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 nearly a month until the 2014 draft, we've been taking a look back at how those draft classes came together. Thirty-two players on the team were drafted by the Bengals in the last 10 drafts. Robert Geathers is the oldest homegrown product; he was selected in the fourth round in 2004.
We started this look at the Bengals' recent drafts last week with the 2006 class. Then followed it with reviews of the 2007, 2008 and 2009 drafts. Monday is all about the 2010 group that was headlined by Jermaine Gresham, Carlos Dunlap and Geno Atkins.
We're using 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.
First-round pick: No. 21 overall (Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma ... currently on roster)
Number of picks: 9
Highest player AV: Geno Atkins, AV of 38 (Atkins' career AV ranks fourth in the draft class; 49ers LB NaVorro Bowman has highest AV with a 50)
How they fared: As we look back three, four and five draft classes ago, we see where the Bengals truly began laying the groundwork for the team that's currently in place. The 2009 group helped set the stage at linebacker with the addition of Rey Maualuga, and on special teams with punter Kevin Huber's drafting. The 2010 draft class was about sharpening even more defensive depth, while adding a key offensive weapon in Gresham. Although Gresham has struggled at times in his career with untimely drops and costly penalties, he has been a viable threat in the Bengals' offense. In four short seasons, he has 218 receptions and 2,262 yards receiving at a position that slowly is starting to become more of a playmaking option in offenses around the league. Dunlap (second round) and Atkins (fourth round) also arrived in 2010, joining second-year defensive end Michael Johnson to form a line unit that anchored last season's third-ranked total defense. Two players, receiver Jordan Shipley (third round) and offensive tackle Otis Hudson (fifth round), aren't officially retired, but didn't play in 2013. The other four draft picks are all playing elsewhere, including defensive back Brandon Ghee, who just signed with San Diego as an unrestricted free agent last month.
Pivotal pick: When the Bengals were able to land Dunlap in the second round, they sent a message that they were focusing on strengthening their defensive line for the next few seasons. A DUI arrest in college had some teams believing Dunlap had character issues, forcing his draft stock to fall. He had the size and speed to probably go late in the first round, but he dropped instead because of the off-field flaws that some teams thought they saw. He hasn't been involved in any off-field incidents since his arrival in Cincinnati, and was even re-signed last offseason to a massive contract that will pay him around $7.7 million a season through 2018. Because of where they drafted him and their willingness to take him despite the problems other teams thought they saw, the Bengals have been handsomely rewarded in recent seasons. Last season, Dunlap tied for the team lead in sacks with 7.5. He also forced four fumbles.
Best pick: Without a doubt, Atkins has to be the best player of this Bengals draft class. In fact, an argument could be made that he's among the best the franchise has had since 2006. Selected 120th overall, the fourth-round pick out of Georgia was knocked primarily for his unorthodox "duck walk" waddle. Scouts didn't think his technique was suited for the NFL, and they didn't think he possessed other tools to be a long-term impact player at his position. Last preseason, he gave them $55 million reasons to show how wrong they were. Regarded as one of the top defensive tackles in the league, Atkins has been a key contributor in the Bengals' line interior since his arrival. He has 29.0 sacks in 57 career starts.
Worst pick: A case could be made that Hudson, a seventh-round player who didn't appear in a single game between 2010 and 2012, was the worst pick of this class. Some fans might also put that label on Gresham because of the struggles he's had at inopportune times in his otherwise stellar career. But Shipley also could be declared the worst pick of the group simply because he was a third-round selection who just didn't pan out despite having a great college career at Texas.