Fantasy Football 32: Cincinnati Bengals
Can the Cincinnati Bengals win a playoff game? Nope. Do fantasy owners care?
The Bengals have pieces– pieces to make the playoffs, pieces to maybe even make the Super Bowl, but more importantly, pieces that are relevant in fantasy football leagues. For 2014, however, the Bengals have some different faces on the sidelines. Former running back coach, Hue Jackson is now handling the offensive responsibilities, while Mike Zimmer is coaching the defense in Minnesota this year. Cincinnati has two offensive studs, but then the rest is kind of a mixed bag for fantasy purposes.
The average fantasy player probably isn’t aware that Andy Dalton was a top-five fantasy quarterback last year. The Red Rifle finished with more fantasy points than Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton and Andrew Luck, for instance. He finished 7th in the NFL in passing yards, while only Manning and Brees tossed more touchdowns than Dalton. In fact, through three seasons in the league, Dalton’s 80 touchdown passes rank third-most in the history of football through three campaigns. Dalton’s numbers obviously looked great at the end of the season, but he really benefited off exploiting positive matchups over the course of the season.
Using the RotoViz game splits app, I looked at how Dalton fared against top-10 pass defenses last year.
Dalton averaged less than 16 fantasy points per game against top-10 secondaries, and against the three defenses in his division, he scored just under 17 points per game. Meanwhile, against the bottom-10 pass defenses, Dalton averaged a much better 23.15 fantasy points per contest. But when Dalton had a good fantasy game, it was a big game. The fourth-year passer ranked fourth in fantasy points off of vertical passes (115), while ranking 3rd in points off stretch vertical passes (65). He took big shots down the field, as 14.7 percent of his passes traveled 20 yards or more, according to Pro Football Focus. That was good for the third-highest rate in football. That could change, however, with pass-oriented coordinator Jay Gruden in Washington and run-oriented Jackson now calling the shots.
The only one that loves Giovani Bernard more than you is Hue Jackson.
That’s a good thing.
Bernard was one of the most exciting backs to watch during his rookie campaign last year, ultimately finishing with 700 rushing yards and five scores, while hauling in 56 balls for 514 yards and three more scores. He was elusive, explosive and versatile– or in other words, the exact opposite of plodding BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who frustrated Gio owners with his 220 carries and seven scores. Instead of doing the right thing and cutting The Law Firm, Green-Ellis is still in Cincinnati, along with rookie Jeremy Hill, who could very well vulture some touchdowns away from Bernard. Still, Jackson stated that Gio will get “a lot of carries” this year, and if he continues to run the football like he has during his career, Bernard should see significant volume.
Gio should be a very exciting RB2 for fantasy owners this year, with the obvious potential and upside to finish the season as a high-end RB1. Of course, I’d look to handcuff him with Hill, who will likely take the BJGE role from last year. That alone will make Hill fantasy relevant, as last year, Green-Ellis received 30 red zone carries, as well as 19 totes from inside the 10-yard line. Hill isn’t a plodder, either, possessing some deceptive quickness to his game.
I still believe that outside of Megatron, A.J. Green is the best wide receiver in football.
He’s the best vertical one, at the least.
Last year, Green averaged almost six fantasy points per game– off vertical passes alone. That number led all receivers in the NFL, while his eight touchdowns on such passes also led the league. He also caught 18 balls of 20 yards or more, good for a top-20 rank among wide receivers. Meanwhile, I noted that Dalton attempted passes of at least 20 yards more often than all but two other passers, so the deep looks should continue, even if Jackson decides to run the football a bit more. And, according to PFF, Green’s 112 targets over 20 yards or more since 2011 are the third-most in the league. Even with the up-and-down Dalton under center, Green is still a surefire top-five fantasy wideout.
Let’s talk about regression. Last year, almost 20 percent of Marvin Jones’ receptions went for touchdowns. He found the end zone 10 times, including that memorable eight-catch, 122-yard, four-touchdown game back in Week 8. But Jones did some unheard of things, such as catch 13 of 15 red zone targets (85 percent), while hauling in eight of nine targets from inside the 10-yard line (89%). I still think Jones is a good player with talent, but it would be foolish to count on his touchdown production from last year.
This is interesting because the Bengals have two guys they like. Jermaine Gresham has athleticism and upside as a pass-catcher, but he is a putrid blocker, being called for nine penalties last year. Meanwhile, sophomore tight end Tyler Eifert isn’t a terrific blocker either, but offers more upside than Gresham, and is probably a better all-around player. Many loved Eifert coming into the season, only to be upset when they saw Gresham finish the year running 380 passing routes, compared to the rookie’s 303. Both saw under 70 targets, and both caught under 50 balls. Perhaps this will continue to be a committee approach, and I’m not willing to gamble on either when there are a handful of better options. But if I’m picking one, it’s easily Eifert.