2014 Fantasy Football Outlook: Cincinnati Bengals

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Gio Bernard

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The Bengals were a mixed bag of fantasy action in 2013, providing owners with a lot of uneven production outside of A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard. For 2014, they have a brand new set of coordinators as Mike Zimmer and Jay Gruden have moved on to head coaching jobs in the NFC. Paul Guenther takes over on the defensive side, while Hue Jackson will assume play calling responsibilities this season.

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Bengals 2014 Schedule

Week   Opp
1 @ Baltimore Ravens
2 Atlanta Falcons
3 Tennessee Titans
4 Bye Week
5 @ New England Patriots
6 Carolina Panthers
7 @ Indianapolis Colts
8 Baltimore Ravens
9 Jacksonville Jaguars
10 Cleveland Browns
11 @ New Orleans Saints
12 @ Houston Texans
13 @ Tampa Bay Buccaneers
14 Pittsburgh Steelers
15 @ Cleveland Browns
16 Denver Broncos
17 @ Pittsburgh Steelers

 

The Bengals schedule is a mixed bag. Six of their opening nine games are at home, which could help them get off to a fast start before finishing up five of their final seven on the road. Their playoff schedule doesn’t look poor on paper, but those intradivision AFC North games are rarely favorable for fantasy fruit. Those drafting Bengals skills players could be in for quite the tale of two seasons.

Back to coordinator changes, because we really care about how the perceived run heavy Hue Jackson is going to change what we believe was a pass happy group. Looking at Jackson’s and Jay Gruden’s career play calling splits may say something quite the contrary however.

Year
OC
TM
Pass
%
Run
%
Play/Gm
2013GrudenCIN61656.2%48143.8%68.6
2012GrudenCIN58757.7%43042.3%63.6
2011GrudenCIN56055.2%45544.8%63.4
AVGGrudenALL587.756.3%455.343.7%65.2
2011JacksonOAK54954.1%46645.9%63.4
2010JacksonOAK53551.5%50448.5%64.9
2007JacksonATL60261.0%38539.0%61.7
2003JacksonWAS57057.5%42142.5%61.9
AVGJacksonALL56456.0%44444.0%63

In terms of overall splits, both coaches are identical. Gruden only has a slight edge in overall offensive plays, but mostly because the Bengals jumped into the top ten a season ago in snaps after finishing 23rd and 22nd in his first two seasons there. The raw splits don’t tell the entire story either, because Jackson has been associated with some bad teams overall, while the Bengals have won 30 games over the past three seasons. Jackson has yet to be associated with an offense that has had a winning record in his career. Even if you want to run the football, you can’t do it if you’re constantly trailing on the scoreboard. Here is the coach play calling splits per game situation for further clarity.

Jackson

Gruden

Pass %

Run Score Pass % Run
46.4% 53.6% Lead 50.8%

49.2%

53.4%

46.6% Tied 56.3% 43.7%
63.8% 36.2% Trail 64.2%

35.8%

 

In neutral situations, like the Bengals could very find themselves in the earlier portion of their schedule, Jackson really shows his hand in wanting to hold on tightly to pounding the ball on the ground. Anticipation is that the Bengals fall closer to the bottom third in the league in snaps this season, closer to the earlier portion of Gruden’s tenure and Jackson’s comfort zone.

Less of Dalton Is Better?

There are two ends of the spectrum for Dalton’s play and the same two ends for how he is perceived as a real life quarterback. The truth is in the middle of course, because Dalton does do a lot of good things. Dalton was tenth overall in adjusted yards per aimed attempt (AY/AA) and tenth in fantasy points per aimed throw in 2013. That was strictly on passing stats alone, but Dalton is also a solid runner for a quarterback that isn’t perceived as such. Last season he added another 30.3 fantasy points on the ground, which ranked as the 14th highest in the league. Those totals only accounted for 10.5 percent of season total which was the 28th highest reliance on rushing output for fantasy points. In other words, he was providing a tidy bonus on the ground without it affecting his passing output.

Shawn Siegele recently wrote a piece on why Dalton is in fact a franchise quarterback, while Max Mulitz has pointed out how effective Dalton is in the pocket. Through three NFL seasons, Dalton’s 80 touchdown passes rank as the third highest in NFL history after only Dan Marino (98) and Peyton Manning (85). Of course, Bengals fans have seen this story already, because Carson Palmer is fourth on the list at 78 touchdown passes to begin his career.

The other side of the coin is that Dalton’s peripherals are extremely misleading. He finished 2013 as the fifth highest scoring quarterback despite only having six top 12 weeks and being tied for the highest dud percentage of starts out of every top QB in the top 12. While his yards per attempt and touchdown percentage have risen every season, so has his interception rate. Dalton already has 14 regular season games with two or more interceptions to start his career.

He’s also been wishy-washy when facing high end defenses, which has kept him in the streaming pile of fantasy options despite his overall totals. Not only high end defenses, but in division play as well. Using the Games Splits App available at RotoViz, here is how Dalton has fared when facing rivals in the AFC North, two of which he’ll see in the fantasy playoffs.

daltondiv

For me, this is exactly what I want in fantasy when I’m setting out to build a stable of streamers. If his ADP remains in the QB14-18 range, I’ll roster him in a plethora of places. I want a QB that I can somewhat accurately forecast as a late round option, knowing when I can plug and play him and when to turn elsewhere. He’s half the price as Cam Newton, but easier to project weekly and comes attached to an overall better team.

A.J., too many Greenbacks for my Blood

There seems to be a groundswell this summer that A.J. Green is overrated. I’m in partial agreement here as long as we’re talking strictly about his fantasy equity, but this is still one of the most consistent receivers since entering the league despite the up and down nature of his starting quarterback. In a season where Dalton posted only six top 12 weeks, Green had 10 top 24 WR ones (nine were WR16 or higher), second most in the league behind Antonio Brown, with six inside the top 12.

In NFL history, there have been 21 receiving seasons in which a receiver had 90 or more receptions in their first three seasons. Only four have ever done it in multiple seasons.

Player 
Year
Tm
G
Rec
Yds
TD
A.J. Green2013CIN1698142611
A.J. Green2012CIN1697135011
Anquan Boldin2005ARI1410214027
Anquan Boldin2003ARI1610113778
Brandon Marshall2007DEN1610213257
Brandon Marshall2008DEN1510412656
Lionel Taylor1960DEN1292123512
Lionel Taylor1961DEN1410011764

That’s a pretty relevant fantasy list in terms of how those players careers turned out. In terms of stacking on high volume reception games, Green also makes the list on most games with eight or more receptions in their first three seasons.

Most Games With 8+ Receptions In Years 1-3

Player

Tm

Count

Anquan Boldin

ARI 17
Lionel Taylor DEN

12

Isaac Bruce

STL 11
Marques Colston NOR

11

LaDainian Tomlinson

SDG 11
A.J. Green CIN

9

 

Green has improved every year in fantasy production, but his volume has also gone through the roof as that time has eclipsed. If we’re anticipating lesser volume, it surely has to have an effect on him. The catch is that Hue Jackson has been associated with bringing out some of the best play in receivers, something that is largely overlooked.

Year
ATT
WR1TGT
TGT %
Player
Rec
Yds
TD
201152411521.9%D. Heyward-Bey649754
20104917815.9%Louis Murphy416092
200755513724.7%Roddy White8312026
200352715830.0%Laveranues Coles8212046

What if I told you that Hue Jackson was involved in the breakout season for Roddy White and the one usable fantasy season we ever got out of Darrius Heyward-Bey? There’s a clear correlation with speed receivers being used vertically, and Green has been utilized downfield nearly as much as any other receiver since entering the league.

Targets Over 20 Yards Downfield Since 2011

Player

TGTs >20 yds

Torrey Smith

121
Calvin Johnson

117

A.J. Green

112
Vincent Jackson

111

*Target Data Provided from Pro Football Focus

Do I like Green more than Dez Bryant, Demaryius Thomas, Brandon Marshall or Jordy Nelson? No, I don’t. He stands to lose some of the tremendous volume he’s had and has a poor history of performing in divisional games. But if you’re selecting Green in the first or early second round, he won’t be the reason outside of injury that you lose anything when the fantasy dust settles.

Marvin Jones will enter this season with a good hold on the second receiver spot. The sophomore receiver had quite the interesting 2013, playing only 60 percent of the offensive snaps in three games. Oddly enough, only one of his four top 24 fantasy weeks came during those weeks because he was the best receiver in the league last season in the red zone.

The volume decline really stifles a major outbreak for Jones, as there will be more of riding hot and cold spurts this season. He’s still rather solidly priced in the WR4-5 area, so there’s room to buy in hopes of hitting on a larger ceiling if his production evens out his touchdown regression. With Jones suffering a broken foot and expected to miss at least the first three regular season games, you can avoid drafting him unless you have deep benches. Keep your finger on the pulse for his return and early involvement in the offense upon his return.

The Bengals figure to be a very heavy 12 and 22 personnel team this season, so the other receivers are largely avoidable, even with injury. Mohamed Sanu, who was selected 83 spots ahead of Jones in 2012 has never figured it out. If he was overcome by Dane Sanzenbacher or Alex Neutz at some point, no one would bat an eye.

With Cincy expected to use more dual tight end sets, expect Tyler Eifert to surpass Jermaine Gresham in usage in the passing game. Eifert was the worst tight end in terms of being an effective target for his team a season ago, but rookie tight ends rarely do anything significant. In his first year, he was used on par with Gresham.

Player
Routes
% Pass Play
Tgt
Rt/Tgt
Rec
Rt/Rec
Yds
TD
Jermaine Gresham38050.5685.6468.34614
Tyler Eifert30345.3605.1397.84452

Both are terrible blockers, so Gresham doesn’t gain an advantage in earning snaps. Gruden struggled to ever incorporate the tight end heavily into the pass game, so his departure could be a plus. Jackson doesn’t haven’t glowing history of doing so either, leaving both tight ends as streaming options unless Eifert really dispatches Gresham, who is in his contract year this summer. Eifert looks like a prime addition late in drafts as a sophomore who could hold more equity than initially realized and benefits a great deal from Jones’ immediate absence.

Two Headed Backfield

The Bengals used a second round draft pick to make Jeremy Hill the second back selected in the draft this season. It’s only OTA’s, so it’s terribly shocking to see Hill get getting second team reps this early in the process. The Bengals know what they have with Green-Ellis.

Green-Ellis will be turning 29 years old and hasn’t surpassed four yards per carry since 2010. Bringing in a new young banger, who actually has some pass catching ability, can go a long way in recreated the versatile backfield that Jackson had with Michael Bush and Darren McFadden. With the high selection used on Hill, and the fact that the Bengals could immediately save $2.5M if they release The Law Firm, it shouldn’t take long for Hill to pass him for snaps.

That would immediately make Hill a target for those forgoing early running backs. Giovani Bernard isn’t suited for 300 touches and was ineffective near the goal line last season, converting only three of eight carries inside the five yard line while Green Ellis scored on seven of 13. He would also be the Marion Barber closer that the Bengals could be looking for, as Green-Ellis was fourth in the NFL last season with 50 carries (22.7 percent of his total attempts) coming while ahead in the fourth quarter.

Hill being good will only help Bernard carry over last season’s performance, since he was used brilliantly as a rookie. Bernard was 11th in the league in non touchdown points per touch a season ago, totaling 1,209 yards from scrimmage and eight total scores. He averaged only nine carries per game through the first nine games, before averaged 12.7 over the final seven weeks with double digit attempts in every game.

They also plan to use him more in the passing game, which isn’t a surprise. 56.3 percent of his fantasy output in PPR leagues came through the passing game, as he sported a robust FPPRR score. Catching passes effects running backs far more than receivers in reception based scoring, making Bernard a strong candidate to carry over his weekly consistency into his second season.

 

2014 Fantasy Relevant Projections

Passing

Player Att Comp % Yards TD INT FF PTs
Andy Dalton 507.4 318.8 62.7% 3685.1 26.9 15.2 224.5

 

Rushing

Player Att Yds YPC TD FF PTs
Gio Bernard 197.4 848.8 4.3 5.9 118.4
Jeremy Hill 202.3 809.3 4.0 6.1 115.3
Andy Dalton 54.3 173.7 3.2 1.9 21.2
BenJarvus Green-Ellis 24.7 96.2 3.9 0.7 13.8

 

Receiving

Player Tgt Rec Yds TD PTS PPR PTS
A.J. Green 146.5 83.5 1185.5 10.0 178.7 262.2
Marvin Jones 78.5 47.1 635.6 4.7 91.8 138.9
Mohameh Sanu 54.9 33.5 328.4 2.3 46.9 80.4
Jermaine Gresham 47.1 31.1 316.9 2.8 48.5 79.5
Tyler Eifert 75.9 50.8 594.6 3.8 82.3 133.1
Gio Bernard 70.6 53.0 471.4 2.6 63.0 116.0
Jeremy Hill 13.1 8.5 50.2 0.3 6.5 15.0

 

Best Option to Crash through their projection without injury: Jones – He is more effective in the red zone than believed since his performance in that area of the field is fluffed off from being ludicrous a season ago. With a bigger slice of the target pie, has WR2 upside when he returns.

Biggest Risk to fall through their projection: Both Backs – Not hedging my bets here, but this dual backfield could become completely game script dependent at some point, which could be a weekly headache. Bernard would be safer in that regard, but in lopsided affairs in either direction, both stand to lose ground.

Best Waiver Wire Option: Eifert – He could really become the defacto WR3 or even the WR2 if he blossoms in year two. He’s the prototypical purchase with intent to stream that has the upside to become a weekly starter

Rich Hribar is a husband, father, sports meteorologist and a slave to statistics. A lifelong sports fan and fantasy gamer.