32 Questions in 32 Days: Cincinnati Bengals

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Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green

Dec 23, 2012; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green (18) runs the ball past Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu (43) during the second half of the game at Heinz Field. The Bengals won the game, 13-10. Jason Bridge-USA TODAY Sports

As we count down to the NFL season, XN Sports will be bringing you 32 questions in 32 days. Each day, we’ll feature one of the most important questions for a different NFL team heading into the opening weekend of the league.

Today’s feature team and question?

The Cincinnati Bengals – Can Bengals find a quality secondary receiver?

In Andy Dalton, the Cincinnati Bengals hope to have the franchise quarterback the team has needed since Carson Palmer strong-armed his way out of the City. Dalton isn’t yet a star, but has looked good so far in two seasons. He finished up a surprising rookie year with a solid sophomore campaign in 2012. Instead of taking a step back, Dalton got better last season. He threw for 3,669 yards, topping the 3,398 he had as a rookie. His 62 percent completion percentage was a significant improvement over the 58 percent he had the year before and while he threw a few more interceptions in 2012, his quarterback rating rose dramatically (80.4 in 2011 and 87.4 in 2012). Dalton also found the end zone much more often in 2013 with 31 touchdowns as opposed to the 21 he had in his first year.

Dalton’s success has largely come from fellow 2011 draft pick, wide receiver A.J. Green. Green has topped 1,000 yards in each of his first two seasons. His 1,350 placed him among the league leaders last year and the whopping 164 times he was targeted were also one of largest totals among NFL receivers, ranking fifth overall.

Part of the problem with all of those targets, though, was that they were a result of Dalton having few other serviceable options. Tight end Jermaine Greshman was Dalton’s next favorite target and he was second in receptions (64) and yardage (737). Those numbers are fine, but Cincinnati would surely have liked a second receiver next to Green. The top secondary wideout was 5-foot-7-inch undrafted rookie Andrew Hawkins. Hawkins, who contributed and with 51 grabs for 533 yards, certainly has exceeded expectations. Still, he’s likely not a true No. 2 wide receiver and with an ankle injury, could open the season on injured reserve, anyway.

With him on the sidelines, where can the Bengals turn for a secondary receiver?

Second-year wide receiver Mohamed Sanu will be given the chance and is likely the receiver that will start opposite Green when the season begins. He played only sparingly last year as a rookie with 16 catches for 154 yards, but with Hawkins’ injury, he’ll get his shot to prove what he can do this season. Sanu isn’t a speed burner as his meager 9.6 yards per catch will prove, but he does have reliable hands.

Sanu’s sample size was microscopic in 2012 and the jury is still out on him. One impressive thing, though, were the rookie’s four touchdown grabs. With 25 percent of his catches going for scores, Sanu had Cris Carter syndrome last year finding the end zone with great frequency for as little as he actually played. In only his second season, I’m not sure Sanu will be the secondary receiver that the Bengals sorely need. He has average size and speed and has much to prove next year. The fact is, though, that there just aren’t many other options.

There’s Brandon Tate, who had a solid rookie season in New England in 2010 with 24 catches for 432 yards. However, he did little to impress coaches last season, hauling in only 13 catches for 211 yards and a touchdown. Cincinnati can also turn to 2012 rookie Marvin Jones, a fifth-round pick. Jones actually was a bit more productive than Sanu with 32 catches for 201 yards last season, but while he’ll get playing time, is believed to be behind Sanu on the depth chart for 2013.

The job is Sanu’s to lose – the only question is what he can do with it.

Anson Whaley is a freelance writer with more than 16 years of experience. He is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh and a current member of the Football Writers Association of America (FWAA) and the U.S. Basketball Writers Association (USBWA). Mr. Whaley has also been a credentialed member of the media for various events.
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