Cincinnati Bengals: 2015 Outlook
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Cincinnati Bengals

By Mark Morales-Smith, Friday, September 12, 2014

Dalton faces plenty of scrutiny and criticism in Cincinnati. Even after a stellar 2013 season statistically, he isn't thought of as an excellent QB. He did struggle in big moments (especially against the pass rush); however, if you look deeper at the numbers, the fantasy production is there. Dalton threw for 4,296 yards last season and accounted for 35 TDs. His interceptions are high, but if he can get them under control, he can better establish himself as a big-time fantasy QB. He has the talent around him with tremendous young weapons like A.J Green, Marvin Jones and Giovani Bernard. It remains to be seen whether or not new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson will revert to a more run-focused attack as he is known for. Fewer attempts doesn't necessarily equate to a major decrease in passing numbers and it could actually create less turnovers. A more effective ground game would also give Dalton more time in the pocket and improve the efficiency of play-action. With his rookie contract on the verge of expiring, all eyes will be on Dalton. It's time for the former TCU QB to take that next step, much like Eli Manning and Joe Flacco did when they were questioned whether they could lead a team to a championship. All questions aside, Dalton should be drafted in all formats at least as a backup who can occasionally post QB1 totals when the matchup is favorable.

Giovani Bernard was the first running back drafted in the 2013 NFL Draft for good reason. He has all the tools teams want and need out of a running back. Still, he's in a somewhat crowded backfield after the Bengals drafted Jeremy Hill out of LSU. Bernard's talent may very well overpower all of that. This guy is quick, explosive, can catch, run, and make plays all over the field. He can make defenders miss and can be a big-play threat every time he touches the ball. The Bengals started Bernard off slow last season, but by the year's end he was clearly their best option. Early reports out of camp are Bernard is the top back and is seeing some split back looks paired with the aforementioned Hill. You can expect a thunder-and-lightning look from the Bengals with Bernard earning the majority of touches. Giovani Bernard is a RB1 in all formats and his youth and pass-catching ability only further raises his value in PPR and dynasty leagues.

Editor's note: One facet regarding Bernard, if I may rain on his parade, is his size. One big hit and Bernard's season could be over. He has some decent girth; however, the second-year back isn't exactly built to handle 20-plus carries week after week. It'll be interesting to see how the Bengals opt to both limit his exposure to injury while also maximizing his talent.

LSU rookie Jeremy Hill has all the talent to succeed on-the-field, although off-the-field may be another story. Hill faced assault charges while in college. Cincinnati is also known for taking chances on character-concern players. In two seasons at LSU, Hill amassed over 2,000 yards, 28 touchdowns and averaged 6.2 yards per carry. He is a big powerful back with just enough speed. Early reports out of camp are that Hill has already jumped BenJarvus Green-Ellis on the depth chart and is being used in some split back looks with featured back Giovani Bernard. How many touches Hill will get is yet to be known, yet he is no doubt the leading candidate to be Bernard's handcuff. Jeremy Hill is definitely worth a pick in dynasty leagues. He has less value in PPR leagues. Expect him to be slammed between the tackles and perhaps flirting with flex potential if he earns goal-line and short-yardage opportunities.

Green-Ellis is a reliable back, but due to the Bengals drafting rookie running backs in consecutive seasons, his fantasy value has plummeted. Giovani Bernard is the lead back and rookie Jeremy Hill has already jumped Green-Ellis on the depth chart. The only bright side for "The Law Firm" is new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson. He likes to run the ball with multiple backs, so if there is an injury, BJGE will be right back in the mix. Until then, he has very little fantasy value and can be skipped over for a runner with more upside.

A.J. Green is a superstar, plain and simple. He can do it all: great hands, route-running and athleticism. Green can go across the middle, beat defenses deep, take a screen to the house or pull down a TD in a crowd. After his breakout rookie year, Green has followed up with back-to-back monster seasons averaging 97.5 receptions, 11 TDs and just under 1,400 yards. He is a Top 5 fantasy receiver and may very well be the second-best receiver in the NFL after Calvin Johnson. In 2013, Marvin Jones emerged as a second option at wideout. This had very little effect on Green's fantasy numbers and will most likely help in the long run as defenses are forced to monitor Jones and the Bengals' talented backfield. It is always good for a star receiver to have a player opposite him to take some pressure off. Green will be drafted and started in all formats and likely in the first round because of his 7.03 ADP. Expect over 90 catches and double-digit touchdowns in 2014.

Editor's note: With top RBs becoming more scarce and top WRs becoming more prevalent, receivers like Green are climbing into the first round because of their unquestioned certainty to produce huge stats. Last year was an especially difficult year for backs and this in turn has made receivers a popular safety net in the early rounds. Green is about as safe as they come in this game.

Rutgers alumnus Mohamad Sanu emerged as a decent third option in Cincinnati, although he must continue to improve in order to win the hearts and minds of fantasy owners. He holds his most value in PPR leagues because of his possession receiver talents. He is not a big play guy, but can make the tough catches to move the chains. If Marvin Jones were to get hurt, Sanu would almost certainly be the man to step into his role. Sanu is only draft worthy in very deep leagues and that's because of his potential, not because of anything he has yet accomplished. His lack of TDs and yards per catch really hurt his fantasy value in standard formats.

Update (08/14): With Bengals' Marvin Jones out a significant amount of time with a broken foot, Sanu's fantasy value increases immensely. He will be filling in as the WR2 opposite A.J. Green and is destined to see a major increase in targets. He is definitely a solid sleeper now and his ADP should climb quickly. He is worth a late-round pick. Just remember his value could plummet mid-season once Jones is healthy again.

A lot was made of the Bengals drafting Tyler Eifert in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft. Still, Jermaine Gresham managed to outperform him in all major stat categories. The two are now splitting targets, which really decreases their value to the point that neither is particularly appealing. One of the two might be get hot in any given week, yet it's near impossible to know which one is worth starting on any given Sunday. Both are interchangeable, although Gresham is a better blocker and tougher when in-line blocking. Gresham is a very low TE2 with little upside.

Mike Nugent has been a decent kicker through his 10-year career. He racks up extra points in Cincinnati, yet the Bengals' inability to more reliable get into field goal range is a concern. He made just 18 FGs last year, by far his lowest total in any season with 16 games played. Take a pass on this former Ohio State kicker.

The Bengals have one of the best young defenses in all of football. The Cincy D was ravaged by injury in 2013, but the return of star DT Geno Atkins (and a healthy secondary) should have a huge impact. Cincy can stop the run and get at the quarterback with their very tough defensive front. Their line backing core is anchored by young talented players like Vontaze Burfict and Vincent Rey. Expect a big season from the Bengals defense after slipping at the end of 2013. The loss of defensive coordinator will be a big factor. The Bengals should be drafted in all leagues and started consistently against the great majority of team defenses. Cincinnati has a starter-quality team defense and it's also possible the finish among the Top 5.