CINCINNATI -- We've talked often in this space about the Cincinnati Bengals' recent draft efforts and the inroads they have made toward building their current roster through them.
So, with less than six weeks until the 2014 draft, we're taking a look back at how those draft classes came together. In all, 32 players currently on the team were drafted by the Bengals in the last 10 drafts. Robert Geathers is the oldest homegrown product, selected in the fourth round in 2004.
We're starting this eight-day look at the Bengals' recent drafts with 2006 because two of the team's most vocal modern-day veterans were part of that class. Offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth was a second-round selection, and defensive tackle Domata Peko went in the fourth round. After Geathers, they are the next two oldest players on the roster who were Bengals draft picks.
Like my colleague, ESPN NFL Nation Vikings reporter Ben Goessling, has done with a similar series he's been running parts of the last two weeks, we'll use Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value statistic to help evaluate how valuable of a draft pick each player has been. The AV statistic is a unique metric that assigns value to each season of a player's career, and averages it all out. The higher the number, the better.
So, let's begin with a review of Cincinnati's 2006 draft:
First-round pick: No. 24 (Johnathan Joseph, DB, South Carolina ... currently in Houston)
Number of picks: 8
Highest player AV: Second-round OT Andrew Whitworth, 51 (Whitworth's AV ranks 13th in the draft class; Saints OT Jahri Evans has highest AV with a 94)
How they fared: Half of Cincinnati's 2006 draft group went on to have rather successful careers. The other half were comparative busts. The top-heavy class was paced by four players who remain in the league today. Joseph and Whitworth are still in the league, along with Peko and third-round pick Frostee Rucker. The other four selections, linebacker A.J. Nicholson (fifth round), quarterback Reggie McNeal (sixth round), and receivers Ethan Kilmer (seventh round) and Bennie Brazell (seventh round) were all out of football by the end of the 2006 season. From an AV standpoint alone, Whitworth and Joseph went on to have the better careers, but Peko has been a longtime starter and even agreed last week to a two-year extension that will keep him in Bengals stripes through 2016. Rucker's production was down with the Cardinals last season, but they re-signed the unrestricted free agent earlier this offseason.
Pivotal pick: While his play has often led to negative grades from publications such as Pro Football Focus, Peko has proven he was a truly pivotal pickup for the Bengals. In time, he became a team leader. His charismatic, yet passionate off-field demeanor is one that has earned him favor in the eyes of the front office as well as the southern Ohio and northern Kentucky community. A fan favorite, Peko even recently had a sandwich named after him at a local restaurant. The emergence of his leadership came at a time when the Bengals needed a few level-headed voices. After the 2009 and 2010 seasons, in particular, the Bengals were earning an unsavory reputation for their off-field behavior. Since then, they haven't had many issues, and Peko has been one of the reasons why. Also, the Bengals learned last season that it can use him in short-yardage and goal-line situations as an extra blocker. Coupled with his starting time defensively, his play on offense has made him an even more valuable piece of the overall team puzzle.
Best pick: The AV number alone indicates Whitworth was the best player in the draft class for the Bengals. His AV is two points higher than Joseph's. Beyond that, though, they have rather similar careers. Both have been named to the Pro Bowl. Joseph has gone twice, while Whitworth has one selection and was named in 2013 an alternate. They also have appeared in about the same number of games. Joseph has played in 111, while Whitworth has appeared in 120. Because of his continued importance as a leader for the Bengals, and because of the mentoring and friendship that he provided former Bengals backup tackle Anthony Collins, Whitworth holds a slight advantage for the "best pick" moniker. He has been a cornerstone for the offense, helping guide Cincinnati's offensive line through losing seasons, .500 seasons, and ultimately to this string of three-straight playoff appearances.
Worst pick: It's tough to call a player whose career was derailed by injury a team's worst pick of a draft class, but since Brazell never played a down for the Bengals, he has to be considered as such. After spending his rookie year on injured reserve, Brazell didn't make the 53-man roster in 2007 and ultimately left professional football.