Cincinnati Bengals: 30 greatest players in franchise history
By John Buhler
The Cincinnati Bengals will be entering their 51st year as a professional football franchise. Let’s take a look back at the 30 greatest players of all-time.
Last year saw the Cincinnati Bengals complete their 50th season as a professional football franchise. While the Bengals have not had the on-field gridiron success as some of their AFC counterparts, they do have two AFC Championships to date, as well as having made the AFC playoffs in five of the last seven seasons.
Cincinnati has also had plenty of outstanding players of the years. As the last team to join the AFL in 1968, the Bengals quickly transitioned to the NFL grind right away in year three as a franchise in 1970. Overall, Cincinnati has had more than its fair share of excellent quarterbacks, reliable running backs and star wide receivers.
This all leads into our exercise of ranking the 30 best players in franchise history of the Bengals. Given that the Bengals have been around for going on 51 years, this task was harder than expected. There is a great chance you already know who No. 1 is, but the other 29 are certainly up for discussion.
Several great players in Bengals lore didn’t make the cut, but are listed below in the honorable mentions. Expect this list to change in the coming years, as a few players on the list are still active with the team, not to mention some of the promising young players already on the squad, chomping at the bit to be great. Without further ado, here are the 30 greatest players to star in The Jungle for the Bengals.
Honorable Mentions: Coy Bacon, Rich Braham, Jim Breech, Ross Browner, Shayne Graham, Dave Lapham, Lee Johnson, Pete Johnson, Rudi Johnson, Mike Reid, Paul Robinson, Dan Ross, Brian Simmons, Takeo Spikes, Ickey Woods
- 1x All-Pro w/Bengals (2005)
- 1x Pro Bowl w/Bengals (2005)
- NFL leader in interceptions (2005)
- 168 tackles, 54 pass breakups, 16 interceptions w/Bengals
Cornerback Deltha O’Neal had already made a name for himself twice before he arrived in the Queen City in 2004. He had been a standout defensive back for the California Golden Bears in the then Pac-10, where he earned consensus All-American honors in 1999.
This would lead to O’Neal being the No. 15 overall pick by the Denver Broncos in the 2000 NFL Draft. He spent his first four NFL seasons in the Mile High City, where he made his first career trip to the Pro Bowl in 2002. O’Neal might have had nine interceptions that second season in the NFL, but was supposedly unhappy during his time in Denver.
The Broncos traded the cornerback to the Bengals ahead of the 2004 NFL Draft. Denver received Cincinnati’s No. 17 pick, while Cincinnati inherited Denver’s No. 24 pick, the Broncos’ No. 117 pick and their former Pro Bowl cornerback in the deal.
O’Neal would end up playing four solid years in the Bengals secondary from 2004 to 2007. His first two seasons with the Bengals were excellent, while his latter two were not so much. O’Neal got back to his ball-hawking ways in 2004, as he had four picks for 60 yards and a touchdown.
Cincinnati had gotten back to respectability during the early part of the Marvin Lewis era, but wouldn’t end its embarrassing playoff skid until the next year in 2005. That would coincide with O’Neal’s greatest professional season.
He ended up with a league-high 10 interceptions for 103 yards. Cincinnati made the playoffs for the first time since 1990. All seemed good in the Queen City. Then, starting quarterback Carson Palmer tore his ACL in the divisional round against the rival Pittsburgh Steelers on a cheap shot by defensive tackle Kimo von Oelhoffen.
Cincinnati would lose the game and O’Neal’s career would be over only a few years later. He played with the Bengals through 2007, but was released by the club ahead of the 2008 NFL season. O’Neal would play one last NFL season with the 2008 New England Patriots before retiring at age 31.
Overall, O’Neal split his nine NFL seasons over three different organizations. While he got off to a good start in Denver, he might be best remembered for his first two years with the Bengals. O’Neal ended up with 168 tackles, 54 pass breakups and 16 interceptions in 55 career games with Cincinnati.