Editor’s note: While much of the Trib’s coverage leading up to the April 25 start of the NFL draft will focus on the Steelers, we’ll also look at the league at large. Particularly, the Steelers’ divisional rivals. Between April 18-20, we’ll examine each of the three best – and three worst – picks by AFC North teams over the past five years.
Though the Cincinnati Bengals are still without a playoff victory for almost three decades, the organization – believe it or not – was one of the best in the NFL at talent acquisition during the mid-to-late 2000’s. At one point just a few years ago, more than a few league observers declared the Bengals roster as one of the NFL’s most talented.
But with the Bengals looking, well, more Bengals-like over the past three seasons (19-28-1 in that time), it’s obvious that their more recent drafts aren’t panning out the way they probably envisioned.
That timeframe coincides with our examination of recent Cincinnati draft picks:
***Bengals’ three best picks from 2014-18***
1. Jesse Bates, S, 2018, 54th overall
This pick might especially sting the Steelers for years to come – not only because Bates has the look of a quality longtime starter for a division rival. But the Steelers took the third safety off the board (Terrell Edmunds) with their first-round pick; Bates was the fourth safety off the board 26 picks later.
2. Andrew Billings, DT, 2016, 122nd overall
This pick has taken a while to blossom, but finally in 2018 it did. Billings had a shocking slide in the draft three years ago – the Steelers were rumored to be considering him with their first-round pick – and he spent his rookie season on injured reserve. But Billings broke out last season and looked like the player many expected, even if as a nose tackle that’s a non-premium position these days.
3. Joe Mixon, RB, 2017, 48th overall
There are some that would consider this one of the worst draft pick in NFL history, because of Mixon’s past with regards to being caught on camera striking a woman. But in purely on-field football evaluations, Mixon was an upper-half-of-the-first-round talent. He’s shown it so far – when healthy.
***Bengals’ three worst picks from 2014-18***
1. John Ross, WR, 2017, 9th overall
Ross is a cautionary tale in becoming too enamored with combine standouts. The 5-10 product of the University of Washington zoomed up draft boards when he ran the 40-yard dash in a blistering 4.22 seconds. The Bengals couldn’t resist taking him with a top-10 pick – and his 21 catches over two seasons are less than one-eighth of what the receiver who was taken 53 picks later has (JuJu Smith-Schuster).
2. Cedric Ogbuehi, OT, 2015, 21st overall
A first-round pick who only started 25 games over his first three seasons and has moved on to Jacksonville, Ogbuehi was a Sunday inactive most of last season after the Bengals declined his fifth-year option.
3. Jake Fisher, OT, 2015, 53rd overall
The Bengals were hoping they’d locked down their tackle positions for the foreseeable future when they spent their first two picks of 2015 there. Instead, they ended up with a backup in Ogbuehi – and a tight end. Surely when the Bengals drafted Fisher they did not envision that by 2019 he would be a Buffalo Bills pass-catcher.