Back in the day, the Cincinnati Bengals used to draft well. Take 2011 for instance, when we nabbed a young receiver by the name of AJ Green with the fourth overall pick and a newbie quarterback, one Mr A. Dalton, in Round 2. Those two have arguably been the cornerstones of the team ever since – until last week anyway. But in recent times, we have fostered a reputation for making awful or unlucky draft choices – not great for a franchise with a morbid fear of trades and free agency.
Compounding matters, many of those draft choices have been blighted by injuries. In fact, all our first-round picks in recent years have missed games in their rookie season: Cedric Ogbuehi played only five games in 2015, William Jackson missed all of 2016, John Ross took just 17 snaps in 2017 and last year, Billy Price missed six games.
As the Bengals’ bye week dissects the season exactly in half, it’s the perfect time to see how the class of 2019 are faring. Are they helping, hindering or not making the slightest difference? The grades I’ve given aren’t based on ability or potential, but on their actual contribution so far this season.
#11 Jonah Williams (OT, Alabama)
At the time, most mock drafts had Cincy filling a pressing need at linebacker in Round 1 with Michigan’s Devin Bush but those pesky Steelers traded up to take him from under our nose at #10. Nevertheless, offensive tackle was also seen as a requirement and Williams’ footwork, power and mobility – and ability to play across the O-line if needed – were considered good enough to overcome his comparative lack of reach for a dude standing at 6’5”.
Williams started 44 consecutive games for Alabama at left or right tackle and, in 2018, didn’t allow a single sack in 466 snaps. Many mock experts correctly had him marked as the first offensive tackle off the board and PFF rated him the fourth-best player overall, so things were looking good when he fell to the Bengals at #11. But it didn’t take long for the first-round curse to strike again: Williams tore his labrum in training camp and needed shoulder surgery, essentially ending his season before it had even started.
#52 Drew Sample (TE, Washington)
Sample didn’t drop a ball in his last season for Pac-12 champions Washington but Cincy dropped back 10 spots (and gained two Day 3 picks) by swapping with Denver and nabbed him at #52. The second-round choice was a headscratcher for many analysts, who wondered why we’d over-reached for a run-blocking TE widely expected to go the following day. We also had Tyler Eifert and CJ Uzomah on the roster and the need at linebacker was far more pressing. Annoyingly, the pundits have been proved right: Sample has touched the ball just four times so far.
#72 Germaine Pratt (LB, NC State)
With Preston Brown and Nick Vigil losing time to injuries during 2018 and Vontaze Burfict on his way out, the Bengals finally addressed a need at LB by taking Pratt at #72. He’d led NC State’s Wolfpack with 105 tackles as a senior but pre-draft pundits suggested he wasn’t very mobile. After he joined Cincy, there were also concerns that he was slow learning the game book, but the third-round choice finally seems to be giving Brown and Vigil some much-needed competition.
#104 Ryan Finley (QB, NC State)
Cincinnati traded up (for only the fifth time ever) six spots and also gave away two sixths to select the 6’4” QB, whose 10,505 passing yards rank second in NC State history. Touted by scouts for his accuracy, anticipation and poise in the pocket, Finley – the first of three Round 4 picks – started poorly in pre-season, with his arm strength called into question. But after three appearances, one NFL.com article called Finley out as the best rookie signal-caller in pre-season. He edged out Jeff Driskel as the Bengals’ QB2 and then last week, after eight straight losses, Andy Dalton was benched. We’re now days away from Finley’s first NFL action (against the Patriot-slaying Ravens – quite the baptism of fire), so I’m holding back on a grade until I know whether we have Finley Fever or Finley Failure.
#125 Renell Wren (DT, Arizona State)
While the Bengals probably considered taking a defensive linesman earlier in the draft, they actually waited till Round 4. Wren posted 43 tackles, including 18 in the last three games, at Arizona State but as a third-choice behind Andrew Billings and Josh Tupou, his outings for the Bengals have been few and far between.
#136 Michael Jordan (G, Ohio State)
Having traded some of their later picks to get Finley, the Bengals did so again to get Jordan, who made 41 consecutive starts at guard and center for the Buckeyes. Continued investment in the weak O-line made a lot of sense but Jordan has really struggled recently, with an ever-changing cast of left tackles next to him not helping matters. He has now been relegated to backing up his alma mater‘s former center, Billy Price – hardly a ringing endorsement.
#182 Trayveon Williams (RB, Texas A&M)
Williams was the first freshman in Texas A&M history to run for more than 1,000 yards and in 2018, he racked up 1,524 rushing yards and 15 TDs. After Mark Walton was released for off-the-field issues, Williams sat behind Joe Mixon, Gio Bernard and, for a while, Samaje Perine in the RB pecking order. The Round 6 selection has yet to make his NFL debut.
#210 Deshaun Davis (LB, Auburn)
Even after drafting Pratt, the Bengals still badly needed LB depth and plumped for Davis. But despite being a three-year starter at Auburn, he was waived during final roster cuts before playing a snap for the Bengals.
#211 Rodney Anderson (RB, Oklahoma)
A pick later, Anderson – who hails from Andy Dalton’s hometown of Katy, Texas – rejoined former Sooners teammate Joe Mixon at Cincinnati. He lost most of 2015 and 2018, and all of 2016, to injuries but recorded 1,161 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns in 2017. This fuelled excitement that, if he could stay healthy, the Bengals had themselves an absolute steal.
But wouldn’t you just know it: injury struck again. Having shown flashes of what we could expect from him as a receiver and a runner over one-and-a-bit pre-season games, Anderson re-tore his ACL and immediately went onto season-ending IR. Cruel, cruel luck.
#223 Jordan Brown (CB, South Dakota State)
As a senior, Brown was credited with 29 tackles, three interceptions and a team-high 12 pass breakups in 13 starts. But with Darqueze Dennard re-signed and BW Webb acquired in free agency, our only Round 7 pick didn’t make the final 53 and is now on the Jaguars’ practice squad.
Taking a final roll-call on the Bengals’ business, six of our 10 draft picks in 2019 have never played for us – a truly dreadful return on investment. Two of them were waived, two are out injured for the entire year and two have yet to make the field. Of those, Ryan Finley does at least get his chance to play next week so I’ll reserve judgement for now. The rest earn the Bengals five Fs.
Cincy also get an E- and an E for barely using Drew Sample and Renell Wren, which leaves the improving Germaine Pratt and the regressing Michael Jordan as the best of the bunch (if you can call them that) with a couple of Ds.
That’s a pretty poor haul in anyone’s books but for a team that lives and dies by the draft, it’s truly awful. It also gives me serious cause for concern that, even if we pick in the top three in the 2020 Draft, we’re bound to make a complete hash of it.
Feature Picture – Credit: Cincinnati Enquirer/USA TODAY NE