Each year, positivity and optimism reign around this time. Even for a relatively maligned franchise, the Cincinnati Bengals are no different. The past ten years have actually been good to the Bengals faithful. One major reason why was their success in picking first-round talent. Let’s take a look back at a decade of Cincinnati Bengals first round picks.
Looking Back: A Decade Of Cincinnati Bengals First Round Picks
Jermaine Gresham, Tight End
Kicking off the decade, the Bengals drafted Jermaine Gresham out of Oklahoma with the 21st-overall pick. Expectations were high when the Bengals selected the 6’5″, 270-pound tight end despite missing all of the 2009 season due to injury. For the most part, he lived up to them. Over his five years as a Bengal, Gresham amassed 280 receptions, 2,722 yards, and 24 touchdowns. As a tight end before the recent explosion of athletic freaks, these are respectable numbers.
Once 2015 rolled around, the Bengals had already drafted a replacement and the allure was gone. Gresham has since spent four seasons with the Arizona Cardinals, though he has not been able to replicate his 2011 or 2012 seasons where he was selected for the Pro Bowl.
A.J. Green, Wide Receiver
Perhaps the best selection on this list comes from the University of Georgia: Adrial Jeremiah Green. 2011 was the beginning of an exciting time for the Bengals as they followed up this selection by grabbing their next franchise quarterback in Andy Dalton in the second round. Green, as the fourth-overall pick, is the best Bengals first round pick in a long time. Aside from 2018 (and 2019 where he didn’t appear in a single game), Green was selected for the Pro Bowl every season.
Through his eight completed seasons, Green has the second-most receiving yards, catches, and touchdowns in Cincinnati Bengals history. Anyone who has followed the Bengals knows who is number one: Chad Johnson. If Green can heal up and play a full season in 2020 (assuming the team doesn’t tag-and-trade him), he could very well end the season atop the yards and touchdown marks.
Dre Kirkpatrick, Cornerback
Only once in this past decade were there multiple Bengals first round picks. With the first of two picks, the Cincinnati Bengals selected cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick out of Alabama. The reason the Bengals had two picks was thanks to their Carson Palmer-to-the-Oakland Raiders trade that yielded both Kirkpatrick and, in 2013, Giovani Bernard. Save to say that the trade worked out well considering Cincinnati got a pair of solid contributors for a quarterback who wouldn’t even suit up.
While Kirkpatrick has been a Bengal for eight seasons, he was a starter in six of them. His 2019 season was cut short due to an injury, so he has put up five decent seasons picking off 10 passes. Of those, he intercepted three on three separate occasions (2013, 2014, and 2016). Interestingly enough, six of those interceptions in ’13 and ’14 came where Kirkpatrick was not a regular starter. Throughout his career, Kirkpatrick has been a physical corner, but has been susceptible to penalties and getting burnt. In 2020, Kirkpatrick is a candidate for an off-season trade or cut, so this will be interesting to follow.
Kevin Zeitler, Guard
There have been a few instances in recent memory where the Bengals failed to bring back their homegrown talent. The second first-round pick in 2012 was used on Kevin Zeitler who had a very solid five seasons with the Bengals. Over his time in Cincinnati, Zeitler started immediately and stayed healthy for nearly 90% of all games. It was a surprise when the Bengals weren’t able to bring him back in 2017 where they were outbid by the rival Cleveland Browns.
With Zeitler walking, it was the beginning of the end of the once-solid offensive line in Cincinnati. Zeitler took a slight step back in Cleveland and they did not feel like he lived up to his then-record-setting deal and they shipped him off to the New York Giants before the 2019 season. As of now, Zeitler still has two years remaining on his contract.
Tyler Eifert, Tight End
At pick number 21 in 2013, the Bengals got a steal in Tyler Eifert…or so it seemed. Eifert’s rookie year was solid, but he only appeared in one game in year two. Year three was the Bengals’ year and Eifert turned in a Pro Bowl-worthy 13-game performance that showed why he was worth the first-round pick. Since then, Eifert has been a force when healthy. Unfortunately for the Bengals, he has not been healthy often. We can’t blame him for injuries because most of the injuries have been freak accidents, but it still hurts.
2019 was not his best statistical season, but he did one thing he had never done before: he started all 16 games. As of today, Eifert is set to be a free agent. Don’t be surprised if the Bengals elect to bring Eifert back again on another one-year deal. Eifert is a perfect example of “what could have been.” If he could have remained healthy, I imagine the injuries to Green and letting Marvin Jones/Mohamed Sanu walk would have hurt less.
Darqueze Dennard, Cornerback
Another potential 2020 free agent is the 2014 first-round pick out of Michigan State, Darqueze Dennard. At 24th overall, the Bengals were in an interesting spot but felt good about nabbing the former Jim Thorpe Award winner. Many of the Bengals first round pick mocks from this year had Dennard coming to Cincinnati, so it was a seemingly foregone conclusion.
Statistically, Dennard has not been a first-round worthy corner. Where Dennard excelled was his impact off the stat sheet. Even though he has only “started” 24 games in six years, he has been used as a slot corner. If you are looking for a Josh Norman or Tre’Devious White-type corner, Dennard is not your man. He is the type to keep his head down, do his job, and do it well. It would not be surprising to see the Bengals bring back Dennard on another short-term deal.
Cedric Ogbuehi, Tackle
The first true whiff on this list comes from the tackle from Texas A&M, Cedric Ogbuehi. This year’s Bengals first round pick was sitting at 21. While the 2015 draft was not the strongest, the Bengals whiffed so hard that it set the franchise back and was the beginning of the end. For one reason or another, Cincinnati selected the tackle knowing he was rehabbing from an ACL tear. This caused him to miss 11 games in his rookie season. In total, Ogbuehi started 25 games between 2016 and 2017. Since then, he appeared in two games in 2018 for Cincinnati, was cut, and signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars. Even in Jacksonville, he has yet to start a contest. Needless to say, this was a missed first-round selection.
William Jackson, III, Cornerback
Potentially the best non-A.J. Green selection on this list is the corner from Houston. William Jackson, III, like Dre Kirkpatrick above, may not have physical statistics but his impact is felt on the field. In three years, the corner has missed only three games. As the number one corner on the team, Jackson is tasked with covering the opponents’ top receivers week in and week out.
His 2019 campaign was the best of his career. While he allowed 58% of passes his way to be completed for a total of 549 yards (39 yards per game), he only allowed three touchdowns. Not too shabby when covering the likes of Odell Beckham, Jr., JuJu Smith-Schuster, and the like. Even during an abysmal 2-14 campaign, Jackson was a rare bright spot.
John Ross, Wide Receiver
The next of the Bengals first round picks is none other than the NFL combine record holder for the fastest 40-yard dash: John Ross. Picking at nine overall, the Bengals found themselves in the top-ten for the first time since 2011 and elected to try their luck with another potential superstar receiver. Ross’s rookie season was not what the Bengals had envisioned (which seems to be a trend at this point). First, Ross had off-season shoulder surgery. Then, a knee injury. In week two, Ross had one touch which resulted in a fumble. This was the last he saw of the field. On the surface, it seemed like then-Head Coach Marvin Lewis choosing to scratch a healthy Ross each week. As it turns out, Ross had a torn labrum.
2018 came and we saw what could have been with Ross’s seven touchdowns. He was explosive and exciting and served as a great compliment to Green and Tyler Boyd. 2019 came and while he only appeared in eight games, he averaged 63.5 yards per game. 2020 will be a prove it year, so maybe teaming up with a healthy Green and Boyd, not to mention a new quarterback, could provide the spark the Bengals need. Ross could be utilized like the Houston Texans‘ Will Fuller.
Billy Price, Center
Considering the location of the Bengals, there will be plenty of overlap between Bengals and Ohio State football fans. That overlap was overjoyed when the Bengals used their 2019 21st-overall pick on the former Buckeye stud. Unfortunately, Price’s Bengals career is nothing like his OSU career. His rookie year, Price missed six games and struggled mightily. In 2019, he was benched in favor of Trey Hopkins, then moved to guard. Despite appearing in all 16 games, Price continued to struggle.
Injuries are certainly to blame. During his NFL Combine workouts, Price injured his pectoral. That injury seemed to linger despite getting surgery to repair the torn muscle. 2020 will be an interesting year for Billy Price. Will the Bengals continue on with their first-rounder another year, or will they cut their losses and move on? Perhaps Cincinnati could find a trade partner in the coming months so that they can at least get something in return.
Jonah Williams, Tackle
Finally, the most recent of the Bengals first round picks was the tackle out of Alabama, Jonah Williams. If you did not see him on the field in 2019, you weren’t the only one. Williams missed all of 2019 due to injury. When mock drafting and addressing free agency, it needs to be remembered that Williams will be back for the Bengals to man the left tackle position. Assuming he will live up to his first-round hype, Williams will be a welcome sight protecting the (presumed) quarterback’s blindside.
Hindsight Is Always 2020
Barring a monumental surprise, the Bengals will head into the 2020 NFL season with a new first-round quarterback. Hopefully, in ten years when we revisit the Bengals first round picks from 2020-2029, we will be writing about some All-Pro selections and Super Bowl appearances. 2020 will be a pivotal draft for the future of the Bengals franchise. While there were a few very solid selections in the last ten drafts, there were just as many duds. Let’s hope that the Bengals learn from their mistakes moving forward.
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