2009: Sixth overall pick Andre Smith looked like a bust initially, but has overcome makeup and health questions to post back-to-back solid seasons for Cincinnati at right tackle. Smith had been a possible number one overall selection before some “issues” at the draft combine allowed him to fall to six. The Bengals then nabbed Rey Maualuga in the second round and…yeah I know, he’s frustrating to watch. He’s also been able to remain upright and start for four consecutive years, and there’s value in that. Third round selection Michael Johnson played a huge role in the run to the playoffs in 2012 with 11.5 sacks, while Kevin Huber (fifth round) and Bernard Scott (sixth round) were also drafted this year. Not much in the way of All-Pros here, but quite a few solid contributors.
2010: Fresh off a surprise division title in 2009, Cincinnati had the 21st overall pick and used it to select Jermaine Gresham. Gresham had some really inopportune drops in 2012, but overall has been a success in making his first Pro Bowl and becoming Andy Dalton’s second-favorite target (next to some guy you’ll read about in the next section). The Bengals then were able to draft Carlos Dunlap in the second round, as the big defensive end from Florida fell to Cincinnati because of the dreaded makeup and work ethic issues. But the real star of the 2010 draft class, and the coup de grace of the entire Marvin Lewis drafting era, was grabbing Geno Atkins in the fourth round. Atkins has become one of the six or eight best defensive players in football, and the leader of a stout unit that has propelled the team to back-to-back postseason appearances. Those three players make for one pretty impressive draft.