Skip to main content

Thirtysomething Has Aged Well For Bengals In Draft

Ickey Woods, wearing his draft number in the first eight games of '88.
Ickey Woods, wearing his draft number in the first eight games of '88.

The Bengals have never had a first-round draft pick so late. This we know. But as they Tee (Higgins, No. 33 in 2020) up No. 31 in a couple of weeks, it's a good time to recall that a selection in the 30s has often worked out well for them.

No. 31 is a good place to start since it has yielded three of the greatest names in franchise history back when it was a second-round pick.

In 1969, Arkansas State linebacker Bill Bergey became a Pro Bowl rookie and embarked on a star-studded career that took him to Philadelphia. In 1988, UNLV running back Ickey Woods put together one of the most sensational rookie years ever with 1,066 rushing yards to go with an iconic touchdown dance. In 1992, high-flying Tennessee wide receiver Carl Pickens went to back-to-back Pro Bowls in the '90s and had the most catches in club history until Chad Johnson and A.J. Green came along.

With more than 10,000 yards on 751 catches, Johnson is the Bengals' all-time receiving and their greatest pick in the 30s at No. 36 in 2001. That's where they've also picked an NFL MVP (Boomer Esiason at No. 38 in 1984), their winningest quarterback ever (Andy Dalton at No. 35 in 2011), a three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver (Cris Collinsworth at No. 37 in 1981) and one of their Super Bowl standouts with two touchdowns in the big game in Higgins.

Not only that, record-breaking tight end Dan Ross and 1,000-yard receiver Darnay Scott went No. 30 in a span of 15 years, running back Harold Green (No. 38 in 1990) went to a Pro Bowl and middle linebacker Rey Maualuga (No. 38 in 2009) was in the center of five straight playoff defenses.

Here is one list of the Bengals top five Thirtysomething draft picks:

1. WR CHAD JOHNSON, No. 36, 2001: Forget the all-time numbers, the six Pro Bowls, the two names, the unstoppable burst off the line of scrimmage that scorched all cornerbacks from Hall-of-Famer Champ Bailey on a Monday night to rookie top ten pick Pacman Jones in a fourth quarter. But The Ocho was and remains a social media pioneer in all of sports.

2. QB BOOMER ESIASON, No. 38, 1984: Speaking of media. This is how great Joe Burrow is in a huddle and locker room. He's already drawing comparisons to the greatest locker room leader of his time in any sport. If you don't think so, google the 1987 strike and the trenches that were the NFL.

3. MLB BILL BERGEY, No. 31, 1969: He was so good, probably the greatest defensive player the Bengals ever had (with apologies to Geno Atkins), they sued to keep him when the World Football League signed him. Bergey won, but so did Bengals founder Paul Brown in a 1974 trade he sent Bergey to the Eagles for a first-round pick in 1977 and a first- and second-rounder in 1978.

4. WR TEE HIGGINS, No. 33, 2020: Only because Collinsworth, NBC's great perennial Emmy-award winning analyst, would probably agree. Higgins has been immense with the best first two seasons by any Bengals wide receiver except his idol, A.J. Green. Rangy, rugged and reliable, Higgins came up big down the stretch last season with a team-leading 17.2 yards per catch and two touchdowns in the postseason.

5. QB ANDY DALTON, No. 35, 2011: The only quarterback in Bengals history to lead them to five straight playoffs. His .533 winning percentage in nine seasons is slightly better than Ken Anderson's and this past season Burrow broke Dalton's season club records for touchdowns, yards and passer rating.

HONORABLE MENTION: WR Cris Collinsworth (No. 37, 1981); TE Dan Ross (No. 30, 1979), RB Giovani Bernard (No. 37, 2013), WR Carl Pickens (No. 31, 1992), LG Eric Steinbach (No. 33, 2003).