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 less than 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, 2010 and 2011 drafts. Wednesday is all about the 2012 group headlined by Dre Kirkpatrick, Kevin Zeitler and Mohamed Sanu.
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 picks: No. 17 overall (Kirkpatrick, CB, Alabama ... on roster); No. 27 overall (Zeitler, OG, Wisconsin ... on roster)
Number of picks: 10
Highest player AV: Zeitler, AV of 14 (Zeitler's career AV ranks 20th in the draft class; Seahawks QB Russell Wilson has highest AV with a 31)
How they fared: So far so good for the Bengals' 2012 class. All 10 selections not only spent the full 2012 season on Cincinnati's roster, but they all also accrued NFL service in 2013, too. Sixth-round pick Dan Herron and fifth-round pick Shaun Prater were the only ones who didn't play all of last season with the Bengals. They were waived near the start of the season and were quickly picked up by Indianapolis and Baltimore, respectively. There hasn't been enough time to declare each of the drafted players true successes or failures, but the potential that exists on the 2012 class is rather strong. Kirkpatrick received significant playing time at the end of last season and figures to be a long-term option at cornerback. Zeitler started every game his rookie season and might have done the same last season had a foot injury not derailed a big chunk of his year. Receivers Mohamed Sanu (third round) and Marvin Jones (fifth round), and safety George Iloka (fifth round) have played key roles the past two seasons and appear to be in the organization's long-term plans.
Pivotal pick: It might be best to call the "pivotal pick" the "underrated pick" instead. It is amazing that the Bengals got Jones where they did. The former Cal wide out has been an important part of Cincinnati's offense throughout his brief career. But it was his 51-catch, 712-yard performance last season that seemed to solidify his place in the Bengals' passing plans. Jones had 10 touchdown receptions last season, including a team-record four against the Jets in a 40-point blowout. Not only did he become a fantasy football dream after that game, but he started drawing more attention from opposing defenses. By the end of the season, he figured out how to better handle the additional attention, giving the Bengals a viable receiving option behind A.J. Green.
Best pick: It's tempting -- quite tempting -- to say Jones has been the best pick. He does, after all, have numbers that could be considered the best of anyone else the Bengals drafted in 2012. Kirkpatrick hasn't had enough playing time to keep up with Jones, and neither have defensive tackles Devon Still (second round) and Brandon Thompson (third round). Orson Charles (fourth round) has moved around from tight end to H-back and barely seen the field at either spot. Iloka simply hasn't had the turnover numbers to be considered the best player of this draft class. For the sake of picking another player, though, we'll say Zeitler has been the best pick of the 2012 class because he's earned the opportunities to prove himself. He started as a rookie and contributed to an offensive line that has steadily improved the past two seasons. He's expected to remain the starter at right guard this fall with his fellow right guard, Mike Pollak, believed to be moving to center.
Worst pick: Like we mentioned before, there really hasn't been enough time to evaluate this class. Two years isn't a very large sample size, and each of these players has proven they have some measure ability. Since they were the two who were let go by the Bengals, perhaps a case could be made for Prater and Herron as the class' worst picks.