Will Bengals bungle draft?
They don't mind doing the unorthodox on draft day, and it usually backfires.
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 over 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 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.' "
Nothing has changed
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 [John] Elway, [Roger] Staubach and [Terry] Bradshaw," Brandt said. "He was marvelous the whole week there."
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, 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.
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