Bengals Year in Review
2014 Pass Attempts Rank: 25th (503)
2014 Rush Attempts Rank: 5th (492)
2014 Total Offensive Plays Rank: 17th (1,018)
2014 Yards Per Play Rank: 12th (5.5)
Projected Starting Lineup
Passing Game Outlook
Andy Dalton is a running joke in most football circles. He’s flopped continuously on the big stage and lacks the physical tools to be more than a game-managing distributor. Dalton is just one year removed from a top-five fantasy QB1 season, however, and is the kind of passer that must be elevated by his teammates. Dalton’s teammates during his 19-TD, 17-INT 2014 season dropped like flies, as pass-catching mavens A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert, and Giovani Bernard combined to miss 37 games. In hindsight, it should surprise no one that Dalton turned in arguably his worst NFL campaign. The Bengals’ offense was stuck for long stretches leaning on Jeremy Hill to carry them with sub-package receiver Mohamed Sanu playing a lead-dog role. Dalton now enters year two of OC Hue Jackson‘s system with a full complement of healthy weapons and arguably the NFL’s deepest O-Line after Cincinnati used first- and second-round picks on offensive tackles. I wouldn’t bet on Dalton refinding his 33-touchdown form, but do believe he’ll be a strong QB1 streamer against sub-par defenses and really like him as a QB2 best-ball pick. After injuries forced him to run a decidedly ball-control offense last year, Hue now has the personnel to dial up a more multi-dimensional approach.
Despite a debilitating toe injury that cost him three games and inhibited him in many others, A.J. Green finished 2014 with a 69-1,041-6 receiving line and as a top-24 fantasy wideout. He was top 13 in fantasy points per game. Green was a top-four fantasy receiver in each of the previous two seasons. There are more mouths to feed in Cincinnati this year, but pass attempts are very likely to rise and Green is the clear-cut No. 1 option in the passing game. Most importantly, Green is healthy now and primed for a big contract year at age 27. I’m not sold that we’ve seen the best of Green, and wouldn’t be surprised if he peaks this season. Recency bias has pushed Green’s ADP toward the end of round two, where he is a value pick. I’ve also seen people selling low on Green in Dynasty leagues. Capitalize wherever you can.
A recurring ankle injury cost Marvin Jones the entire 2014 season. Now healthy, let’s recall what Jones did as a 23-year-old second-year pro in 2013. A Donald Driverian talent, Jones showed legitimate playmaking ability as a part-time player, recording a 51-712-10 line en route to a top-24 fantasy receiver finish despite ranking 55th in targets. While Jones did score four of his ten TDs in one game (Week 4 vs. NYJ), six touchdowns in the other 15 games is pretty good, and it’s important to remember that Jones was utilized as a rotational receiver, playing only 50 percent of the Bengals’ offensive snaps. It’s also important to remember that Jones’ snap rate spiked to 78 percent in Cincinnati’s playoff loss to San Diego, where Jones went off for an 8-130 number on 12 targets. That is the last game in which Jones has played. He returns as a role player in a balanced offense, but there’s every reason to believe Jones can be a factor in 2015, even if his week-to-week impact doesn’t quite lend itself to consistent WR3 reliability.
Injuries forced far more onto Mohamed Sanu‘s plate last season than the Bengals would have liked. He piled up a career-high 99 targets — only 17 fewer than Green — and proceeded to lead the NFL in drops (14) while ranking 83rd in PFF’s catch-rate metric. Sanu has decent size (6’2/211) and run-after-catch ability, but runs a 4.67 forty, struggles mightily to deal with man coverage, and is best suited for slot-only receiving duties. The healthy returns of Green, Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert, and Giovani Bernard should lock Sanu into a bit role for 2015.
The 21st pick in the 2013 draft, Tyler Eifert looked to be a huge part of Hue Jackson‘s Week 1 game plan last season, securing three first-quarter targets for 37 yards before exiting with a year-ending elbow dislocation. That occurred in a diminutive sample size, but is still worth consideration. As is Eifert’s lofty NFL draft position and opportunity with Jermaine Gresham gone from Cincinnati. Eifert should participate on 70-plus percent of the Bengals’ 2015 offensive snaps. I still think the likeliest scenario is a supporting-cast role where Eifert essentially shares the back seat with Marvin Jones and Giovani Bernard behind offensive catalysts Jeremy Hill and A.J. Green. Eifert is set up for some big fantasy weeks, but he will struggle to be more than a touchdown-dependent weekly dart throw, which is the case for many tight ends beyond the Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Travis Kelce, Greg Olsen, and Martellus Bennett range.
Running Game Outlook
Jeremy Hill would’ve warranted serious 2014 Rookie of the Year consideration if it weren’t for this guy named Odell Beckham. Carrying the injury-riddled Bengals offense for much of last season, Hill led the NFL in rushing yards (929) and yards per carry (5.40) in the final nine games, demonstrating violent tackle-breaking and big-play ability at an imposing 6-foot-1 and 233 pounds. A cross between Larry Johnson and Shaun Alexander as a runner, Hill also secured 27-of-31 pass targets while earning a top-seven grade among 57 qualified backs in Pro Football Focus’ pass-blocking metrics. Hill is every bit a three-down back from a tools standpoint, equipped with a strong line in an underrated offense. I think Hill is a sneaky bet to lead all running backs in touchdowns this season. The lone concern is the Bengals’ use of scatback Giovani Bernard as a passing-down specialist, which would cut into Hill’s PPR value and might result in some rough weeks when the Bengals fall behind on the scoreboard early. Even so, I’m hammering Hill all day long at his 2.05 overall Average Draft Position.
Despite last year’s second-round selection of Hill by the Bengals, Giovani Bernard‘s preseason ADP rose as high as 16th overall as the head-scratching hype train became overcrowded. Gio opened the year as a viable fantasy producer on the strength of goal-line scores and volume, but struggled to move the chains between the tackles and eventually broke down physically, allowing Hill to take over for good. Bernard failed to crack 3.5 yards per carry in all but two of his first eight games last season. Bernard, in fact, has failed to clear 4.0 YPC in 13 of his last 18 games dating back to 2013, averaging an anemic 3.63 YPC over that stretch. Gio has a place in the NFL, but it’s as a passing-down role player. He’s really just a flex play in PPR leagues.
Vegas Win Total
If you can’t already tell, I’m high on the Bengals this year and would bang the over on their 8.5-game Win Total. Both coordinators (Hue Jackson, Paul Guenther) are entering their second years on the job, and I expect improvement on both sides of the ball, where major personnel improvements have been made across the board, even if they simply stem from getting injured players back. One big worry I always have with betting overs on win totals is if the quarterback gets hurt. I think the Bengals are one of a very small handful of NFL teams that could withstand a quarterback loss, still play competitive week-to-week football, and perhaps eke out nine wins because of the strength of the rest of their roster. The Bengals’ power rushing attack is capable of controlling games. Additionally, 12 opponents on the Bengals’ schedule have win totals of 8.5 or fewer. If you like to bet, take the over on Cincy.
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