franchise on the map in the early to mid-1970s. Picked 67th overall in 1971, Anderson went on to quarterback the Bengals in Super Bowl XVI. He was just three touchdowns short of 200 for his career.
Tim Krumrie, LB: A 10th-round pick in 1983, Krumrie became the heart and soul of an intense Bengals defense that ranked in the top 10 three of the 12 years he was part of it. The nose tackle was arguably the Bengals' best late-round draft selection. His 1,008 tackles are still a Bengals record.
Boomer Esiason, QB: Since we declared his 1984 draft class as the best in Bengals history, we would be remiss if Esiason didn't end up on this list. Like the two players listed before him here, Esiason played a key part in one Bengals Super Bowl run. His 1988 team was just minutes from a championship. Esiason, like the others, is still fondly remembered in Cincinnati.
Ken Riley, CB: Nicknamed "The Rattler" after his alma mater's mascot (the Florida A&M Rattlers), Riley could strike an opposing offense a deadly blow if he ever got in between a receiver and the football. The sixth-round selection of the 1969 draft had at least one interception in each of the 15 seasons he played. Five times he returned them for touchdowns.
A.J. Green, WR: The only active player on this list, it's still safe to consider Green one of the Bengals' best-ever draft picks. The fourth overall selection in 2011, Green has been a Pro Bowl pick each year he's been in the league, and he's on track to obliterate the Bengals' various all-time receiving records. Another active player, Arizona Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer, also probably deserves consideration here.
It probably comes as no surprise that Doctson, a TCU product who is a virtual first-round lock, is being cheered on this week by Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton, another former Horned Frogs standout.
"He's been down at TCU working out when I have, so I've gotten to know him some," Dalton said last week about Doctson. "He's a good kid. He's going to be successful with whatever team he gets to. He's a guy that I've watched -- obviously because I follow TCU -- more than any of those other guys, so I'm rooting for him."
Dalton isn't saying he's necessarily rooting for Doctson to be the Bengals' selection at No. 24 overall. But he wouldn't be mad if team decision makers wanted to make that move. Baylor's Corey Coleman, Mississippi's Laquon Treadwell and Notre Dame's Will Fuller are other receivers with first-round projections who could make sense for Cincinnati to draft. Each has their trade-offs, though. In Fuller's case, drops are a concern. He had nine passes slip through his hands the last two seasons.
Drops aside, Fuller can flat-out fly. His 4.32-second 40-yard dash paced receivers and was the second-fastest overall time at this year's combine. Such straight-line speed translates onto the field, where his general quickness makes him a real threat in a vertical passing game.
Like Dalton with Doctson, Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert missed playing with Fuller when he was in college. By the time Fuller enrolled at Notre Dame in 2013, Eifert was beginning his Bengals career following a first-round selection. Also, like Dalton, Eifert is the only player from his college program on the Bengals' current roster. He wouldn't mind seeing that change.
"Maybe we take him, maybe we don't. No one's told me anything," Eifert said, smiling as he spoke with reporters last week. "But it's kind of cool when you see a Notre Dame guy."
Asked last week if he had been lobbying the Bengals front office to draft Fuller, Eifert smiled again, this time saying, "I've got two weeks to get that done."
Well, now him and Dalton only have three days of lobbying left.
Be on the lookout for a occasional series we'll have on the Cincinnati Bengals blog called "Back in Bengals Time." It's a chance to look back at an event in Bengals history that took place on a specific day. We begin by going way back to this date six years ago...
Thursday, April 22, 2010
After years of either passing up or just missing out on early- and mid-round tight ends, the Bengals were practically salivating as they entered the 2010 draft.
Atop the boards that year were Gresham, a tight end whose 26 career receiving touchdowns at Oklahoma ranked second in Big 12 history, and Gronkowski, the new owner of a slew of tight end receiving records at Arizona. Both had the right physique, and projected well in the NFL. Given the fact the Bengals had just gone through a 2009 season in which they had three tight ends -- including veteran and soon-to-be-free-agent Reggie Kelly -- on injured reserve, the timing of Gresham and Gronkowski's eligibility couldn't have been better. Also in that draft were tight ends Tony Moeaki, Jimmy Graham, Aaron Hernandez and Dennis Pitta.
Cincinnati only had to decide which one it would take with the 21st overall pick.
The rest is history.
A noted blocker, Gresham met more of the qualifications coaches and scouts were looking for and so he became the Bengals' pick. It took another 21 picks before Gronkowski was selected by the New England Patriots. His selection was the beginning of a mutually beneficial relationship that has led to one Patriots Super Bowl victory and a pair of Super Bowl appearances. Gronkowski has 65 touchdown catches in six seasons; Gresham has 25.
Although Gresham is a two-time Pro Bowl selection, his past couple of seasons have been a little tumultuous. His time in Cincinnati ended on rather rocky terms following a decision to not play through an injury in the Bengals' playoff game at Indianapolis following the 2014 season. It turns out the injury was rather serious, as it required offseason surgery to fix a herniated disc. The surgery happened during the same offseason he was being courted as a free agent for the first time.
While Gronkowski's entire career has been spent in New England, Gresham has moved along to his second team. After signing a one-year deal last summer with Arizona, he re-upped with the Cardinals on another one-year deal last month. Although he was effective in his final season with the Bengals, catching 62 passes with five touchdowns, he didn't have as much impact in his first season in Arizona. Fighting through knee and hamstring injuries, not to mention any lingering effects of his back injury, Gresham caught only 18 passes and one touchdown in 15 games.
Here are other tight ends the Bengals missed out on before 2010:
2009: Richard Quinn was drafted by Denver as the final pick in Round 2. The Bengals had the sixth pick in Round 3, and it ultimately went to defensive end Michael Johnson. Later in the third round, they drafted tight end Chase Coffman, nine picks after fellow tight end Jared Cook went to Tennessee.
2008: Brad Cottam was drafted by Kansas City at 76th overall. One pick later, the Bengals selected defensive tackle Pat Sims. Later in the third round, tight end Jermichael Finley was picked by Green Bay, six spots before the Bengals selected receiver Andre Caldwell.
2004: Chris Cooley was drafted by Washington at 81st overall. One pick earlier, the Bengals drafted linebacker Caleb Miller.