Cincinnati Bengals: 30 greatest players in franchise history

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)
(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images) /
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Justin Smith, Cincinnati Bengals
(Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images) /

56. . DE. (2001-07). Justin Smith. 28. player

  • Cincinnati Bengals 40th Anniversary Team
  • Led team in sacks three times (2002, 2004-05)
  • Set Bengals rookie sack record at 8.5 in 2001
  • 314 tackles, 152 assists, 43.5 quarterback sacks w/Bengals

Though he had his best seasons in a San Francisco 49ers uniform, defensive end Justin Smith came into the league as a pass-rushing fury with the 2001 Bengals. Cincinnati used its No. 4 overall pick on the defensive end out of Missouri in the 2001 NFL Draft.

Some consider Smith to be the first great defensive player to come out of Missouri in the 21st Century. While he went pro the year Gary Pinkel arrived in Columbia, Smith did embody the defensive-minded prowess associated with many of those great Tigers teams of the next decade and a half.

When Smith went to the Bengals, they were in the midst of their worst stretch in franchise history. It had been over a decade since the team last made the AFC playoffs. Sure, it took some time, but Smith would prove to be one of the key pieces in the Bengals defense that aided in their turnaround under head coach Marvin Lewis.

Smith set a rookie sack record in 2001 with 8.5. He ended up leading the team in sacks three times in his first five seasons. While he never surpassed his 8.5-mark as a rookie in 2001, Smith was never below 5.0 quarterback sacks until his last year as a Bengal in 2007.

After six years with the team, the Bengals elected to use the franchise tag on him for the 2007 NFL season after his initial rookie deal expired. While Smith played in all 16 games in 2007, he managed just two sacks that year. This may have played a part in the Bengals not re-signing him in 2008.

That decision would be to the detriment of the Bengals and the benefit of the 49ers. Smith made five trips to the Pro Bowl, two All-Pro first-teams and won an NFC championship as a member of the 49ers. Splitting time between defensive end and defensive tackle in the second-half of his NFL career certainly brought out the best in Smith as a professional in San Francisco.

In seven seasons with the Bengals, Smith had 314 tackles, 152 assists and 43.5 quarterback sacks in 111 games with the team. While all of his accolades came in the Bay Area, Smith’s production was split evenly between the two teams he played for. He had 43.5 quarterback sacks in both stops, playing in at least 110 games for each organization. In 2007, Smith was named to the Bengals 40th Anniversary Team at defensive end.