Question Bengals Ask Prospects Leads Has Role in Their Spot Atop Unusual Draft List

The Cincinnati Bengals have drafted college teammates more often than they haven't over the last 25 years, and there are reasons for it.

CINCINNATI – Plenty has been written and said about the traits the Cincinnati Bengals prefer in their draft picks, from the physical to the intangible, since the arrival of Zac Taylor in 2019.

But there’s another trend that doesn’t just pre-date Taylor, it’s been in place since before Marvin Lewis arrived in 2003, and even before Dick LeBeau in 2000.

And only one team in the league has tapped into it more than the Bengals in the last 25 drafts — a franchise that just happens to have authored the most successful dynasty the game has ever seen.

What is the trend?

Drafting college teammates.

Bengals Draft College Teammates at High Rate

From Michigan Wolverines DJ Turner II and Brad Robbins in 2023 to Florida State Seminoles Peter Warrick and Ron Dugans in 2000, the Bengals have spent the last quarter century pairing players who know each other well in their draft classes.

In addition to doing it in five of the last seven years, they have selected college teammates 15 times in the previous two drafts.

Only the New England Patriots (17) have done it more often.

Is it coincidental or intentional?

“It’s probably a little bit of both,” Mike Potts said, Cincinnati’s director of college scouting. “I don’t think we’d ever say, ‘Hey, let’s pair these guys up because it’ll make the transition easier’ if there’s potentially a better player there that we could take. But at the end of the day, there are always guys that are closely graded at a number of positions and you’re always looking for ways to break the ties. And that obviously couldn’t hurt.”

Most of the time, the teammates are coming from a big-name program sending multiple players to the league, so it sometimes can be more a matter of math than methodology.

Here are the last five instances of the Bengals pairing college teammates (with the Round No. selected).

  • 2023: Cornerback Turner (Round 2) and punter Robbins (6), Michigan
  • 2021: Wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase (1) and defensive tackle Tyler Shelvin (4), LSU
  • 2019: Linebacker Germaine Pratt (3) and quarterback Ryan Finley (4), North Carolina State
  • 2018: Center Billy Price (1) and defensive end Sam Hubbard (3), Ohio State
  • 2017: Running back Joe Mixon (2) and linebacker Jordan Evans (6), Oklahoma

“At those big schools, our scouting staff has contacts and sources that we trust that we’re getting good info at certain programs, and that certainly is valuable,” Potts said. “It would be a complete coincidence if it were a lower-level school that we’d pick two teammates from.”

Rarely does the double dip involve two later-round picks. In four of the five instances above, the first pick in the duo came in the first two rounds. With the North Carolina State two-fer in 2019, Pratt was a third-rounder and Finley a fourth.

“You’re aware of all of the prospects you have to evaluate at the start of the process, whether they be seniors or juniors who could end up coming out early,” Potts said. “But obviously if there is a high-end guy and you’re watching that tape more than some others, then maybe you would get more exposure to secondary players, so to speak, on that team.”

MORE: Mega Media Mock Draft — Beat Reporters Weigh In on Bengals’ First 3 Rounds

Another interesting piece of the evaluation process is the face-to-face meetings with the prospects, whether at the NFL Combine, dinner the night before their pro day, or a 30 visit.

Those interviews go a long way in helping the scouting staff get to know the player, his football IQ, and how much he loves the process of football, everything from watching the film to practice and all the work that goes into it before actually playing the game.

The Cincinnati scouting staff watches every prospect, but it would be impossible to meet with all of them.

But Potts said one question they always ask in interviews can help pique further interest in someone from the same team.

“One thing we always do in the scouting process is we always ask players in the interviews, ‘Who is the one or two players you would take with you?’ It is part of our process. It’s not just scattered in there sometimes.

“We ask that in pretty much every single interview we have,” Potts added. “Sometimes it’s a school like Michigan that has 20 guys at the Combine this year. We’ll say, “Give us two players from each side of the ball you would bring with you if you could.”

The Bengals ask players the same question about their opponents as well. It’s all part of the exhaustive process. But getting insight into other players that the guys have spent countless hours with for several years can wind up being one of those tiebreaker situations when it comes to making a final decision when on the clock.

There are two rare subsets within the college-teammate data string. One is where both players come from the same position.

The last time that truly happened was in 2001 when the Bengals tapped into Oregon State to take wide receivers Chad Johnson (second round) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (seventh round).

In 2005 when the Bengals went to Georgia for their first two picks, David Pollack was more of an edge-rushing linebacker while Odell Thurman was an off-ball linebacker.

The other rare occurrence when picking two guys from the same school is having both end up being quality players who sign second contracts with the team. Johnson and Houshmandzadeh certainly were quality, but they are outliers.

Below are the other double-dipped teammate tandems since 2000 (with draft round):

  • 2014: Running back Jeremy Hill (Round 2), wide receiver James Wright (7), LSU
  • 2011: Wide receiver A.J. Green (1), guard Clint Boling (4), Georgia
  • 2010: Wide receiver Jordan Shipley (3), Roddrick Muckelroy (4), Texas
  • 2007: Guard Dan Santucci (7), defensive back Nedu Ndukwe (7), Notre Dame
  • 2006: Offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth (2), wide receiver Bennie Brazell (7), LSU
  • 2005: Defensive end David Pollack (1), linebacker Odell Thurman (2), Georgia
  • 2005: Center Eric Ghiaciuc (4), offensive tackle Adam Kieft (5), Central Michigan
  • 2001: Wide receivers Chad Johnson (2) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (7), Oregon State
  • 2000: Wide receivers Peter Warrick (1) and Ron Dugans (4), Florida State
  • 1999: Fullback Nick Williams (5), quarterback Scott Covington (8), Miami (FL)

KEEP READING: Bengals, NFL’s Smallest Scouting Department Undergoing Evolution Heading Into 2024 Draft

If you are wondering about the other end of the spectrum, the teams that have drafted the fewest college teammates in the last 25 drafts are the Kansas City Chiefs (four), Tennessee Titans (six), New Orleans Saints (six), and Atlanta Falcons (six).

The record for most players taken from the same school in the seven-round era is four, with the Chicago Bears tapping into the University of Florida for quarterback Rex Grossman (Round 1), defensive back Todd Johnson (3), and defensive tackles Ian Scott (4) and Tron LaFavor (5) in 2003.

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