The 25 Greatest Cincinnati Bengals in History
AJ Green Could Be on This List Someday
The Cincinnati Bengals don't have the storied history of some of the teams in the NFL, but from its inception in 1966 to today, they are a franchise that has had great seasons and its share of tremendous players. Even during its blackest period in the 1990s and early 2000s, there were stars who shined brightly, bringing hope for the future. While the Bengals have just a single player in the Hall of Fame, it does have a long list of players who warrant consideration and guys who were among the very best of their eras. What follows here is a list of the best of the best, the 25 greatest players in the history of the organization as I see it.
With any limited list, there will be some who are left out. Here are a few that just missed the cut, though they were certainly great:
Rich Braham: One of the great offensive linemen in team history, the Bengals have been trying to adequately replace him since his retirement. Eddie Edwards: Edwards spent 12 seasons terrorizing opposing quarterbacks, racking up 83.5 sacks, though only 47.5 were official. AJ Green: In two short seasons, Green has thrust himself into the discussion for best wide receiver in the league. In a few more years, he might be among the best in team history.
When compiling this list, I used several criteria: stats, impact on the team, longevity and popularity. The final product is meant to induce discussion and maybe some fond looks back at the history of the team. I hope people have as much fun reading it as I had making it.
25. TJ Houshmandzadeh
TJ Houshmandzadeh came from relative obscurity to stardom, proving hard work and dedication count for something in the world of professional football. The 7th round draft pick stuck around long enough to come into his own, and became the yin to teammate Chad Johnson's yang. Where Johnson was flamboyant and flashy, "Housh" was steady and reliable. If the Bengals needed a 3rd down conversion, or big play, he was there. He reached his zenith in 2007, when he led the league with 112 receptions and had 1,100 yards and 12 touchdowns and made his only trip to the Pro Bowl.
24. Jim LeClair
Jim LeClair was drafted in 1972 and spend his first few season as a special teamer. Once he got a starting linebacker spot in 1974, however, he never let go, spending the next ten seasons roaming the Cincinnati defense, making plays using his Herculean strength. He made the Pro Bowl in 1976 and played in the team's first trip to the Super Bowl following the 1981 season. LeClair's career wound down shortly thereafter, with 1983 being his last before he moved on. Hopefully, Vontaze Burfict can recreate the magic in LeClair's number 55 for the current Bengals.
23. Pete Johnson
Pete Johnson lined up for the Bengals for just seven seasons, but the mammoth RB left a lasting imprint on the franchise. His 70 TDs make him the leading scorer in team history for non-kickers, and his 5,400 yards rushing place him 4th on the Bengals record books. His best season came in 1981, when he surpassed 1,000 yards and tacked on 12 TDs as the team played their way into the Super Bowl. Johnson's hard-running ways earned him a Pro Bowl trip as well.
22. Rodney Holman
A three-time Pro Bowler, and a Super Bowl participant, Rodney Holman is certainly one of the great tight ends in Bengals history. Holman spent 11 seasons in Cincinnati, tallying over 4,000 yards and 32 touchdowns. He was a tremendous receiver, able to make the tough catches, but he was also a willing and able blocker in the running game. Holman was a fan favorite and is still remember fondly by fans for his contributions to some of the best teams in Cincinnati history.
21. Jim Breech
Some people may balk at the idea of putting a kicker in the list of the top 25 players of all time for any franchise, but when that player participated in two Super Bowls over the course of 13 seasons, and is the all-time leader in scoring for that team, he deserves to be there. Jim Breech is all of those things for the Bengals. His biggest kicks seemed to come at the biggest times, including the Super Bowl, where he came up huge, and in overtime, where he was a perfect 9 for 9 for his career. Breech is the greatest kicker in the annals of Cincinnati history and deserving of being on this list.
20. Tommy Casanova
He has, quite possibly, the coolest name in the history of the franchise, and Tommy Casanova had skill to go along with it. A 2nd round draft pick in 1972, he spent six seasons in Cincinnati, making the Pro Bowl in half of them. He also made the All Pro team once. With a nose for the ball and the propensity to be in the right place at the right time, Casanova was an elite safety and return man who, though he retired early to finish his degree, made a big impact.
19. Bob Johnson
Bob Johnson was the first ever draft pick by the Cincinnati franchise in 1968, and was the last "original Bengal" to retire, after 12 productive season for the Bengals. He only made one trip to the Pro Bowl, but he was a great player and teammate all the way up to his retirement, after which, he became a radio analyst for the Bengals. Johnson's number 54 was retired by the team, and is the only number to be given that particular honor in Cincinnati.
18. Reggie Williams
Reggie Willaims made a splash immediately in his NFL career, starting right away and making the All-Rookie team. He played for 13 more seasons after that with great success, recording 62.5 sacks, though only 41 officially, as well as 16 interceptions. He was also as reliable as a player can be, missing very few starts even though he had a bad knee. In addition to his on-field accomplishments, Williams was great off of it as well, winning a Walter Payton Man of the Year award as well as a Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year award.
17. Bob Trumpy
The number 84 that current Bengal Jermaine Gresham wears was originally worn by another tight end who Gresham would do well to emulate: Cincinnati great Bob Trumpy. Trumpy played for ten seasons, making the Pro Bowl in four, using speed and great hands to become one of the best in the league. Trumpy recorded 4,600 yards and 32 TDs over the course of his career, and his 15.4 yards per catch average is among the best in team history.
16. Corey Dillon
Though Corey Dillon didn't spend his entire career in Cincinnati, the time he did spend there was spectacular. In seven seasons, he rushed for over 8,000 yards and 45 TDs. The yardage is good enough to be the all-time leader for the Bengals. The outspoken running back also has one of the longest runs in league history at 96 yards. A three-time Pro Bowler, Dillon broke the 1,000 yard mark in six consecutive seasons, and was one of the few positives for the team during the late 1990s, when wins were hard to come by. Dillon's unceremonious exit was unfortunate, but his time with the team was filled with greatness.
15. Carson Palmer
Carson Palmer might be the most divisive player to ever play in Cincinnati. After being the number one overall pick in 2003 and sitting for a season, Palmer made a big splash, quickly becoming one of the games best quarterbacks. In 2005, he led the Bengals to an 11-5 record and their first playoff trip in over a decade. After a major knee injury in his only playoff game, Palmer seemed to regress somewhat, though he still had solid numbers. As fans began to turn on him, and after another injury, his time was up with the Bengals and he was famously traded after refusing to play. The ending to his career in Cincinnati wasn't exactly storybook, but he was one of the great QBs to don the orange and black.
14. Carl Pickens
Carl Pickens is another in the fine legacy of Cincinnati wide receivers. Drafted in the second round in 1992, he won Rookie of the Year in 1992, and he found himself as the go-to guy within just a few seasons. His best year came in 1995, the first of his two Pro Bowl years, when he caught 99 passes for 1,200 yards and led the league with 17 TDs. His career 6,887 yards and 63 TDs are both good for 2nd in team history. Pickens unfortunately played for the Bengals during the down years of the 90s and never made a playoff appearance. Playing with some below average QBs probably kept him from attaining even higher numbers.
13. James Brooks
James Brooks is one of the more well-rounded offensive players to play for the Bengals. With almost 6,500 yards rushing and another 3,000 receiving, as well as his return yards, he made it easy to be enamored with him. Brooks made the Pro Bowl four times and was on the Bengals' Super Bowl team in 1988. His 64 total TDs put him 4th for non-kickers in the team's scoring history. His ability to combine speed and shiftiness, with a good set of hands made him an electric RB and as fun to watch as any in franchise history.
12. Max Montoya
Max Montoya spent 16 seasons at right guard in the NFL, 11 with the Bengals, where he was a three-time Pro Bowler. Another late-round draft pick who found success in Cincinnati, he was a key member of the line that opened running lanes for guys like James Brooks and Pete Johnson, as well as giving time for Bengals QBs to throw the ball. The staunch lineman was a huge part of the team's success in the 1980s and participated in both Super Bowls before winding down his great career elsewhere. Montoya is one of the truly great guards in NFL history.
11. Cris Collinsworth
Though he might be better known for his work on Sunday Night Football to the younger crowd, long-time Bengals fans remember Cris Collinsworth for the work he did on the field. Through his eight seasons, he was one of the league's best receivers, breaking 1,000 yards four times and making three Pro Bowl trips. He was one of the main cogs on Cincinnati's two Super Bowl teams, using his 6'5" frame and soft hands to catch nearly everything thrown his way. Collinsworth was also a big-play threat, and retired with a 16.1 yards per catch average. The history of the Bengals has a lot of great WRs, and Collinsworth's name should be near the top of the list.
10. Tim Krumrie
Tim Krumrie is not only the best nose tackle in Cincinnati's history, but is one of the best ever, period, though he's not usually mentioned as so. Playing in the middle of the Bengals' 3-4 defense, Krumrie was the immovable object, a wall against ball carriers trying to get to the next level. His dominance is evidenced by the volume of tackles he recorded, totaling over 1,000 for his 12-year career. He was a two-time Pro Bowler and made the All Pro team in 1988, helping Cincinnati to the Super Bowl, where he broke his leg. In true Krumrie fashion, he didn't miss any games. The hard-nosed defender is one of the most beloved in team history, for good reason.
9. David Fulcher
A monster of a safety at 6'3 and 235 lbs, David Fulcher used every bit of that size to inflict punishment on opposing ball carriers. Nicknamed FoRock because he hit like a rock, he cast a frightening shadow accross the Bengals secondary. However, power wasn't his only weapon, as he brought speed uncanny for a man his size. He also had soft hands, as evidenced by his 31 career interceptions. Fulcher made three trips to the Pro Bowl and was an All Pro in 1989, when he had a career high 8 picks. His greatest game may have been in his one Super Bowl trip, when he had a sack, several tackles, and forced a fumble. Fulcher's career wasn't a long one, totaling eight seasons, but he left a monster-sized impression in the history of the Bengals.
8. Lemar Parrish
Lemar Parrish might not be well-known to all Bengals fans, but he should be. From his opening season, when he had five interceptions as well as scoring on both a punt return and a kick return, til his departure from the team after eight seasons, he just made plays. A cornerback with a knack for finding the ball, and a nose for the endzone, Parrish made six Pro Bowls with Cincinnati. He could, and did, score in a number of ways, making him one of the more valuable players in team history. Every team could use a guy with the multitude of talents like Parrish had.
7. Isaac Curtis
There are guys who are fast, and then there guys like Isaac Curtis, a blur of orange and black best measured by a speedometer and not a stopwatch. The original 85 spent 12 seasons lighting up scoreboards and torching would-be defenders, making four Pro Bowls along the way. Curtis never caught more than 50 passes in a season, but made the most of the catches he had, registering a blistering 17.1 yards per catch, a Bengals record, with over 7,000 yards to go with 53 TDs. He also played in a Super Bowl before his retirement in 1984. Curtis might not have the volume of numbers like a few of the other Cincinnati receivers, but his greatness was evident to anyone who saw him play, or at least those who tried to follow the blur headed for the endzone.
6. Willie Anderson
Willie Anderson was what Andre Smith longs to become, a dominant right tackle for the Bengals. Anderson was a first round selection who became the starter quickly and held onto that spot for 12 seasons. Using his enormous bulk and incredible strength, he was as reliable as any tackle in the NFL and made four trips to the Pro Bowl as well as making three All Pro teams. As immovable as he was at his tackle position, he was just as immovable from the starting lineup, missing just two games during his tenure in Cincinnati. If Andre Smith can be anything close to what Anderson was, the Bengals will be set at right tackle for a long time.
5. Chad Johnson
Some players are great players, and some are great personalities. Chad Johnson was the best of both worlds, combining jaw-dropping athletic talent with an infectious smile and a playfulness that made him a hit, even with the opponents he taunted. In ten seasons in Cincinnati, he eclipsed 1,000 yards seven times and made six Pro Bowls. Known as much for his flamboyant endzone celebrations as the TDs themselves, fans couldn't help but fall in love with him. Unfortunately, as production dipped, and his name changed, his antics began to wear thin, but there's no denying his impact on the franchise. Chad Ochocinco was a distraction and eventually found his way off the roster, but Chad Johnson was an elite WR and the best in the history of the Cincinnati Bengals.
4. Ken Riley
Ken Riley spent a remarkable 15 years roaming the Cincinnati secondary. He intercepted 65 passes over the course of his career, good for 5th best in NFL history, and his nine picks in 1976 is tied for the franchise record. The former 6th round draft pick was also consistent, recording at least one INT in every year he played. Even as his career wound down, he still had great instincts for the ball, notching eight INTs in his last year at age 36. Riley has yet to be enshrined in the Hall of Fame, but richly deserves the honor.
3. Boomer Esiason
Norman "Boomer" Esiason sauntered into Cincinnati in 1984, and at 6'5", left-handed and with bleach-blonde hair, stood out immediately. Once he got on the field, he stood out even more. His big arm and surprising agility set him apart, and his propensity for winning immediately made him a fan favorite. Through ten seasons with the Bengals, Boomer made three Pro Bowls and won an MVP award in 1988 en route to the Super Bowl. He proficiently ran the no-huddle offense, befuddling more than one opponent in the process and continued the tradition of winning handed down from another great Bengals QB that made this list as well. A respected member of the media now, Boomer will instead be remembered for his legendary career at QB in Cincinnati.
2. Ken Anderson
Nobody embodies the Cincinnati Bengals like QB Ken Anderson, who spent 16 years in with the team, making four Pro Bowls, an All Pro team, winning a Comeback Player of the Year award and an MVP. Deadly accurate, with a never quit attitude and a true passion for the game, Anderson continually put up numbers in an era where numbers didn't come easy. He's the all-time franchise leader in yards and TDs. Yet, even with all that success, he remained reluctant to take the credit, instead lauding everybody but himself for winning. The ultimate teammate, he is one of the most respected players in league history. He's also widely considered to be one of the greatest players not yet in the Hall of Fame, an error that needs correcting. Andy Dalton carries on the legacy of Anderson's number 14 and fans hope he can match the amazing success of the original Cincinnati gunslinger.
1. Anthony Munoz
Who else would be number one on this list but the Bengals' lone Hall of Fame inductee and the greatest tackle in NFL history? Offensive linemen aren't normally measured by numbers, but here are some anyway: 13 seasons, 11 Pro Bowls and nine All Pro selections as well as being a member of two Super Bowl teams. He was also named as a member of the NFL's 75th Anniversary All-Time team. Whether it was Ken Anderson or Boomer Esiason under center for the Bengals, there was little doubt that the left side of the line would be protected. Anthony Munoz dominated games in ways that offensive linemen rarely do, and he was as responsible for the success of the franchise as any skill position player. His name is spoken with a reverence in Cincinnati not normally reserved for blockers, and mentioning him never fails to bring a smile to the face of those who watched him. There's little doubt that Munoz is the greatest player in the history of the Bengals, and his place is cemented as one of the best the NFL has ever seen, period.