The 2011 NFL Draft was a turning point for the Cincinnati Bengals franchise. There, they acquired Andy Dalton, the quarterback that has led them to three consecutive playoff appearances. While there are some doubters as to whether Dalton can get them over the playoff victory hump, there’s no doubting he has been good for the team. Their first round pick in that draft was a tall, lanky wide receiver from the University of Georgia, who has proven to be one of their best draft decisions in some time. AJ Green has been an impact player from day one. However, he might be even better than he gets credit for.
Green’s presence was felt right away in Cincinnati. In his rookie season he grabbed 65 passes for over 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns on his way to the Pro Bowl. He followed that up in 2012 with 97 receptions for 1,350 yards and 11 scores. Then, he somehow improved his numbers again in season three, racking up 98 catches for more than 1,400 yards and another 11 touchdowns. His career totals have him already near the top ten in team history in receiving yards, and inside the top ten in receiving touchdowns. Barring catastrophic injury, it seems a sure thing that he’ll be at or near the top of franchise receiving lists soon enough.
Numbers aren’t all that make Green great, though. After the Chad Johnson era, fans were more than ready for a superstar who didn’t crave the spotlight, and who put the team first. Green is the opposite of the standard “diva” receiver. He quietly goes about his work, and humbly accepts the praise he gets. This only endears him to Bengals fans more.
Around the league, Green is considered a top five player at his position. However, he might be better than even that. At 6’4 and just over 200 lbs, he has the height and speed advantages to make every play. Add to that his huge hands that can grab any ball that gets near him, and you’ve got as complete a receiver as can be found. He routinely makes the highlight reel catch and is almost impossible to stop on deep routes. And he’s doing it without the benefit of the great quarterback play that others have.
Calvin Johnson is universally considered the best in the league, and it’s tough to dispute, but having Matthew Stafford slinging passes 70 yards through the air certainly helps. Dez Bryant has Tony Romo. Brandon Marshall has Jay Cutler. Having a great quarterback play undoubtedly helps make a great receiver. Dalton isn’t terrible, but he doesn’t have the deep-ball ability of Stafford, Romo, or Cutler. Green still routinely dominates at his position.
Green is great. Nobody disputes that. However, his low-key nature, and his presence in Cincinnati, not exactly a major media market, may have him still underrated to most fans. It won’t be long before he’s likely considered to be the greatest Bengals receiver ever, re-writing the record book along the way. But he should be mentioned alongside Johnson and Bryant in league hierarchy. He’s just as good, even if some don’t realize it yet.