Juggernaut Index, No. 12: The Cincinnati Bengals

Andy Behrens
August 18, 2014
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Juggernaut Index, No. 12: The Cincinnati Bengals

Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton has thrown 36 interceptions over the past two seasons, including 20 last year. His career completion percentage isn't anything special (60.9), and he's averaged 6.97 yards per attempt. Dalton has been mostly useless in the postseason, throwing six picks and one touchdown pass over three games (all losses). With three seasons of data in the books, it's difficult to construct an argument for Dalton being anything better than a middle-of-the-pack starting QB by NFL standards.

And still, Dalton finished as a top-six fantasy quarterback last season in basically all formats. We might have a fantasy scoring crisis on our hands, because this man is in no way a top-six (or 10 or 12) passer in reality.

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It helps of course that Dalton is the guy who gets to lob deep bombs to AJ Green, a receiver so gifted that well-thrown balls aren't really a requirement. Just look at this reception, and this one and this one. When Green backtracks to haul in under-thrown balls from Dalton, he often looks like he's fielding mega-hangtime punts.

Andy Dalton, pictured with his security blanket (AP Photo/Tony Tribble)
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Andy Dalton, pictured with his security blanket (AP Photo/Tony Tribble)

Dalton was a high-volume passer last season under OC Jay Gruden (586 attempts), which obviously boosted his fantasy worth. This year, with coordinator Hue Jackson scripting plays, the widespread expectation is that the run/pass mix will favor the ground game. But we should note that the coach's history as a rushing enthusiast has been somewhat overstated, shaped by the Oakland years. (If Jason Campbell and Bruce Gradkowski were your quarterbacks, you might lean on your backs, too.) Jackson isn't going to allow Green — his most talented offensive player by far — to serve as a mere decoy. Cincinnati's plan, it seems, is to dial down the degree-of-difficulty attempts in favor of higher-percentage, Dalton-friendly routes. The preseason results, while largely meaningless, have not been bad (11-for-13, TD). If Jackson designs an offense that results in fewer giveaways from Dalton, that's a real-life win. Fantasy-wise, it's tough to imagine the Red Rifle repeating his 2013 totals. No Yahoo analyst slotted him higher than QB16 in the preseason ranks. Draft accordingly (if at all).

The Bengals receiving corps has remained largely intact, which is always nice to see. Andrew Hawkins was the only significant defection. Green is without a doubt the surest fantasy bet on Cincy's roster, an un-coverable monster who's caught 195 passes for 2,776 yards and 22 touchdowns over the past two years. He should be drafted among the top-16 overall picks in virtually all fantasy formats. Red-zone beast Marvin Jones suffered a broken left foot in camp, which obviously compromises his fantasy outlook. Rough news for an emerging fantasy asset. Jones is still an end-of-draft option in deep-bench leagues, but we aren't likely to see him until Week 5 or 6. That's an eternity in our game. In Jones' absence, Mohamed Sanu has a clear opportunity to carve out fantasy value, and he's had an excellent camp/preseason thus far. Second-year tight end Tyler Eifert is a highly skilled pass-catcher who should see an uptick in targets and snaps as well, particularly in the Jones-less early week. He's on the radar in larger leagues (let's say 14 or more teams), although Jermaine Gresham's presence is clearly a nuisance.

Giovani Bernard makes the leap (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
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Giovani Bernard makes the leap (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Giovani Bernard is coming off an excellent rookie campaign — 1209 scrimmage yards, 56 receptions, 8 TDs — and he's likely to see an uptick in workload this season. He finished with 226 touches last year, while BenJarvus Green-Ellis' took 224 (all but four of which were carries). I've seen a few extremely bullish projections for Bernard's 2014 workload, but I think we need to accept the likelihood that Cincy, like most teams, won't rely exclusively on a single back. If Gio takes an additional 30-40 carries this year while remaining healthy, he'll give us a terrific fantasy season. Don't draft him assuming 300-plus touches, however; think 200-220 carries, with the potential for 60 or so catches. Gio remained a factor last season when he team ventured near the goal line, so don't assume that he'll be a TD-challenged back. Four of his eight scores last year were from inside-the-10, and three were inside-the-5.

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Green-Ellis gained just 3.4 yards per tote in 2013 (and 3.9 the season before), so it wasn't a huge surprise to see the team draft a younger power back to better complement Bernard. LSU rookie Jeremy Hill is coming off a massive season in the country's best conference (1401 rush, 6.9 YPC, 16 TDs), capped by a mauling of the Iowa Hawkeyes in the Outback Bowl (216 yards, 2 TDs). No matter what the depth chart might say at the moment, Hill is the guy you should like as this team's No. 2 back. I'll make no promises about his PPR game, but Hill has a shot at 140-180 carries, and he's a low-risk player at his current Yahoo ADP (123.0).

The big departure on defense for Cincy was master coordinator Mike Zimmer, now the head coach in Minnesota. He was replaced from within by longtime apprentice Paul Guenther, so don't expect radical changes. This D/ST is simply a damn good group, coming off a season in which it ranked third in the league in yards-allowed (305.5), tied for fifth in INTs (20), and tenth in sacks (43.0). LB Vontaze Burfict led the NFL in tackles last season (171), and DT Geno Atkins is a two-time All-Pro. The Bengals D is a top-6 unit in terms of ADP, and understandably so. It's a group to target in leagues where streaming is impractical.

2013 team stats: 26.9 PPG (NFL rank 7), 269.9 pass YPG (11), 33 pass TDs (3), 109.7 rush YPG (18), 30.1 rush attempts per game (8), 36.7 pass attempts per game (12)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32. Oakland, 31. Miami, 30. Jacksonville, 29. NY Jets, 28. Tennessee, 27. Cleveland, 26. Baltimore, 25. Carolina, 24. Buffalo, 23. Tampa Bay, 22. St. Louis, 21. NY Giants, 20. Kansas City, 19. Houston, 18. Arizona, 17. Minnesota, 16. Pittsburgh, 15. San Diego, 14. San Francisco, 13. Atlanta