One -- and done
Bengals haven't been getting much from draft advantagePosted: Monday April 21, 2003 10:17 AM
CINCINNATI (AP) -- When it comes to the draft, the Cincinnati Bengals are No. 1 again.
Three times in the last 12 years, the Bengals have had the first overall pick -- more than any other team in that span. They've had a top-10 pick in all but two of those years.
Though they're at the front of the line when it comes to picking talent, they're still at the bottom of the league when it comes to winning with it. They can add to their legacy or break with it this weekend, when they have the first overall pick in Marvin Lewis' first draft as head coach.
Will they choose a quarterback? Will they trade down? Will it matter?
"They just seem to have bad luck," said Gil Brandt, an NFL draft consultant and former Dallas Cowboys personnel director.
There's more to it than bad karma.
The Bengals don't mind doing the unorthodox on draft day, and it usually backfires. For example, they drew draft-room gasps in 1992, when they traded up to get David Klingler at sixth overall even though they had former MVP Boomer Esiason at quarterback.
Klingler never made it, and the legacy began.
In 1999, owner Mike Brown passed up New Orleans' offer of a treasure-trove of picks. Instead, he decided to stay put and take quarterback Akili Smith with the third overall pick, the one that has become the symbol of a failed franchise.
Brown had the opportunity to overhaul a sorry roster with an infusion of draft picks -- all of the Saints' picks in 1999, plus first-rounders the next two years as part of a package.
"That was the biggest deal I ever turned down," Brown said at the time. "That should speak for itself.
"Maybe next year or three years from now I'll say, 'If we'd have done that, golly, would we be in better shape?' I hope I don't have to think that. I hope three years from now I can say, 'Gee, I'm glad I turned that deal down."'
Four years later, Smith is on the discard pile, the Bengals are still at the bottom and Brown is declining interviews.
At the time, outsiders considered it a good move.
"At the East-West Shrine game, Akili Smith was as good a quarterback as there ever has been, and that includes Elway, Staubach and Bradshaw," Brandt said. "He was marvelous the whole week there.
"I can't tell you what's taken place. I feel bad. It looks like the guy's an impostor, that somebody else is there."
There's no impostor. Once Smith arrived, the Bengals never gave him a chance to forge an identity -- the most common thread to their dozen years of drafts. The Bengals choose good players, then fail to develop them.
In Smith's case, they couldn't have bungled more.
"It's been the worst script in the history of quarterbacks," Smith said at a minicamp this month.
Smith missed most of training camp in 1999, but was rushed into the lineup long before he was ready. The rookie started four games, got battered and ended the season hurt.
Smith opened 2000 as the starter, but was forced to function with two rookie receivers (Peter Warrick and Ron Dugans) and a weak offensive line. In effect, he was set up to fail.
Making matters much worse, head coach Bruce Coslet -- who was in charge of developing Smith -- quit three games into the season, leaving the young quarterback adrift.
Then, just like that, the Bengals gave up on him. Smith has started one game in each of the last two seasons, spending the rest of the time rusting away at No. 3 on the depth chart.
"It's kind of tough," Smith said. "I didn't play well in my second year, and I played two games after that and put myself in this position. All I can do is continue to fight."
Last year, the Bengals pulled another puzzler, taking punter Travis Dorsch in the fourth round so he could take over for place kicker Neil Rackers. Then, they decided to stick with Rackers, keeping Dorsch around as the NFL equivalent of a spare tire -- a waste of a good draft pick.
"It was a little difficult, but that was my role last year," Dorsch said at the recent minicamp.
There was nothing wrong with taking Dorsch, if the Bengals needed a punter. There was no point in doing it the way they did it.
They did it their way.