CINCINNATI -- We've talked often in this space about the Cincinnati Bengals' recent draft efforts and the inroads they have made toward building their roster.
So, with exactly 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 past 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, 2009 and 2010 drafts. Tuesday is all about the 2011 group headlined by A.J. Green and Andy Dalton.
We're using Pro Football Reference's Approximate Value statistic to help evaluate how valuable a 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 out. The higher the number, the better.
First-round pick: No. 4 overall (A.J. Green, WR, Georgia ... on roster)
Number of picks: 8
Highest player AV: Andy Dalton, AV of 36 (Dalton's career AV ranks fifth in the draft class; Panthers QB Cam Newton has has highest AV with a 49)
How they fared: Green and Dalton (second round) are the headliners of this Bengals class, but five of the eight selections are still playing in Cincinnati. Third-round defensive end Dontay Moch, actually spent the 2013 season in Arizona before coming back to the Bengals via waivers last month. Only one 2011 pick is completely out of football. Two more weren't on teams in 2013. Seventh-round running back Jay Finley didn't play a game in his lone season in the league. Safety Robert Sands (fifth round) and defensive back Korey Lindsey (seventh round) played one game between them in their two seasons of service. Sixth-round pick Ryan Whalen is among those still on the Bengals' roster, but he has mostly seen action as a backup in a deep receiver rotation been headed by Green. The fourth-round pick, offensive guard Clint Boling, is coming off ACL surgery. He has appeared in 33 career games, and started all but two.
Pivotal pick: Since it continues to be a bit of a controversial pick, Dalton's selection could be considered the most pivotal. It was a pivotal selection for the Bengals, because perhaps more than any other player the past four years, Dalton's drafting has helped establish Cincinnati's identity in recent seasons. Quarterbacks are like the weather vanes of the offense. Whichever directions they are going, that is where the rest of the offense goes. Dalton's inconsistency in big games over the years has rubbed off on the overall team. His ineffectiveness in playoff games, for example, has been a real contributing factor to their three straight first-round playoff losses. The controversy surrounding Dalton's selection heated up in 2012 when the quarterback taken one pick after him, Colin Kaepernick, came off the bench in the middle of his second season and guided the 49ers to the Super Bowl. Bengals coaches continue to stress that Kaepernick didn't match what they wanted in a quarterback in 2011, and that they needed a player who could start right away. Dalton has been in the starting lineup all 48 games of his career.
Best pick: Green was just declared Monday as one of the NFL's elite pass-catchers in this piece from ESPN insider Matt Williamson. There are few receivers who possess Green's combination of size and speed, and fewer who can simply dominate a game the way he can. Still, he has a few concerns, like his lack of running underneath a ball during a pivotal part of January's wild-card round playoff loss to San Diego. He and Dalton aren't always on the same page, as Green has cut routes shorter than Dalton anticipated, causing overthrows and interceptions. Those are problems new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is confident will fade this season. Regardless, Green is the jewel of this Bengals draft class. His overall play has been that of a first-round pick. He already has more than 3,800 yards receiving and came close to setting some Bengals' single-season records last season.
Worst pick: It can be rare for a seventh-round pick to pan out for a team, so calling one the worst pick of a team's draft class is a stretch. But Finley had the shortest career, so he might fit the bill here. Some, angered by Dalton's inconsistency, might say him. Either way, we're still in the early days of these players' careers. With plenty of time left to play somewhere, it's tough to label any of them busts just yet.