Bengals All-Time Lists

Ranking every Cincinnati Bengals starting QB since 2000

Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) - Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports
Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow (9) - Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports /

Since the year 2000, the Cincinnati Bengals have had 12 different quarterbacks start for the franchise. Who has impressed the most during that time? Let’s rank them all. 

When the clock struck midnight on Jan. 1, 2000, we entered the new millennium. While the 1999 NFL season was still going on, the Cincinnati Bengals played one game before the playoffs started.

The following season, they took the field in the first week of the 2000 regular season with their 1999 first-round pick, Akili Smith, ready to lead the team to victory. He was the first of 12 different starting quarterbacks to take the field for the stripes since the turn of the new millennium.

With Smith’s injury issues, Scott Mitchell saw playing time during that 2000 season as well. Starting in 2001, Jon Kitna played 46 games with Smith and Gus Frerotte sprinkled in there as well. That continued through 2004 when Carson Palmer took over as the starter.

Palmer was the starter for the next six years but did miss time in 2008, which paved the way for Ryan Fitzpatrick to add the Bengals to his lengthy list of teams he’s started for.

Cincinnati went from franchise quarterback to franchise quarterback when Palmer was traded to the Raiders and then started Andy Dalton. The same happened in 2020 when the team drafted Joe Burrow No. 1 overall. During Dalton’s reign in the Queen City, A.J. McCarron, Jeff Driskel, and Ryan Finley got in on the action whenever Dalton had to miss time. For Burrow, we saw either Finley or Brandon Allen.

Now that you know of all of the quarterbacks we’ve seen under center since the 2000 season, let’s rank them all!

*Note: Jeff Blake was not included on this list even though he did technically start for the Bengals in 2000. It was during the 1999 season, however, so I left him off. 

All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference

Every Cincinnati Bengals QB since 2000

12. Gus Frerotte

The worst starting quarterback for the Bengals since the new millennium has to be Gus Frerotte. The former seventh-round pick by Washington in 1994 spent eight years in the league before he landed in Cincinnati and had some really good years before then.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t good when he suited up for the stripes for three starts during the 2002 season. He threw for a measly 437 yards and only had one touchdown compared to five interceptions. The Bengals lost all three of Frerotte’s starts and there’s a reason why he’s a forgotten former quarterback in Cincinnati history.

11. Akili Smith 

The former third overall pick in the 1999 draft, Akili Smith earned his draft bust label. It was a risky pick at the time due to the limited sample size from Smith and ultimately, the selection backfired and Smith only ended up starting 13 games over the span of his four years with the team.

His total stats ended up being 2,212 passing yards, five touchdowns, and 13 interceptions. He did rush for 371 yards and another score but that doesn’t make up for the poor passing numbers. Smith earned this spot on the list.

10. Scott Mitchell

Mitchell spent the final two years of his NFL career with the Bengals and started five games for the stripes during the 2000 season. He threw for 670 yards, three touchdowns, and four interceptions during those starts. The team did go 2-3 in Mitchell’s starts but his performances were forgettable.

9. Ryan Finley

The Bengals spent a fourth-round pick on NC State’s Ryan Finley in the 2019 NFL Draft and probably didn’t expect to have to thrust him into an actual game unless it was a blowout. Unfortunately, Andy Dalton got hurt during the 2019 season, leading to the team winning just two games.

While Finley wasn’t terrible, he showed that he wasn’t ready to be on the field as a rookie. He threw for 474 yards, two touchdowns, and two picks in his three starts that year while rushing for 77 yards.

During the 2020 season, Finley started one game while Joe Burrow was out and tossed for 89 yards and a touchdown in the famous win over Pittsburgh on Monday Night Football. He was a hard player to rank but that was the case with a lot of the guys on this list.

8. Brandon Allen

After some decent performances for Denver during the 2019 season, the Bengals didn’t hesitate to add Brandon Allen when Burrow got injured in 2020. Allen went on to start five games that year and threw for 925 yards, five touchdowns, and four picks.

The highlight for Allen during that 2020 season was when he threw for 371 yards and two touchdowns in a Week 15 victory over the Texans. The following year, Allen only started one game due to Cincinnati resting its starters in the final game. Allen wasn’t impressive, tossing 136 yards and a score.

7. Jeff Driskel

In 2018, Jeff Driskel made his NFL debut with the Bengals. He had been drafted two years prior in the sixth round by the 49ers but never saw the field. When he took the field for the first as an NFL starter in Week 12 against the Broncos, Driskel did okay, tossing for 236 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. He finished that year with 764 yards through the air, five touchdowns, and two interceptions.

6. Ryan Fitzpatrick

The Amish Rifle ends up pretty high on this list but mostly because he had a bigger sample size than some of those other random backups throughout the years. Fitzpatrick has played for a ton of NFL teams but the Bengals were one of the first teams he played for. He joined them in just the third year of his career and by 2008, he was starting when Carson Palmer had to miss time due to injury.

Fitzpatrick went on to start 12 games for Cincinnati in 2008 and did okay. He threw for 1,905 yards, eight touchdowns, and nine picks while rushing for 304 yards and two scores with his legs. The performance Fitzpatrick put on that year earned him a deal with Buffalo, where he spent the next four years.

5. A.J. McCarron

A fifth-round pick by the Bengals in 2014, A.J. McCarron didn’t see any playing time until the 2015 season and ended up making three starts that year. He threw for 552 yards and four touchdowns while leading the team to a 2-1 record during that time.

McCarron started the infamous playoff game against the Steelers and played decent enough for the team to win. He even led what should have been the game-winning drive but… Well, let’s leave it at that. Obviously, the loss was not McCarron’s fault and that’s all we’ll say about that playoff game.

The big reason why McCarron is so high on this list though is that he was the last time fans truly felt confident in the backup on the roster. If something happened to Dalton, Bengals fans knew the offense was in good hands if McCarron had to come in.

4. Jon Kitna

The top three are up for debate but it feels safe to put Kitna in the four spot. The Central Washington product was never supposed to be much of anything in the NFL but he made a decent name for himself in Cincinnati for three years as a starter.

In 2001, Kitna started all but one game and threw for 3,123 yards, 12 touchdowns, and 19 picks. The next year, he tossed 3,042 yards, 16 touchdowns, and 15 interceptions in 12 starts. The 2003 season, which was Palmer’s rookie year but Kitna still was the starter, saw the UDFA throw for 3,591 yards, 26 touchdowns, and 15 picks. The Bengals went 8-8 that year.

Kitna wasn’t a star by any means but he put up solid numbers through 46 starts.

3. Andy Dalton

The top three is where things get trickier because these guys could be in just about any order and fans probably wouldn’t complain. I stuck Dalton in the three-spot, however, because at the end of the day, fans did not think he was the guy who could get the team to Super Bowl.

The 2015 season was Cincinnati’s best chance to get to the Super Bowl and unfortunately, he got injured that year. It was all downhill from there, sadly.

Dalton finished his Bengals career with 133 starts under his belt and threw for 31,594 yards, 204 touchdowns, and 118 interceptions, and led the team to five straight playoff berths to kick off his career. Unfortunately, that led to zero playoff wins and while that wasn’t all Dalton’s fault, it is sadly what people remember about his Bengals tenure. That’s why he was third here.

2. Carson Palmer

Fans have soured on Palmer recently due to his rude comments about the organization but there’s no denying how successful he was in the black and orange stripes. Palmer threw for 22,694 yards, 154 touchdowns, and 100 interceptions and took a team that hadn’t been good and made them more competitive by his second year as a starter.

Unfortunately, the team didn’t win either of Palmer’s starts and things got rocky near the end of his tenure. He demanded a trade and was sent to the Raiders, which paved the way for Dalton to start in 2011 and onwards.

Putting Palmer at No. 2 could be an unpopular opinion due to recency bias and the shots he’s taken at the organization but how different would things be now had he not gotten injured in that ’05 playoff game? Does the team break their playoff curse that year if Palmer doesn’t get hurt? He’s a big “what if” candidate for sure.

1. Joe Burrow

This could be jumping the gun tremendously but hear me out — Joe Burrow joined a team that won just two games in 2019 and showed potential as a rookie in 2020 despite winning just three games before he was injured.

When he returned to quarterback the offense in 2021, it took Burrow a while to get going but when he finally locked in, the dude was unstoppable. What he did in the 2021 season was more than any quarterback had done for the team since the 1980s. He led them to a Super Bowl in his first full season as a starter and won Comeback Player of the Year. How could he not be ranked first after that?

Some might say it’s too early to put Burrow here but fans feel confident in this kid to go out there and win a big game for them because he’s already done it on the biggest stage. That’s something Palmer and Dalton can’t say so why shouldn’t Burrow be No. 1?

Maybe the top three is shaken up when Burrow’s Bengals tenure is all said and done but right now, in this moment, he’s the best starting quarterback for the team since 2000.

Next. All-Time Leaders in Passing Yards. dark

How would you rank the Bengals starting quarterbacks from 2000 and on?