Paul Brown Stadium, Home of the Cincinnati Bengals

Paul Brown Stadium, Home of the Cincinnati Bengals (Photo by Julian Myles on Unsplash)

The Cincinnati Bengals have a long and storied history in the National Football League (NFL). The Bengals were an expansion team in 1968, and they won a division championship in 1970, making them the first team to win a division title in its first three years in the league. The Bengals have been to three Super Bowls, but unfortunately, they haven’t been able to win the big game. Undoubtedly, there have been some all-time great athletes to come through the organization, but only a few can be considered the best Bengals players of all time. 

Before we dive into the list of the best players in Bengals franchise history, it all starts with their fans. According to a recent study, fans prefer championship teams comprised of homegrown talent instead of teams stacked with pricey free agents. Researchers at the University of Kansas surveyed 1,500 Americans and found that sports fans prefer championship teams comprised of drafted or ‘homegrown’ players as opposed to teams with rosters comprised of expensive free-agent players. Apparently, sports fans appreciate the hard work and dedication it takes to build a championship team from the ground up. 

Speaking of passionate sports fans, another recent study found that sports fans are willing to end friendships over sports. A survey of 2,000 American football fans found that a staggering 52 percent of respondents are willing to call it quits with a friend because that person cheers for a rival football team. Furthermore, the survey sought to discover where fans prefer to watch their favorite team play. Just over 35 percent of fans say they prefer to watch in person at the stadium while 30 percent of respondents prefer to watch their team play from the comfort of their own home. Although it’s fun to watch football in any capacity, nothing beats the thrills of watching your team play in person. 

So, who deserves to be called the greatest in Bengals franchise history? StudyFinds did the digging, consulting 10 sports and football-related websites in an effort to bring you the consensus best Bengals players of all time. Our list comprises the five most frequently listed players from across these sites. Think we missed your favorite? Feel free to share your thoughts with us in the comments section below! 

Super Bowl Glow at Paul Brown Stadium in 2022
Super Bowl Glow at Paul Brown Stadium in 2022 (Photo by Craig Burke on Shutterstock)

The List: Best Bengals Players, According to Experts

1. Anthony Munoz 

Easily topping the list of the best players in Bengals franchise history is none other than the legendary Anthony Munoz. Munoz is widely regarded as one of the best offensive linemen in NFL history, and he’s easily the best player to ever wear the orange and black in Cincinnati. 

“Anthony Munoz is the no-brainer for best player in Bengals history. Munoz’s impact throughout the Cincinnati area continues even today through the Munoz Foundation. His on-field accomplishments are just as breathtaking. Munoz started 183 of 185 games for Cincinnati between 1980 and 1992. His 185 games played rank him fifth in Bengals history. He anchored an offensive line that made it to the Super Bowl in 1988 and performed well enough to make 11 consecutive Pro Bowls from 1981-91,” writes Bleacher Report

Let’s face it, Munoz might just be the greatest left tackle in NFL history. He played his college ball for the University of Southern California (USC) where he also played baseball. Munoz’s personal work ethic is legendary as the big man ran three to four miles every day to help keep himself in football shape. 

“Munoz started 183 of 185 games for Cincinnati between 1980 and 1992. His 185 games played ranks him fifth in Bengal’s history. He anchored an offensive line that made it to the Super Bowl in 1981 and 1988 and performed well enough to make 11 consecutive Pro Bowls from 1981-91. This was an easy pick for number one, maybe the most dominant offensive tackle in NFL history and the only Bengals inductee in the pro football hall of fame,” adds The Grueling Truth

Munoz only missed three games due to injury over the course of his 13-year NFL career with the Bengals. He was truly a remarkable football player. However, Munoz’s greatest achievements came off the football field, and in 1991, he was awarded the NFL Man of the Year for his work in the community. To this day, the Munoz Scholarship is awarded to students around greater Cincinnati.   

“Muñoz was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998 and was named to the National Football League 75th Anniversary Team. In 1999, he was ranked No. 17 on the Sporting News’ list of the 100 greatest football players of all time. He was the highest-ranked offensive lineman. In 2010, Muñoz was ranked No. 12 on the NFL Network’s The Top 100: NFL’s Greatest Players list, and again was the highest-ranked offensive lineman. Munoz will go down in history as the Bengals’ best player until someone else proves more worthy of the honor,” furthers Cincy Jungle

2. Ken Anderson

The next spot on the list of the best players in Bengals franchise history belongs to Ken Anderson. He was the team’s first great quarterback and one of the most beloved athletes in Cincinnati sports history. 

“Ken Anderson was on Cincinnati from 1971-86, until Esiason took over the starting job from him. Anderson took over the starting job in 1972, and he found a lot of success during his time with the team. During the 1981 season, Anderson threw for 3,754 yards and 29 touchdowns. He led the Bengals to their first Super Bowl, and even though they lost, he still is the best quarterback in franchise history. For his efforts during the 1981 season, Anderson was named the team MVP. Anderson finished his career in Cincinnati with a 91-81 record. He threw for 32,838 yards and 197 touchdowns,” explains Clutch Points

Anderson wasn’t the fastest runner but he could scramble if he had to, and his passing accuracy was excellent. These traits helped Anderson thrive in what’s known as the West Coast Offense. The West Coast Offense was developed by legendary 49ers coach and one-time Cincinnati quarterbacks coach Bill Walsh and it relies on short, accurate passing, so Anderson was clearly a natural.  

“Anderson was drafted 67th overall in the 1971 NFL Draft by the Bengals and earned the starting quarterback job in 1972. He would become one of the most accurate short-range passers in the history of the league and was extremely effective at rushing the ball for a quarterback. With Bill Walsh as his quarterbacks coach, Anderson was one of the first quarterbacks to run the ‘West Coast Offense.’ One of the finest performances of his early career came in a Monday Night Football game against the Buffalo Bills in 1975. In that game, Anderson passed for a franchise-record 447 yards while the Bengals racked up a franchise-record 553 offensive yards on their way to a 33-24 win. It was the Bengals’ first-ever win in a Monday night game,” writes Cincy Jungle

Anderson helped lead the Bengals to their first Super Bowl and their first win on primetime Monday Night Football. It’s safe to say that Anderson played a big role in putting the Bengals on the NFL map. However, his impacts on the city of Cincinnati reached far beyond the football field.   

“The 1975 NFL Man of the Year led the league in passing yards twice, passer rating four times, and completion percentage three times. Anderson was named to Cincinnati‘s inaugural Ring of Honor Class in 2021. He was one of the best passers in the league during his career. The 2-time All-Pro was one of the top reasons why Cincinnati made their first Super Bowl appearance in 1981,” furthers Sportskeeda

3. Boomer Esiason

The next name on the list of the best players in Bengals history is none other than Boomer Esiason. Esiason followed legendary signal-caller, Ken Anderson, and although they were big shoes to fill, Esiason lived up to expectations in Cincinnati. 

“It might be rare for most organizations to have produced two great quarterbacks – one right after the other – but the Bengals did just that. As Anderson’s time was coming to an end, the Bengals drafted Boomer Esiason in the second round in 1984. Esiason was the Bengals’ quarterback from 1984 to 1992 and then again in 1997. Like Anderson, he would win one MVP award and take the team to a Super Bowl only to lose to the 49ers. Esiason recorded 27,139 passing yards and 187 touchdowns for the Bengals,” explains Fox News

For the record, that was the team’s second Super Bowl loss to the San Francisco 49ers and the great Joe Montana – nothing to be ashamed of, that’s for sure. Despite the Super Bowl loss, Esiason played winning football in Cincinnati.  

“The leader of the Bengals’ offense during the most successful period in franchise history, Esiason was named the 1988 NFL MVP before leading the team to a Super Bowl berth. Esiason finished his career with the Bengals as the team’ 2nd all-time passing performer yardage-wise (27,149) and still holds the team’s single-game passing yardage mark with 490 (1990 against the Rams),” writes Chat Sports

Today, most football fans know Esiason from his weekly appearance on the CBS NFL pregame show. However, in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, NFL fans knew him as one of the best quarterbacks in football. 

“Over the course of his career in professional football, Esiason recorded 37,920 total passing yards and 247 touchdowns and maintained a passer rating of 81.1. And like both Munoz and Anderson ahead of him on the list, Esiason was also given the prestigious honor of being named NFL Man of the Year for his service to his community off the field. After his career in the NFL, Esiason has since found a very successful television broadcasting career,” adds Rookie Road

4. Chad Johnson

The next player on the list of best players in Bengals history needs no introduction – it’s Chad Johnson, also known as Chad Ochocinco. Johnson might be best known for his touchdown celebrations, but make no mistake about it, he’s one of the best wide receivers in the history of football. 

“Every time Chad Johnson stepped onto the field, you knew it was going to be a show. People remember Johnson for his touchdown dances, but the only reason people remember that is because he found that part of the field so frequently. Johnson played from 2001-10 with the team, catching 751 passes for 10,783 yards and 66 touchdowns. His best season was in 2003, when he caught 90 passes for 1,355 yards and 10 touchdowns. His attitude towards the end of his time with the Bengals turned some fans against him, but there is no doubt he is one of the most talented players to ever step onto the field for Cincinnati,” explains Clutch Points

Johnson might have had some issues with management and coaching that he made public at the end of his career, but at least he was passionate. When Johnson was having fun and catching touchdowns, he was one of the best receivers in the league. Johnson holds nearly every major receiving record in team history.  

“Regardless of his off-the-field issues, Chad was a beast on the gridiron in Cincinnati for years. Chad’s 10,783 receiving yards is the most in Bengals history by over 3,000 yards. His six Pro Bowl appearances ties for second in franchise history, and his 66 touchdowns ranks first… Chad-the-football-player was pretty fun to watch and deserves to be considered one of the greatest Bengals of all-time,” writes Bleacher Report

Johnson was fortunate enough to play the majority of his career with quarterback Carson Palmer. Although Palmer isn’t on this list, he was more than capable of getting Johnson the ball in key situations. Together, Johnson and Palmer formed one of the top quarterback-wide receiver duos in the NFL

“Ochocinco’s ‘look at me’ personality may divide traditionalists and the new breed of NFL fans, but there’s no denying just how great he was in Bengals orange and black. Chad’s 10,783 receiving yards outdistances his next closest Bengals competition by over 3,000 yards, and his 66 receiving touchdowns also remain a franchise record,” furthers Chat Sports

5. Ken Riley

Rounding out the list of the best Bengals players of all time is legendary defensive back, Ken Riley. Riley is by far the best cover corner Bengals fans have ever known, and he was gifted when it came to reading quarterbacks. 

“Ken Riley represents the best defensive player the Bengals have ever had. The team selected the defensive back in the sixth round of the 1969 draft. Riley played for the Bengals for 15 seasons and was an interceptions machine. Fourteen out of his 15 seasons, Riley recorded two or more interceptions. Twelve of his 15 seasons he had three or more interceptions. In 1976, he had nine interceptions and one of them was returned for a touchdown,” writes Fox News

Riley had one of the best rookie seasons in Bengals history. He found a way to get to the football while it was in the air, and that was apparent from the start. 

“When Riley reported to training camp, Cincinnati head coach Paul Brown decided to convert Riley from quarterback, the position he played at Florida A&M University, to cornerback. Brown’s decision turned out to be a very good one. Riley made an immediate impact for the Bengals as a defensive back, recording four interceptions and 66 interception return yards as a rookie. He also recovered two fumbles, added another 334 yards on 14 kickoff returns, and even caught two passes for 15 yards on offense,” explains Cincy Jungle

Riley’s impressive rookie season was followed by a long and storied career that found him playing over 200 games in the orange and black for Cincinnati. His impact on the organization is still seen in the record books as his 65 career interceptions are by far the most in Bengals history. 

“The closest to his 65 is 20 behind. Riley somehow never made a Pro Bowl during his time in Cincinnati. Riley’s 15 seasons spent in Cincinnati rank second all-time, but his 207 games played are more than anyone ever to wear the stripes. Not only was Riley effective on the field, but he was on the field for a while. More importantly, he was just as effective at the end of his career as at the start,” furthers The Grueling Truth

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About Matthew Sherdan

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