The Cincinnati Bengals are a team that is heavily reliant on the NFL Draft. Over the past decade, they have had some extremely good drafts and others that are completely awful. With the end of the 2010s, I have decided to compile a ranking of every draft class from that decade. Number 1 is the best class, number 10 is the worst.
10. The 2015 Draft
Notable Players: C.J. Uzomah
This draft class was downright terrible. The first two picks (Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher) were relied upon to be the next franchise offensive tackles, but instead, they were complete busts. Tyler Kroft was a serviceable backup tight end, but nothing more. Other than Kroft, the only player to see meaningful playing time was Josh Shaw, but he was only a rotational player.
C.J. Uzomah is the only decent player from the class, and he is just an average starter at tight end. This draft class was so bad that the Bengals are only just now recovering from it.
9. The 2019 Draft
Notable Players: Germaine Pratt
The most recent draft class brought into Cincinnati. This class is not necessarily bad, but they simply haven’t had the time to prove themselves. Jonah Williams was the first-round selection and was injured in his rookie year. Germaine Pratt became a starter on defense and is definitely the gem of this class.
Other than that, players such as Drew Sample, Renell Wren, Michael Jordan, Trayveon Williams, and Rodney Anderson received little or no playing time in their rookie year. This class has boom or bust potential, but it is too early to place them ahead of any other draft of the past decade.
8. The 2014 Draft
Notable Players: Darqueze Dennard, Jeremy Hill, Russell Bodine, and A.J. McCarron
While none of the notable players from this draft are currently on the Cincinnati Bengals’ roster, they produced while they were in town. Darqueze Dennard was an above-average slot corner, Jeremy Hill had a couple of good seasons before his departure, Russell Bodine was a 4-year starter at center, and A.J. McCarron was a good backup quarterback that nearly won the Bengals’ their first playoff game in decades.
This draft is not higher on this list because none of the players sustained their above-average status for long. Dennard had the most longevity but he’s no longer in the Queen City. Jeremy Hill fumbled his way out of Cincinnati when he ruined A.J. McCarron’s near-storybook season, and Bodine was consistently a below-average center.
7. The 2013 Draft
Notable Players: Tyler Eifert, Giovani Bernard, Shawn Williams, and Rex Burkhead
If Tyler Eifert could just stay healthy, this draft would much higher. Eifert had the makings of a star, but he could never sustain his play due to injury. Giovani Bernard has been a great rotational and pass-catching running back during his tenure in Cincinnati, but he has never been the main back. Shawn Williams is a decent starting safety, and will most likely be again next season if he is retained. Rex Burkhead was a great special teamer and depth back, but he never was more than that.
This draft had a lot of potential, but unfortunately, it appears most of it was wasted. Tyler Eifert was a Gronkowski-level tight end in the 2015 season, but injuries ensured that we would never see him sustain that production. Bernard could have been used more, as he is a very talented running back, but he has always been overshadowed by workhorse backs. Not the worst draft, but it could’ve been better.
6. The 2018 Draft
Notable Players: Jessie Bates, Sam Hubbard, Darius Phillips, and Auden Tate
This draft class has the potential to move up this list in the coming years. Jessie Bates is one of the best young safeties in the league, Sam Hubbard is a great defensive end, Darius Phillips has flashed his playmaking ability on both special teams and in the defensive backfield, and Auden Tate has a catch radius like no other. If they can continue to develop, this class could carry Cincinnati for another decade.
The only reason this class isn’t higher on the list is that it is still very recent. There is no guarantee that the players can keep their play at a high level long enough to have a greater impact that the next classes on this list. Within a couple years or so, this class could be top 3 or 4.
5. The 2017 Draft
Notable Players: John Ross, Joe Mixon, Carl Lawson, and Brandon Wilson
The only reason this draft class is at 5 instead of 4 is because of John Ross. If Ross could finally breakout for a full season, this class would move up. Other than that, Joe Mixon is what is carrying this class to this spot. He is a stellar running back and is undoubtedly one of the most talented guys in the league. Carl Lawson is a great pass rusher but he has dealt with injury. Brandon Wilson is a tremendous kick returner but he has only been at it for a season.
This class and the 2018 class are very similar in that there are talented young players that simply need to sustain their play. I don’t see this class overtaking any of the classes above it, but that doesn’t mean it can’t get better. If Ross breaks out, Lawson stays healthy, and Wilson proves he isn’t a fluke, then this class will have a much tighter competition with the 2016 draft class.
4. The 2016 Draft
Notable Players: William Jackson, Tyler Boyd, Nick Vigil, Andrew Billings, and Clayton Fejedelem
The 2016 draft class is full of quality starters. While Andrew Billings, Clayton Fejedelem, and Nick Vigil are no longer on the roster, each gave the Bengals four years of solid play. Tyler Boyd and William Jackson are both superb players who will presumably be a continued part of Cincinnati’s core for years to come.
When a team gets two or three consistent starters out of a draft class, it is usually considered a success. The Bengals got five out of this class, with Jackson and Boyd leading the pack. It is hard to believe a draft can get much better than this, but the next three are truly something special.
3. The 2012 Draft
Notable Players: Dre Kirkpatrick, Kevin Zeitler, Mohamed Sanu, Marvin Jones, and George Iloka
Where do I even begin with this draft class? Dre Kirkpatrick was an average starter for nearly a decade in Cincinnati, becoming a cap casualty this off-season. George Iloka was in the same boat, as he was booted to make room for rookie Jessie Bates in 2018. Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones were part of the tremendous 2015 Bengals’ offense, and both ended up getting big paydays for it. Jones is an established number-one receiver in Detroit now, and Sanu is on the Patriots after making plays alongside Julio Jones in Atlanta. Zeitler ended up pricing himself out of Cincinnati by signing what was at the time the largest contract for an offensive guard in NFL history.
This class is truly something special, and it’s hard to imagine there are two better classes from this decade. The only thing holding this class down is longevity and star-power. None of the players are still on Cincinnati’s roster and there is no one, except for maybe Kevin Zeitler, who is considered a top player at their position.
2. The 2011 Draft
Notable Players: A.J. Green, Andy Dalton, Clint Boling
Quality is more important than quantity, especially when you can only have 53 players on an NFL roster. This class features three long-term starters for Cincinnati. Clint Boling was an above-average offensive guard until he retired, citing health reasons. Andy Dalton, regardless of current popular opinion, was at one time in the race for NFL MVP and has proven himself a capable starter at the quarterback position. A.J. Green would be Hall of Fame-worthy if his career wasn’t hindered by injury recently.
This class’ list is short and sweet, but it is more than ever could be expected from a draft. Two pro-bowlers and another long-term starter is a great haul for any team. These players established the core of the Bengals team for this decade, and only one class can possibly overshadow their contributions.
1. The 2010 Draft
Notable Players: Jermaine Gresham, Carlos Dunlap, and Geno Atkins
What better way to kick-off the decade than to draft one of the best classes in team history? Jermaine Gresham played five very solid seasons in the Queen City before moving on to the Cardinals. He was the predecessor to Tyler Eifert and held down the position well until Eifert was ready to take over. Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins are the two best pass rushers in Bengals history, as they are constantly battling each other for the franchise sack title (Dunlap has 81.5 and Atkins has 75.5).
Dunlap is one of the top defensive ends in the league even though he is consistently overshadowed by the big-number guys. He is also tremendous at batting down passes and even has a clutch pick-six to his name. Atkins is one of the best defensive tackles in NFL history. He is a constant force on the defensive front and every offensive line needs a scheme specifically for him. Atkins’ strength is absolutely unmatched by anyone except for Aaron Donald. Watch this “Welcome to the NFL” he gave Deshaun Watson back in 2017.
It was a difficult decision deciding which class should get the top spot as both 2010 and 2011 featured Hall of Fame-level players and great long term starters. Ultimately, 2010 won out because of the sustained high level of play from Dunlap and Atkins, while Green has been slowed down by injury and Dalton’s play has diminished. The last decade was a great decade of drafting by the Cincinnati Bengals and it appears that they can start off the new decade with another great draft as they hold the number one overall pick in the 2020 draft (hint: the pick is Joe Burrow).