Not every draft pick can pay dividends, while others exceed expectations. Here are some Bengals studs and duds over the past five years.
As we know, the NFL draft is only the beginning of the journey for the league's newest members. There is an inherent sense of accomplishment in having been drafted in the first place, but then the pressure to earn a roster spot and remain relevant in the long term begins.
Some players make a lasting impression on their team—however, it's not always positive. For every future Hall of Famer who takes the field there is another player taken in the draft who fails to make an impact.
Here are the biggest studs and duds from the Cincinnati Bengals' last five draft classes.
Stud: DT Geno Atkins, 2010, Fourth Round
Looking back at what defensive tackle Geno Atkins has accomplished in his three seasons with the Bengals, it's hard to imagine him being a mid-round pickup. At the 120th overall pick, the Bengals got a steal with Atkins, considering he ended his 2012 season as the very best player at his position according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
At first, Atkins' true talent wasn't apparent—he played only 356 snaps in his rookie year, with no starts, as part of the Bengals' rotational defensive line. Still, Atkins amassed three sacks (or five, according to Pro Football Focus) and 31 total pressures, which warranted a doubling of his playing time in his second season.
Atkins started every game in 2011, and his sacks increased to 7.5 (or nine, per Pro Football Focus), and he had 47 combined tackles as compared to 16 in his first year. That led to his very impressive 2012 season, in which he led the team in sacks with 12.5 (or 16, again according to PFF), and an outstanding 82 total quarterback pressures.
In Atkins, the Bengals have one of the very best pass-rushers in the NFL, while getting him at practically a bargain-basement price as a fourth-rounder. Granted, he's about to get himself a very large payday, but he's clearly earned it. Thanks to Atkins, the Bengals have one of the best front sevens in the league.
Dud: LB Dontay Moch, 2011, Third Round
So far, the Bengals have gotten a very minimal return on investment for their 2011 third-round selection of linebacker Dontay Moch. The 66th overall pick lost much of his rookie season to a broken foot in the team's first preseason game, but the most concerning moment in Moch's short history in Cincinnati came last offseason.
Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer said that Moch hadn't gotten himself up to speed with the Bengals' playbook, putting him dangerously behind when it came to his preparedness to play in his second season. Not helping matters much was Moch's four-game suspension to start 2012 nor his landing on injured reserve in November for migraines.
The Bengals' current linebacker situation means that Moch is in the running for the strong-side job, but considering his first two years with the team, he has an incredibly uphill battle to prove he's worthy of being a starter. Though his time with the Bengals has been short, Moch looks like a draft pick who won't work out in the long term.
Stud: DE Michael Johnson, 2009, Third Round
Though Geno Atkins is thought of as the singular architect of the Bengals' fierce pass rush, he wouldn't be as effective without a partner on the other side of the field. That's where defensive end Michael Johnson comes in.
Johnson, a third-round pick in 2009, has been nearly as successful in his time with the Bengals as Atkins. Like Atkins, Johnson started out with just 370 snaps in his rookie season and no starts, but his workload increased in his second season, with 678 total snaps and 10 starts. He was used more rotationally in 2011 before being the full-time starter at right defensive end in 2012, putting up 11.5 sacks (or 13, according to Pro Football Focus) and 55 combined quarterback pressures.
Johnson was named the Bengals' franchise player for 2013, earning him a one-year salary of $11.175 million. A contract extension could come in the offseason instead of paying him the franchise amount, or it could come next year, but even the famously penny-pinching Bengals aren't likely to put Johnson in a situation where he could play elsewhere.
Dud: TE Chase Coffman, 2009, Third Round
Though the first of the Bengals' two third-round picks in 2009 certainly paid off—that would be the aforementioned Michael Johnson—the second of the two didn't turn out as well. Tight end Chase Coffman came into the NFL after winning the John Mackey Award, handed to the nation's best collegiate tight end, but he never reached those heights in the NFL.
Coffman ended his rookie year on injured reserve, injuring his ankle in December. Though he was on the active roster for 12 games that season, he appeared in none of them. It was clear after just one failed attempt at a season that Coffman was not going to be the Bengals' answer at tight end in the long term, with the team selecting Jermaine Gresham with their first overall pick in 2010.
The result was Coffman being waived in September of that year and then spending both the 2010 and 2011 seasons on the practice squad. He's since been with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Atlanta Falcons, doing nothing of note—he's caught just four career passes for 41 yards.
Stud: WR A.J. Green, 2011, First Round
While it goes without saying that a team hopes that they can get significant production out of first-round draft picks right away, it doesn't always happen. Wide receiver, in particular, can be a tough position to master as an NFL rookie, so the Bengals took somewhat of a risk when they selected A.J. Green with the fourth overall pick in 2011.
However, it was the addition of Green that helped push the Bengals back into the playoffs in his first two seasons. He made quarterback Andy Dalton's transition that much easier—both were drafted the same year—and in his mere two seasons in the league he appears to have all the makings of being an elite receiver.
Over the course of two years, Green has pulled down 162 of the 280 passes thrown his way, for 2,407 yards and 18 touchdowns. In the postseason, he's added 10 more catches and 127 more yards. In 2012, Green was the league's eighth-best receiver according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), had the sixth-most receiving touchdowns, with 11, and was ninth in yards after the catch.
Green was no slow starter and has become one of the most dangerous receivers in the NFL. Without him, Dalton's first two seasons as the Bengals quarterback would have likely been more rocky.