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2011 NFL Draft: Cincinnati Bengals Select A.J. Green with Fourth Pick of First Round

With the fourth pick of the 2011 NFL Draft, Adriel Jeremiah Green has gone to the Cincinnati Bengals.

What does this mean for fans of A.J. Green’s new team? It means they now get to root for a top-flight wide receiver and (now that he’s allowed to make money off of sales of his jersey) a top-flight individual.

Ere I offer a career-concluding paean to the Summerville, S.C., native, I must confess in all candor that we in Bulldog Nation are rather rough on the fellows who split out wide. As I noted upon the departure of Mohamed Massaquoi:

Perhaps because the ‘Dawgs ran the ball so much and so well for so long, we as a fan base have tended to be a tad tough on our receivers. Georgia receivers are a lot like presidents of the United States . . . since the late ‘80s, almost none of either have left their posts as popular as when they arrived.

Oh, we’ve been fond of any number of tight ends along the way; who among us didn’t love Troy Sadowski, Randy McMichael, or Leonard Pope? We have, however, been harsh towards the guys split wide ever since the Classic City Canines got serious about this whole "forward pass" business.

Andre Hastings was overshadowed by Eric Zeier and Garrison Hearst. Michael Greer caught everything thrown his way until his career went up in smoke. Hason Graham, Brice Hunter, Juan Daniels, Fred Gibson, Reggie Brown, Bryan McClendon, Sean Bailey, and A.J. Bryant all tend to be remembered more for that portion of their potential which went unfulfilled than for the percentage that they realized.

While we revere Lindsay Scott for a third down catch against Florida, all we recall about all-time leading receiver Terrence Edwards is a third down drop against the Gators. Unless a fellow was a Hines Ward who did double duty under center when desperate times called for desperate measures or a Michael Johnson who made 70 X Takeoff this generation’s chair-breaking, property-destroying moment, we tend to think of him less fondly than we should, if we think of him at all.

So, after a fashion, it is with A.J. Green. When we watched him taken high in the first round of the NFL Draft, we had the same reaction we had when Matthew Stafford and Knowshon Moreno met with similar fates: we wished the fellow well, saluted him as a damn good ‘Dawg while pledging to root for the team for which he would suit up at the next level, but wondered wistfully why the glass of his collegiate career was half-empty.

This, I should hasten to add, was not A.J.’s fault. Green is in no way to blame for his loss of significant playing time to injury; indeed, Green cost himself time on the gridiron the same way Ken Griffey, Jr., cost himself time on the diamond: by giving his all on every play and engaging in seemingly effortless acrobatics without regarding the strictures of physics, sometimes to the detriment of his mortal form. Even the sale of a jersey to a nominal "agent" cannot fairly be charged against him by the Georgia faithful, for his mistake was one of naivete, and his undoing came about because he was honest with the NCAA, which subsequently rewarded dishonesty with a conference crown and a Sugar Bowl victory.

Nevertheless, we are left to wonder what was wrought by A.J. Green’s undergraduate career. Doug Gillett was right when he wrote (in the SB Nation Atlanta retrospective linked to above) that some of Green’s most memorable catches came in some of the Bulldogs’ most agonizing losses. Even there, though, Green is not responsible for his teammates’ last-second fumbles or officials’ erroneously-thrown flags.

Why, then, do we view the A.J. Green era as the three-year winter of our discontent? The mounting losses were not his fault; indeed, there would have been a lot more of them without him. What, then, is our reason for being disappointed by what we ought to revere, other than the ingrained negativity of a fan base in whose pantheon of heroes are enshrined Wally Butts, Vince Dooley, and Larry Munson?

I think it is because we saw his greatness coming from a mile away. When asked in September 2008 to name the Bulldogs who were ready to make an impact, I wrote:

Offensively, true freshman A.J. Green looks like what Georgia has not had truly or consistently since at least the days in which Eric Zeier was lining up under center instead of broadcasting from the booth . . . a game-breaking wide receiver. To be fair, the 6'4" South Carolinian has not yet entered the same territory that caused Larry Munson to exclaim of Herschel Walker, "My God, a freshman!" Nevertheless, Green led all Bulldog receivers with three catches for 61 yards against the Gamecocks and he trails only senior flanker Mohamed Massaquoi as the most prolific Georgia receiver this fall.

In his very next game, A.J. caught eight passes for 159 yards and a touchdown.

You know what, though? The disappointment of the last three seasons---a disappointment for which A.J. Green bears not one iota of the blame---ultimately will fade, and, in the fullness of time, we will remember that the bottom half of the glass was, in fact, full. There, too, Doug is correct: A.J. Green’s greatest hits will elicit boisterous cheers during Sanford Stadium scoreboard montages for generations to come, and that, in the end, will be his legacy. Rather than curse the darkness of the last three seasons, I will salute A.J. Green as the candle that provided the lone consistent bright spot during our long night’s journey into day, and I will not permit that light to be hidden beneath the bushel of the team’s failures on the field of play.

When you catch the game-winning pass against Auburn as a true freshman, you’re all right with me, kid. I will be rooting for A.J. Green at the next level, and I envy all the Cincinnati fans who will get the privilege of watching him do for their team team what I had the pleasure of watching him do for mine.

Go ‘Dawgs!

Coverage of the 2011 NFL Draft is ongoing at SB Nation's NFL Draft Hub and NFL Draft weblog, Mocking the Draft. You may participate in the discussion of the draft in our open comment thread.