2020 NFL Draft
April 23, 2020

No matter who the Cincinnati Bengals draft, it won't be as crazy as the time they selected a guy in prison

Alex Karras - Detroit Lions - File Photos

George Gelatly

It's all but done and dusted. Come 8:10ish ET on Thursday night, 2019 Heisman Trophy winner, National Champion and southeast Ohio native Joe Burrow is going to be a Cincinnati Bengal. There were quibbles about hand size. According to Adam Schefter, the Miami Dolphins put on the full-court press for the number-one overall spot. But the Bengals stood pat, and barring one of the most shocking about-faces in NFL history, are poised to do the very un-Bengals thing and take the sure thing.

Of course, this is the NFL we're talking about. There's no such thing as a sure thing. Just ask the Bengals fan in your life about Akili Smith and watch the light drain from their eyes. But no matter who the Bengals pick on Thursday night, one thing is certain: It won't be nearly as risky as Jess Phillips Jr., a former Michigan State defensive back who was IN ACTUAL PRISON when the Bengals selected him in the fourth round of the 1968 NFL Draft. This is that story.

Not only was Phillips in prison, he was also facing up 14 years behind bars for forging a check. This probably tells you as much about racism and the failure of the justice system in 1960s Michigan as it does anything, but still, there's no denying that Jess Phillips was the riskiest draft pick in NFL history full stop. Sorry, Laremy Tunsil. You and that gas mask gave it your all.

Surprisingly for the then-expansion Bengals, however, the leap of faith paid off. Phillips was paroled in time for training camp, and went on to record three interceptions during his rookie season. For his sophomore campaign, Phillips switched to halfback and didn't look back, tallying 1,860 rushing yards over the next four seasons, including a First-Team All-AFC selection in 1970. In the immortal (and controversial) words of Gus Johnson, Phillips had GETTING AWAY FROM THE COPS SPEED.

So if you're a Cincinnati Bengals fan, and you're reading this, take heart in the fact your team didn't always get it wrong. With a little luck and a lot of faith, maybe, just maybe, those days are back.