When the 2010 season finally ended and the NFL lockout began, the Bengals fans had only the draft to look forward to in hopes of rebuilding their franchise, which had lost its franchise QB to retirement, and was ready to part ways with Chad Ochocinco, the team’s all-time leading receiver. The 2011 Draft would be the draft that would provide the team with young talent to hopefully help the team become competitive again, or cripple the franchise for the foreseeable future. Over the next few weeks, we’ll look back at this critical draft, look at who the Bengals selected and compare them to the players selected right after them, grade each pick, and project how each player will contribute to the Bengals next year.
With the 4th overall pick, the Bengals had nearly every prospect to choose from. The team’s biggest needs were QB, WR, and DE. All three positions had multiple prospects that were worthy of the 4th overall pick.
At QB, the Bengals could have selected Blaine Gabbert, who was the only worthy QB of drafting 4th overall after Cam Newton was drafted #1 overall by the Panthers. Gabbert was drafted by the Jaguars and finished the year completing 50.8% of his passes for 2,214 yards, 12 TD’s, and 11 interceptions with a below-average receiving corps, while taking 40 sacks behind a porous pass-protecting offensive line. No Jacksonville receiver had over 500 receiving yards, so its hard to give an accurate grade on Gabbert’s performance this year. Because the Bengals were able to get Andy Dalton in the 2nd round, it was a good thing the Bengals passed on Gabbert.
At DE, there was J.J. Watt, Aldon Smith, and Robert Quinn. Aldon Smith was projected as a 3-4 pass rushing LB, and the Bengals ran a 4-3 defense. Robert Quinn missed the entire 2010 season due to an NCAA investigation, so he had plenty of character concerns on top of missing an entire season of football between his sophomore year in college and his rookie year in the NFL. The Bengals were now taking a hard stance in avoiding character-concern players in the draft. J.J. Watt would have been a great pick had the Bengals selected him, but at the 4th spot, it seemed too high to draft Watt there based on his potential, and the Bengals strongest need was at wide receiver.
At WR, there was A.J. Green and Julio Jones. WR was the biggest need for the Bengals, which put these two players at the top of the Bengals’ draft board. Jones was a highly talented receivers, and some analysts believed the Bengals thought he was the best WR in the draft. He’s an outstanding vertical threat and already had NFL-level strength for a WR, but wasn’t a consistent route runner in college, and in Jay Gruden’s West-Coast Offense, crisp route running is a must. That was one of many skills A.J. Green possessed on top of having better hands than Jones, and was less prone to injury than his SEC counterpart. That proved true in the NFL as well, as Green missed only one game this year, compared to Jones who missed three games for the Falcons.
So did the Bengals get it right? Well, here’s how both receivers did they’re rookie seasons:
- Green: 65 receptions for 1,057 yards on a 16.3 ypc average and 7 TD’s.
- Jones: 54 receptions for 959 yards on a 17.8 ypc average and 8 TD’s.
- Both receivers helped lead their teams to the 1st-round of the playoffs
- Not only did Green have to adjust to the NFL level, but was catching passes from a rookie QB, while Jones was catching passes from a 4th year Pro Bowler in Matt Ryan.
- Green made the Pro Bowl. Jones did not.
While Jones finished with similar stats to Green, its no question that the Bengals struck gold when they drafted the former Georgia Bulldog. Already earning a Pro-Bowl berth this year, Bengals fans can expect to see Green continue to develop into one of the NFL’s elite receivers. Green’s head coach, Marvin Lewis shares the same sentiment:
As I’ve said before, A.J. is the best first-round draft pick that I’ve ever been around. I have not seen a receiver better than he is at getting to the ball.
ESPN AFC North Blogger Jamison Hensley called Green the NFL’s most valuable rookie. Green was also named to ESPN’s All-Rookie Team. He passed former Bengal WR Cris Collinsworth‘s franchise record for a rookie receiving yards with 1,013 yards on the season.
The drafting of Green deserves a solid A+.
As for expectations going into next year, we should expect to see Green eclipse 1,000 yards again, score double-digit touchdowns, be named a starter to the Pro Bowl, and establish himself as one of the NFL’s elite receivers and make a run at the NFL All-Pro team.
After getting 1,057