Willie Anderson knows it's an honor to be one of the NFL’s top 320 draft picks of all time, a list selected by NFL.com editors charged with choosing the top 10 from each team.
But only when he saw the Bengals not on the list did he realize how big of an honor.
"No Corey Dillon and no Takeo Spikes?" asked Anderson, the former Bengal regarded as the best right tackle in franchise history looking to make a comeback this season at age 35.
No. And no Carson Palmer and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, either.
"Damn," Anderson said. "That really is hard to get to 10 isn't it?"
Also named were Pro Football Hall of Fame left tackle Anthony Muñoz, NFL MVPs Ken Anderson and Boomer Esiason, cornerbacks Ken Riley and Lemar Parrish, guard Max Montoya, tight end Bob Trumpy, and linebacker Bill Bergey. The only active player is wide receiver Chad Ochocinco, the club's all-time leading receiver as he heads into his 10th season.
Fans are determining the Most Valuable Draft Pick of all time by choosing between pairs of players randomly generated from the list of 320 greats on NFL.com. After selecting winners of 30 random matchups, fans begin to build their own Top 10 list. Fans can continue to vote through April 18 in order to make changes to their personal Top 10 list as well as the All-Time Top 10 announced at the Draft April 22-24. Users then may share their lists and their head-to-head winners on Facebook.
Anderson, the 10th pick in the 1996 draft, and Ochocinco, a second-rounder in 2001, are the only players drafted in the last 25 years on the list. Anderson helped Dillon set the all-time rookie rushing record with 246 yards against Tennessee after the Bengals took him in the second round in 1997 and Anderson was there again in 2000 when Dillon set the all-time rushing record against Denver with 278.
Both marks have since been broken, but Anderson says, "In the '90s and 2000s he had to be one of the top two or three backs in the league. If we had a quarterback and some receivers around him, his numbers would have been crazy."
Spikes, a first-round pick in 1998, is a two-time Pro Bowl linebacker still playing in San Francisco. So is Houshmandzadeh, a seventh-rounder in 2001 who went to Seattle last season after becoming the franchise's third leading receiver all time with 507 catches. Palmer, the No. 1 overall pick in 2003, is the only Bengal to be named a Pro Bowl MVP.
"It just goes to show you how tough it is to make that kind of a list," Anderson said. "You look at a guy like T.J., a seventh-round pick who went on to have the kind of career he has. The (previous) Bengals deserve it. They went to two Super Bowls. I'm sure Ken and Boomer can think of seven guys on their teams that should be on it, too."
Anderson says he'd like to join The Ocho on that list of active players, a move that won't include Cincinnati given last year's drafting of Andre Smith. As he got a massage in Atlanta on Tuesday as part of his workout regimen, Anderson outlined why he wants to return to the NFL following his retirement from the Ravens after they lost the 2008 AFC title game to the Steelers.
"I was fine during the season, but then when the playoffs started, I missed it," Anderson said. "The Bengals made it. The Ravens went into New England and won big. (Jets coach) Rex Ryan was winning with the running game. After getting so close the year before and coming a turnover or two away from going to the Super Bowl, I got a taste of it."
Anderson, who turns 35 July 11, says the Ravens have released him, making him a free agent. He's going to take his time and take it as it comes.
"It's early," he said. "I'm going to see what's out there, see if there is anything that fits right. If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, it doesn't."