|By Shawn Childs, Monday, May 15, 2017|
After making the playoffs in five straight seasons leading to losses in the Wild Card game, the Bengals missed the playoffs last year. Their failure was tied to scoring 94 fewer points than 2015 (419), but they actually improved in offensive yards gained (13th, 15th – 2015, and 15th – 2014). Marvin Lewis returns for his 15th season as head coach. He has a 118-103-3 record with seven playoff appearances, which all resulted in a loss. Ken Zampese will take over as offensive coordinator after working as the quarterback's coach for the Bengals for the previous 13 seasons. He has 18 seasons of NFL experience. His best success came with the Rams when he worked with Kurt Warner, Marshall Faulk, Isaac Bruce, and Tory Holt. St. Louis scored over 500 points in each season that he worked with the team. The defense slipped to 17th in yards allowed and 8th in points allowed (315). It was a drop off in both areas after finishing 2nd in points allowed (279) in 2015. Paul Guenther will run the defense for the fourth straight year after working in Cincinnati's system for the previous nine seasons. The challenge for the Bengals is winning in the playoffs.
The Bengals allowed two longtime successful players (LB Karlos Dansby and T Andrew Whitworth) leave the team. Each player was at least 35 years old and aging past their respective primes. However, both still found homes in other cities in the NFL. Backup RB Rex Burkhead signed with the Patriots. DE Margus Hunt moved on to the Colts after being a rotational player for the first time in 2016 since being a 2013 second round draft pick.
The best addition in the offseason was LB Kevin Minter who played well in 2016 for the Cardinals. The Bengals signed him to a one-year deal for $4 million. T Andre Smith was brought to Cincinnati to add depth on the offensive line. The Bengals traded for DE Chris Smith, who saw minimal playing time over the last three seasons with the Jaguars after they drafted him in the 5th round in 2014.
The Bengals had 11 picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, with eight of those players coming after round 3. Upgrading the offense was their priority as Cincinnati selected three offensive skill players within their first five picks.
In the first round, the Bengals selected the speedy wide receiver John Ross. His excitement came from running a 4.22-second 40-yard dash at the 2017 NFL combine. His ability to beat a defender deep creates big windows for short completions when he breaks off his route early. Ross needs to improve as a route runner over the short areas of the field plus prove he can beat physical defenders at the line of scrimmage. Some of his growth will come from slowing down his route running to create almost like a changeup feel where his next gear out of a break delivers the winning blow for a big play. Ross comes with some injury risk because of knee issues in the past.
RB Joe Mixon was added in the second round. He has high upside, but an off the field incident in 2014 led to him being off many NFL teams draft boards. Mixon has the talent to be a three-down back and looks to be NFL ready in pass protection. He'll run with power and elusiveness while grading as a plus pass catcher and route runner. His biggest area of improvement is attacking the line when a play offers minimal gain. Mixon needs to improve his vision on openings in cut back runs. In a way, he needs to find the balance between a bunt single and long home run.
With their next two picks in the third and fourth rounds, the Bengals doubled down at the linebacker position with Jordan Willis and Carl Lawson. Willis delivered high marks in multiple categories in the 2017 NFL Combine. He has an attacking style with plus value when asked to change direction. He can create his own space from blockers with strong hands. His next step in improvement will come in variations of his pass rush while reading runners cutting back against him. Lawson has an interesting combination of strength and short area quickness. Carl will only have value attacking the line of scrimmage with a limited range outside the box. He believes in his strength too much, which leads to easy blocks for well coached offensive lineman.
WR Josh Malone was Cinci's second pick in the fourth round. He's another WR with plus speed (4.40 in the 40-yard dash in the 2017 NFL Combine). After being a top receiving talent out of college, Malone turned in a mediocre career over three seasons at Tennessee (104/1608/14), but he did show growth in his junior year in 2016 (50/972/11).
The next swing in the fourth round came with the pick of DT Ryan Glasgow. He's a pure run clogger who fights to maintain his ground. Glasgow lacks impact value as pass rusher, meaning he may just be an early-down rotational player in the NFL.
With so many late picks, Cincinnati tried to improve their kicking game with K Jake Elliott. He made all 202 of his extra point tries in college, but the NFL will be a much tougher challenge due to more length on these types of picks. His accuracy on field goals (77.9) isn't great so Jake will have work to do over the summer to earn the kicking job for the Bengals.
C J.J. Dielman has three years of experience at right tackle before moving to center in 2016. J.J. has quickness and short area speed to help him block outside his window, but his lack of strength and power will limit his ability to start in the NFL early in his career. Dielman gets more in the way than blowing open space. His technique needs to be addressed if he's going to earn a starting center job.
With two picks in the sixth round, the Bengals selected LB Jordan Evans and RB Brandon Wilson. Evans looks the part to be an every down linebacker in the NFL, but he relies too much on open space to make his plays rather than firing into the heat of the battle in tight quarters. Jordan has the best chance to add value in pass coverage early in his career with enough speed to cover the whole field on early downs against the run. Wilson has experience at cornerback and running back in college. His path to early playing time would make more sense in the secondary, but he may lack the instincts to make an immediate impact. There is no doubt about his speed (4.36 in the 40-yard dash) and his athletic ability. It's just defining his best role on an NFL roster to take advantage of his upside. My sense is that he ends up at safety. At the very least, Brandon will upgrade Cincinnati's return game.
TE Mason Schreck was the Bengals last pick in the seventh round. His game offers more as a receiver than a blocker at this point of his career. He shows some value as a blocker but needs to get stronger. As a receiver, he needs to improve his route running.
Cincinnati finished 13th in rushing yards (1769) in 2016 with 17 rushing TDs. They averaged only 4.0 yards per rush, delivering only six runs over 20 yards. The Bengals had 38 runs over 10 yards and 36 negative rushes.
Their offensive line allowed 41 sacks and 70 QB hits. Cinci ended up 15th in passing yards (3942) with only 18 passing touchdowns and eight interceptions. They did gain 7.5 yards per pass attempt.
LT Cedric Ogbuehi will replace Andrew Whitworth at left tackle in 2017. Ogbuehi struggled over two seasons in the NFL after the Bengals selected him 21st overall in 2015. Cedric has a lot to prove this year.
LG Clint Boling has been a five-year starter in the NFL after Cincinnati added him in the fourth round in 2011. His game is about league average, but a weaker left tackle may put him at more risk as well. Boling missed the last two games of 2016 due to a left shoulder injury that required surgery in January. He is at his best as a run blocker.
C Russell Bodine was much improved in 2016 after struggling in both run and pass blocking the previous season. He started all 16 games last year while finishing just above league average at his position. He's played in 48 games since being drafted in the fourth round in 2014.
RG Andre Smith started the first three games for the Vikings in 2016 before suffering a triceps injury, which was similar injury to the injury he had in 2014 with the Bengals. Cincinnati drafted him in the first round in 2009, but health continues to be his shortfall over the last three seasons.
RT Jake Fisher was a liability again in 2016. The Bengals drafted him in the second round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Fisher has solid speed and quickness for his position with his best value being as a zone blocker in the run game. His lack of strength and technique leads to him gripping oncoming pass rushers resulting in too many holding penalties. Fisher needs to add more bulk.
This line has much more risk than 2016 with the loss of Whitworth. I like the offensive talent on this roster, but I anticipate the Bengals finishing below the league average with their offense line and I'm being conservative.
The above data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing TDs touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing TDs (TDS).
This information is based on 2016, which will work as our starting point for 2017. We'll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We'll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2016 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2016.
2016 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL last year.
2016 Adjustment is based on the 2016 league average and the 2016 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat and the basis for strength of schedule.
The Bengals have four games against teams with weak rushing offenses (DEN, BUF, and CLE X 2). They have seven matchups against teams with above average talent on defense stopping the run.
Cincinnati has one of the tougher schedules for their passing attack. They have six poor matchups (HOU, DEN, JAX, MIN, CHI, and BUF) plus two below par games against the Ravens. Their best two games will come against the Packers and Titans.
This team would like to run first while play solid defense. Last year, the Bengals played a good portion of the season without their top two play makers in the passing game in A.J. Green (10 games) and Tyler Eifert (eight games). With the additions in the draft and a healthy season, the Bengals could be much improved offensively in 2017. They ran the ball 44.2 percent of the time in 2016.
The Bengals' defense could have a nice finishing schedule against the run in 2017 with their last seven opponents having league average or below success rushing the ball. Four of those game (DEN, MIN, DET, and BAL) grade as favorable with six other winning matchups to start the year. Their only two tough games vs. the run look to be BUF and TEN.
Cincinnati will face seven teams with risk throwing the ball with their biggest edge coming against HOU, BUF, and CLE X 2. They have seven games as well against teams with above average success throwing the ball.
Cincinnati allowed the 21st most rushing yards (1,812) in 2016. Rushers gained 4.4 yards per carry with 12 TDs and 10 runs over 20 yards.
They played well vs. the pass (11th in passing yards allowed). QBs threw 22 TDs, 17 Ints and were sacked 33 times. The Bengals allowed 6.7 yards per pass attempt.
DT Geno Atkins is one of the better player at his position. Over the last two seasons, he has 20 sacks with plus value as a run defender. Cinci has multiple young players to compete for the other defensive tackle position with most options having short resumes and injuries over the first couple of seasons in the league. DE Carlos Dunlap offers an edge on the outside. Last season, he had eight sacks and 15 defended passes. His tackle production has faded over the last two seasons. DE Michael Johnson isn't the player he once was with the Bengals. In 2012, he had 11.5 sacks compared to 12.5 combined sacks over the last three seasons. His replacement Jordan Willis will compete for snaps in 2017.
LB Vontaze Burfict is a very good linebacker, but he's missed 22 games over the last three seasons for various reasons. He's active defending passes with an occasional pick while being a high-volume tackler. LB Vincent Rey will offer minimal value rushing the QB (one sack over the last three seasons) with fade in his tackles. Rey handles himself well in pass coverage with his overall game ranking above most linebackers in the league. LB Kevin Minter gives Cinci a third steady linebacker, which buys some time until some of their younger option develop.
CB Dre Kirkpatrick didn't play as well in 2016 as he did in 2015, but did have three interceptions while grading about league average at CB. Adam Jones is slated to start at the other cornerback position at age 33. He did have an off the field incident over the winter possibly leading to a suspension. Jones looks like a neutral player at his position. S Shawn Williams made a nice step forward in 2016 in his fourth season in the league after the Bengals drafted him in the third round in 2013. With repeated success, Williams will be an asset at his position. S George Iloka signed a big contract in March of 2016. He handles himself in the passing game with no value rushing the QB. Iloka adds to the rushing defense.
This defense has two high value players with a nice group of proven NFL players. With an improved pass rush, this defense will have a chance to be a top 10 Fantasy defense. I expect some excitement in the return game plus their offense has enough talent to control the clock, thus taking the pressure off the defense. Ideally, I'd like to own them as my second option in the season long games.
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QB Andy Dalton - Sleeper (undervalued)
Over his six seasons in the NFL, Dalton has a 56-35-2 record, leading the Bengals to the postseason five times. His best years in passing TDs came in 2012 (27) and 2013 (33) while being a much better QB as far as Ints allowed over the last two years (7 and 8). Dalton had his second season with over 4,000 yards in 2016 (4,206), but he finished with only 18 passing TDs. This was partly due to injuries to A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert and a much weaker offensive line (41 sacks allowed). He's never attempted over 600 passes in a season because of Cincinnati's success running the ball well in close situations. His completion rate (64.7) has been strong in each of the last three seasons. In 2016, Dalton had three games with over 300 yards passing while never delivering over two passing TDs in any game. This year, I like a lot of pieces of the offense and expect growth in scoring and passing yards. His offensive line will hurt him unless a couple of players show improvement in pass blocking. I'm going to stick my next out here. Possible 4,500+ yards with 30+ TDs thanks to a better rushing offense with Joe Mixon and an improved deep passing game. If you play the daily games, Dalton will pay off more than once in 2017.
QB A.J. McCarron - Dynasty Only
McCarron led Alabama to back-to-back national championships and appeared to be on his way to a third before getting knocked out of a title chance by Auburn. He went 36-4 over his last three seasons in college with 8,630 passing yards, 74 TDs and 15 Ints. He played on a team with great talent at every position on the field. A.J. ran a Pro-style offense and he showed the ability to make pre-snap reads. He has a solid arm with quick decision making. McCarron lacks speed (4.94 in the 40-yard dash at the 2015 NFL combine) and quickness (4.34 in the 20-yard shuttle), but he was willing to stick his head down when asked to get a tough first down on the ground. His stats don't look as attractive as the other top QBs in his draft class, which was a result of a plus run game and strong defense by the Crimson Tide. He is a winning QB that made minimal mistakes. McCarron should be a very good game manager at the next level with more upside than meets the eye. His downside is his arm strength and his mobility. In a weak offense, he won't be able to keep plays alive with his legs and he could be an easy target for oncoming pass rushers. His skill set doesn't fit the new era of QBs in the NFL. In his three games started in the 2015 season, A.J. passed for 854 yards with six TDs and a 66.4 percent completion rate. I don't see much of a drop off at QB for Cinci if McCarron had to start.
RB Joe Mixon - Sleeper (undervalued)
Over his freshman and sophomore seasons at Oklahoma, Mixon gained 2,921 combined yards on 365 touches with 65 catches and 26 TDs. Joe will be a great receiver in the passing game. He brings a solid stiff arm to help him break tackles in the open field while offering the size to be a factor at the goal line. Pass protection shouldn't be an issue. In 2016, the Bengals ran the ball 400 times from the RB position leading to 1,585 yards and 14 TDs. In addition, their backs caught 77 passes for 655 yards and a TD on 99 targets. There is a huge opportunity for a RB here if one man gets the bulk of touches. Mixon comes with off the field baggage, which has run its course for the Bengals. There's a lot to like here and the opportunity is much better than most would believe. Joe clearly has 50+ catch upside if Gio Bernard has a slow recovery form his knee issue. I'll say it this way, Mixon is a better version of Jeremy Hill and Bernard combined. He will command the ball. Something along the lines of 250 touches for 1300+ yards with 10+ TDs and 50+ catches seems like a fair starting point. Do I dare say he outperforms both Leonard Fournette and Christian McCaffrey? Mixon will be a top 10 pick by the 2018 draft season.
RB Giovani Bernard - Quality Backup
In mid-November, Bernard blew out his left ACL that required surgery. A perfect recovery would put him on track to return in September, but teams tends to limit RB touches early in the season with these types of injuries. The addition of Mixon will help the Bengals take a slow path with Gio. He has over 1,000 combined yards in each of his first three seasons in the league. Bernard has 187 catches and 20 TDs over 55 career games. He's a very good option in the passing game when healthy but there are too many moving parts to place a good value on his opportunity in 2017. More of a late flier while another Bengals RB may need an injury to get Gio back behind the wheel.
WR A.J. Green - Stud (low risk)
Fantasy owners gave Green plenty of respect in the high stakes market in PPR leagues in 2016. He hit the ground running in Week 1 (12/180/1 on 13 targets) followed by two other impactful games (10/173/1 and 8/169/1) over his first seven starts. Unfortunately, his season ended in Week 11 with a bad right hamstring injury (tear). This cost him his sixth straight season with over 1,000 yards receiving. His success projected over 16 game would be 117 catches for 1,713 yards and seven TDs on 178 targets. A.J. had the best opportunity of his career in 2016, but his TD production was the lowest of his career. Green appears to be on track to be ready for training camp. He's an elite option at WR with much more upside if Andy Dalton has enough time to throw. With Tyler Eifert healthy and some additions to the receiving core at WR, A.J. will have more competition for targets. Either way, Green has 100-catch opportunity for 1400+ yards with much higher upside in TDs.
WR John Ross - Super Sleeper (high risk/potential)
Ross missed the entire 2015 season with a torn left ACL. This came after low production in his freshman (16/208/1) and sophomore (17/371/4) seasons while showcasing some value as a runner (12/93/1). In his red-shirt junior year, John offered a nice combination of short area production and home run ability. He finished with 81 catches for 1,150 yards and 17 receiving TDs plus eight rushes for 102 yards and another TD. Ross will threaten the defense with each step hr takes. He can beat a defender in a blink of an eye. His biggest challenge will be beating physical CBs off the line of scrimmage. This could restrict his value in TDs in the red zone, but his skill set will lead to winning fades and slants at the goal line. John is a play maker after the catch with instant value in the return game. His next step is becoming a more efficient route runner where he needs to vary his tempo. His acceleration reminds me of Dante Hall with a much better receiving skill set. Ross had surgery to repair a torn labrum after the 2017 NFL Combine where he ran a 4.22-second 40-yard dash. He's an exciting player with plenty of injuries in his career. His presence will draw the safety away from A.J. Green on many plays. I expect him to be the WR2 in this offense with 60+ catches, 1,000+ yards and intriguing TDs.
WR Tyler Boyd - Deep-league Only
Over three seasons at Pittsburgh, Boyd caught 254 passes for 3,361 yards and 21 TDs. His best success came in his sophomore year (78/1261/8). His hands are his drawing card with strength in his route running. In a way, his game fits the style of a big WR who has the ability to win many jump balls. Tyler projects to be a possession receiver, but he really lacks deep speed and his quickness is a step below the best WRs in the NFL. Boyd may struggle against press coverage in the NFL until he adds more upper body strength and improves his release. His overall game has a much higher ceiling than Brandon LaFell. Boyd's rookie season stats (54/603/1 on 81 targets) should be a solid building block for 2017. Boyd will work the short areas of the field for Tyler Eifert, creating a nice rotation of WRs for Andy Dalton. Even with expected growth, his opportunity may be less in his second season in the league with John Ross added and the Bengals being healthy at their receiver positions.
WR Brandon LaFell - Low Potential
After struggling in 2015, LaFell bounced back to have his second-best season (64/862/6 on 107 targets) in the NFL with the injury to A.J. Green creating much of his improved opportunity. Over the last five games, he caught 28 passes for 405 yards and two TDs on 43 targets. Cincinnati gave him nine targets in both Week 10 and Week 11 but LaFell caught only seven of those chances for 70 yards. His other two games of value came in Week 5 (8/68/2 on 11 targets) and Week 7 (4/83/1 on five targets). If this offense has a healthy core of receivers, LaFell won't be more than the fourth option in the passing games behind Green, Eifert, and the RB position plus John Ross and Tyler Boyd offer upside. He has a decent NFL resume with a 50/600/5 season being a productive year. I see less from him in 2017 unless there is an injury or two at WR.
TE Tyler Eifert - Stud (low risk)
Over the last three seasons in the NFL, Tyler missed 26 games. His 2016 season started with him on the shelf an ankle injury that occurred in late May. His slow recovery from surgery led to him missing the first six games of the season. After short snap counts in Week 7 (1 catch for nine yards on two targets), Eifert showed dominating upside the next week vs. the Redskins (9/102/1 on 12 targets). He scored four TDs over his last next six games with only 19 catches for 283 yards on 33 targets. A back injury, that required surgery late in December, led to him missing the last two games of the season. The Bengals expect him to be ready for training camp. Eifert is a talented TE with high scoring ability, but he's yet to prove he can be a workhorse type option. I'll put his floor at 60/700/8 if he plays 16 games while hoping for more upside.
PK Randy Bullock - Deep-league Only
Over four seasons and 48 games in his NFL career, Bullock has been successful on 81.4 percent of his field goal attempts. In his rookie season, he missed nine of 22 chances from 40 yards or more. He showed growth his next season (30-for-35) with solid value from 50 yards or more (4-for-5), but he's been unable to land a full time kicking gig over the last two seasons. In his career, Bullock is 5-for-11 from 50 yards or more with four extra-point kicks missed in 35 chances over the last two years. He'll battle rookie Jake Elliot for the Bengals' kicking job this season. Elliott made 77.9 percent of his field goals in college. In 2016, Cinci scored 35 TDs with 35 field goal attempts (28 made). If the offensive line plays well, this offense could be much improved. For now, the winner would only have matchup value until we see growth in scoring by this offense.