Bengals have drafted poorly over the last two decades

John Ross (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)
John Ross (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images) /

The Cincinnati Bengals have had their draft ups and downs over the course of the last two decades, but a recent analysis of those selections shows that the extremes end up in the wash. While the Bengals have had some great draft successes, they grade out as roughly average across the league, if not slightly below average.

Jay Pauley, writing on, designed a new metric by which he analyzed every NFL team’s drafting value. The bottom line of his method is that he uses PFR’s weighted AV calculation for a player’s career to assign them a certain value for their on-field contributions to a team.

By dividing a player’s AV by the total AV of the draft class, Pauley assigns each player a percentage of their class’ AV. He uses the example of Lamar Jackson, who has accumulated 47 AV over his short career; divided by the total 2,094 AV of the 2018 draft class, Jackson has accounted for 2.24% of his class’ AV.

In conjunction with that calculation, Pauley also assigns each pick range an expected AV percentage per player. Unsurprisingly, this percentage decreases as the picks get lower in the draft. For instance, picks 1-5 are worth an expected 1.293% of their class’ AV, whereas picks 61-70 only have an expected 0.560%.

Thus, for every selection over the past 20 years, Pauley can compare a team’s expected AV for their draft class based on the picks they have and the actual AV of their draft selections. For instance, Baltimore—as Bengals fans know, a very strong drafting team—leads the NFL by gaining +0.073% AV on average for their draft classes.

Cincinnati ended up as the 21st-best drafting team per Pauley’s rankings, with an AV gap between expected and actual AV of -0.016%. This negative value is not an indictment of the front office, but it does confirm suspicions that the Bengals have had weak draft classes throughout the last two decades, even amidst some success.

Longtime Bengals fans will remember the early busts the Bengals had like Ki-Jana Carter, David Klingler, and Akili Smith, though those names were fortunately drafted too long ago to count for this analysis. However, one of Pauley’s worst 15 values since 2000 did end up being former 17th overall pick David Pollack. Pollack’s career got derailed by injury, so he produced essentially no AV during his career, even though he was expected to produce.

The picks that draw the ire of many Bengals fans are not the ones that predate 2010, but rather the wasted early selections that have led the team to its current state. Pauley notes each team’s best and worst selections since 2006; Bengals fans would have plenty of guesses queued up for that worst selection.

It should come as no surprise, though, that John Ross III clocks in as that worst selection. Although some of the offensive linemen the Bengals have taken in round one have busted, like Cedric Ogbuehi and Billy Price, Ross was a much higher pick, and thus was expected to produce much more than either lineman. Of course, none of them produced much of anything.

Though the tone of this article has been negative, and the Bengals’ mistakes stick out more than their successes, the team has certainly made good selections too. Pauley’s best value pick for the Bengals was Geno Atkins, who checks all the boxes of draft value. Atkins was a 2010 fourth-round pick who has arguably produced more than any Bengal over the last decade (that is a different conversation for a different day).

Other Bengals who do not make Pauley’s article still buoy the Bengals’ overall position within the league. Andy Dalton had nearly a decade of quality starting quarterback play at only a second round price. Carlos Dunlap matched Atkins sack-for-sack over the course of the last decade, and he was taken in the third round. Jessie Bates is working his way into being one of the best values of the 2019 NFL Draft as a second round pick.

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Overall, Pauley’s analysis should only confirm Bengals fans notions that the team has made some great selections while missing on some valuable early round picks, which nets out as slightly below average. I would recommend any draft fans check out Pauley’s methodology in full!