Evan Silva

Offseason Low Down

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Bengals Fantasy Preview

Thursday, June 15, 2017


Bengals Offensive Profile Last Four Years

2013-2016 Pass Attempts Rank: 12th, 25th, 26th, 20th
2013-2016 Rush Attempts Rank: 8th, 5th, 7th, 9th
2013-2016 Play Volume Rank: 6th, 17th, 25th, 10th
2013-2016 Yards Per Play Rank: 13th, 12th, 7th, 18th
Unaccounted for Targets from 2016 (Rank): 39 (28th)
Unaccounted for Carries from 2016 (Rank): 76 (12th)

Projected Starting Lineup

QB: Andy Dalton
RB: Joe Mixon
WR: A.J. Green
WR: John Ross
WR: Tyler Boyd
TE: Tyler Eifert
LT: Cedric Ogbuehi
LG: Clint Boling
C: Russell Bodine
RG: Andre Smith
RT: Jake Fisher

Passing Game Outlook


Andy Dalton is a sum-of-his-parts quarterback, so his downturn in 2016 box-score production was not surprising after the Bengals allowed Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu to walk before A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, and Giovani Bernard combined for 20 missed games. Dalton’s 2017 weaponry has a chance to be the best of his career with Green (hamstring) fully healed, Eifert (back, ankle) all systems go for camp, and dynamic pass-catching threats John Ross and Joe Mixon added in the draft. Most importantly, Dalton is a prime positive-regression candidate after posting a career-low 3.2% touchdown rate in 2016, nearly two full percentage points lower than Dalton’s previous career TD rate. A top-seven fantasy passer in per-game scoring in two of the last four years and a top-12 finisher in three of the last five, Dalton is among my favorite late-round quarterback targets at his Average Draft Positions of QB16 (MFL10s) and QB17 (FF Calculator). Dalton’s biggest concern is a depleted offensive line which lost LT Andrew Whitworth and RG Kevin Zeitler in free agency and will count on in-house improvement from so-far disappointing 2015 draft picks Cedric Ogbuehi and Jake Fisher. When pressured last season, Dalton’s passer rating dipped from 91.8 to an abysmal 43.9, although he did post an impressive 92.9 under-pressure rating in 2015. The Bengals’ O-Line concerns have been well publicized and should keep Dalton’s ADP low all summer.

A.J. Green led the league in receiving yards and all wide receivers in fantasy scoring when he suffered a Grade 2 hamstring tear two plays into last Week 11. Green healed remarkably quickly and tried to return in a matter of weeks, but the Bengals were eliminated from the playoffs and held him out. He was fully cleared by February. In per-game scoring, Green has finished as a top-five PPR receiver three times in the past five seasons and has never ranked below WR14 in that span. Squarely in his prime approaching age 29, Green is my No. 4 fantasy receiver for 2017, behind Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham, and Julio Jones. Beginning with most recent, Green has ranked second, fourth, first, seventh, and seventh in PFF's predictive yards-per-route-run metric over the past half decade. I like Green’s floor-ceiling combination better than those of Mike Evans, T.Y. Hilton, Jordy Nelson, and Michael Thomas.

While rookie John Ross makes some sense in higher-variance best-ball formats, it is difficult to envision him carving out reliable re-draft value in a Bengals offense missing the NFL’s fifth-fewest targets (39) from 2016 and getting back several injured pass catchers. A 90% perimeter receiver who rarely manned the slot in college, Ross’ initial role should involve lid lifting and demanding coverage just as much, if not more than catching Dalton’s passes. As Ross is recovering from shoulder surgery and missed all of OTAs/minicamp due to the University of Washington’s late graduation, it’s not crazy to think he could open the season behind Brandon LaFell.

Whereas LaFell should eventually settle in as the Bengals’ top reserve at all three receiver spots, Tyler Boyd’s role is more defined (and limited) after he logged 89% of his rookie-year snaps in the slot. Boyd averaged 44.0 yards per game with Green out of the lineup late last season, but only 32.8 yards with Green healthy for the first nine weeks. It certainly doesn’t help that PFF’s Scott Barrett identified the Bengals with the NFL’s toughest 2017 schedule for slot receivers. While 22-year-old Boyd remains a hold in Dynasty leagues, his re-draft appeal is virtually nonexistent with neither an attractive floor nor ceiling.

 

Tyler Eifert enters his contract year having appeared in 22-of-48 games over the past three seasons. He missed 15 games in 2014 with a dislocated elbow, underwent shoulder surgery following that season, sat out three late-season games in 2015 with a back injury followed by a concussion, then damaged an ankle ligament in the freaking Pro Bowl and had late-May surgery, costing Eifert the first six games of 2016. While rehabbing the ankle, Eifert sustained a back injury. He played through it down the stretch, then sat out Weeks 16-17 and had the back surgically repaired in late December. (Deep breath.) Not yet 27 years old, Eifert has scored 18 touchdowns over his last 21 appearances, showing innate red-zone dominance with an ability to outleap defenders and high point in contested situations. If Eifert can stay healthy, he’s going to hit pay dirt a lot. Whether he can stay healthy remains to be seen. It is encouraging that Eifert was fully cleared from the aforementioned back surgery to start training camp. Eifert’s ADP remains very aggressive as the TE6 both in MFL10s and on FF Calculator. Kyle Rudolph (TE7), Delanie Walker (TE9), Martellus Bennett (TE10), and Jack Doyle (TE13) are all lower-risk bets with reasonably high TD ceilings.


Running Game Outlook

For my money, Joe Mixon was the most talented all-around running back prospect in the 2017 draft with the best chance at becoming a Le’Veon Bell or David Johnson-level NFL producer. A breathtakingly elusive runner and sensational receiver, Mixon averaged an otherworldly 13.8 yards per catch in two years at Oklahoma and logged Pro Day measurables superior to Ezekiel Elliott’s at nearly the exact same size. Considering his off-field history and notoriety associated with his background, the Bengals’ willingness to spend a top-50 pick on Mixon suggests they won’t wait to get him on the field. Giovani Bernard (ACL) was cleared for the start of camp after offseason whispers he might miss the first few games, however, and Jeremy Hill's continued presence on the roster threatens Mixon's goal-line role. Rotoworld SOS analyst Warren Sharp did identify the Bengals as having the NFL's eighth-softest schedule of opposing run defenses this year. Ultimately, drafting Mixon at his RB14/RB17 ADP is a high-upside but not-entirely-safe bet that Mixon's talent will decisively rise above Gio and Hill.

Giovani Bernard was the PPR RB24 in per-game scoring when he tore his ACL last Week 11. Bernard sat out all of spring practices, and Bengals.com writer Geoff Hobson suggested Gio could miss the “first couple of regular season games.” Gio beat those estimates, receiving full medical clearance to begin training camp. Still only a double-digit-round flier at this point, Gio does maintain PPR appeal in one of the NFL’s running back-friendliest offenses; Cincinnati has ranked top ten in both rushing attempts and red-zone carries in each of the past three years. The Bengals’ line woes seem likely to force OC Ken Zampese to install a high-percentage, quick-out offense featuring short passes, a scheme for which Gio’s scatback skills are ideally suited. Bernard also makes more sense as a rotational equal to 228-pound Mixon than one-dimensional, 233-pound Jeremy Hill.

A big back who could break long runs and hold his own in the passing game when given opportunities, Jeremy Hill looked every bit a future star in his 2014 rookie season. It’s been all downhill since, as Hill has struggled with confidence related at least partly to ball-security woes, and seemingly put on too much weight. He’s looked slow on the field the past two years, averaging 3.67 yards per carry with lowly ranks of 45th and 43rd among 52 and 53 qualified backs in PFF’s Elusive Rating. Barring a dramatic contract-year turnaround, Hill getting carries at Mixon’s expense would be ill advised on the Bengals’ part. As Hill is a back who has shown no real ability to create yards on his own, it is especially concerning for his outlook that Cincinnati lost its best two run-blocking linemen (Andrew Whitworth, Kevin Zeitler) in free agency.

2017 Vegas Win Total

The Bengals’ Win Total is 8.5 with a lean to the under (-130). Cincinnati has topped 8.5 wins in five of the past six seasons, while their 2016 Pythagorean Win Expectation (8.3-8.4) suggests Marvin Lewis’ club was one of the NFL’s biggest underachievers at 6-9-1. The Bengals’ schedule is middling or slightly better in terms of difficulty against the NFC North, AFC South, Broncos (away), and Bills (home). Flush with skill-position firepower, Cincinnati’s season will hinge greatly on the new-look offensive line and/or OC Ken Zampese’s ability to scheme around it and a defense that must generate more pass rush. I envision the Bengals as a 9-10 win team and like them as sort of contrarian over bet.



Evan Silva is a senior football editor for Rotoworld.com. He can be found on Twitter .
Email :Evan Silva



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