The Cincinnati Bengals put together one of the most impressive draft classes of the last few years back in 2016.
In the mid-2010s, the Cincinnati Bengals existed firmly in a realm where they were good enough to be a playoff contender but never good enough to win once there. That still hasn’t changed, but the 2016 NFL Draft offered the team a chance to take what was working and lay a foundation for the future.
To their credit, every single one of the Bengals draft picks from this class are still on the roster heading into the 2019 season. That’s stunning when compared to other draft classes around the league, especially within the division. It’s not hard to draft better than the Browns but the Bengals make up for what they don’t win on the field with how well they draft between seasons.
Round 1 (Pick 27)
In a cornerback class headlined by Jalen Ramsey and Xavien Howard, William Jackson falls somewhere in the middle of the pack. He’s better than Eli Apple and Vernon Haergraves but some may argue that third round pick Kendall Fuller has turned out as good as Jackson has.
The Bengals have a solid starting cornerback in Jackson, who Pro Football Focus rated as a Top 10 cornerback after his sophomore season in the league. That’s the trajectory Cincinnati hopes he stays on, as the defense is in flux and needs a leader as it charges into a brave new era.
Round 2 (Pick 55)
Boyd was the seventh wide receiver selected (of 31 overall) and is arguably the third-best. Only Michael Thomas and Tyreek Hill have had better careers to this point, and that’s not a knock on Boyd. He’s not quite on the level of those two Pro Bowlers, but he’s firmly on his own level, or at the very least even alongside the likes of Will Fuller and Sterling Shepard (both taken before him).
A.J. Green is the centerpeice of the Bengals offense, but Boyd has emerged as a solid partner in crime over the last three years. Andy Dalton has found Boyd a number of times to bail him out of jams, and the more defenses focus on Green the more space Boyd has to shine as one of the better No. 2 wideouts in the NFL.
Round 3 (Pick 87)
In all three years of his NFL career, Nick Vigil has had to compete for his job in training camp yet he remains the starter heading into his fourth season. That’s what the Bengals were hoping to get out of their third round pick, although at this point you’d like to think that the competition for the starting job won’t involve Vigil for a fourth straight year.
Vigil has shown flashes of being a solid starting linebacker, and it’s worth noting that he hasn’t lost the gig since being drafted. An impressive career-high 12 tackle game last season is a feather in his cap.
Fun Fact: Vigil was picked right before fellow Utah State linebacker Kyler Fackrell, making it back-to-back Utah State players selected.
Round 4 (Pick 122)
If Cincinnati was hoping to get a hulking starting nose tackle in the fourth round, Andrew Billings had fit — well, the billing. Whether he can make up the production of that title is yet to be seen. He missed his rookie season after suffering a preseason knee injury and has been middle-of-the-road since then. He still owns the starting job in the center of the Bengals defensive front, and he’s flanked by Geno Atkins and Carlos Dunlap.
Having those two stellar talents on either side of him means Billings is in a position to either succeed in 2019 or be exposed as someone that needs to be replaced.
Round 5 (Pick 161)
It’s been a rough go of things for Westerman, who started just two games in 2017 and didn’t do much better last year. He was mostly inactive for his rookie season, but not because of injury — so the upside is there’s still plenty of tread on his tires. Whether he hits the road or stays in Cincinnati is yet to be seen.
Round 6 (Pick 199)
It’s hard to say Cody Core has been an impact player for the Bengals, but he’s still on the team three years later. Currently behind both A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd on the depth chart, Core will likely be plying for a spot on the roster in 2020 as this upcoming season plays out.
Round 7 (Pick 245)
Not many seventh round picks end up making it to opening day, let alone remain on the roster three years after getting picked. Not only has Fedjedelem done that, but he was responsible for a game-clinching 83-yard fumble return for a touchdown in a game against the Colts in 2018.
Williams Jackson and Tyler Boyd aside, there aren’t a lot of superstars in this draft class for the Bengals. But the fact that every single one of their selections is still on the team — up to and including their seventh round backup safety — needs to be celebrated.
Not having any stars ages the grade down a little from where it was, but having contributors across the board still ranks this among one of the better drafts of the last few years for both the league and the Bengals.