2019 Bengals fantasy preview: A.J. Green remains catalyst for this team's ascension

Liz Loza

The Yahoo Fantasy analysts will preview all 32 NFL teams between now and the end of July as training camps open. We’ll tackle pressing season-long fantasy questions, Best Ball tips (new on Yahoo for 2019) and team win totals. Next up, the Cincinnati Bengals.

After 10,000 years, the Cincinnati Bengals finally parted ways with head coach Marvin Lewis (Andy Dalton is still around, however). Quarterback struggles along with injuries up and down the roster derailed this team in 2018, resulting in their third straight season missing the playoffs.

That said, there is fantasy goodness to be found here. A healthy A.J. Green is among the best at his position. Tyler Boyd flashed last season, and Tyler Eifert has all the tools to be a top tight end. So too, has Joe Mixon shown off elite skills. The Bengals are a prime example of a not-great team with some very good fantasy assets.

Bengals Fantasy Impact Players
Bengals Fantasy Impact Players

GREEN-er Pastures?

Off a toe injury that cost A.J. Green (29.9 ADP, WR13) seven games in 2018, OVER or UNDER final WR rank 11.5 in .5 PPR for the multi-time Pro Bowler. (Under — inside top-11; Over — outside)

Liz: UNDER. Green has gone over 1,000 yards in six of his eight career seasons. The two years he fell under the benchmark were cut short due to injury. That’s the major concern here, right? That entering his age-31 season and coming off toe surgery, Green’s best days may be behind him. Of course, there are other questions … like Andy Dalton’s wholly averageness and rookie HC Zac Taylor’s ability to evolve an offense that’s been static for the better part of 15 years.

Still, Green remains one of the best jump-ball specialists in the game with a contested catch rate of 66.7 percent (WR3). Not to mention a consistent top-ten hog rate. His experience, skill, and volume have afforded him solid WR1 fantasy status. Better than that, his current third-round ADP makes him an absolute steal.

Andy: Well, my ranks say I’ve gotta take the UNDER here. I’ve slotted Green at WR11, so it’s obviously a close call. As of this writing, Green is expected to be good to go for training camp, as is Andy Dalton (returning from a thumb injury). If Green would have simply maintained last year’s pace over a full 16 games, he’d have produced an 82-1234-11 season. He’s still that guy. Green is one of the few players in the league for whom we can reasonably forecast 140-plus targets. On volume alone, he’s a solid No. 1 fantasy receiver.

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Joe Mixon (15.0 ADP, RB10), who shouldered 280 touches in his second season last fall and finished RB9 in fantasy points per game (.5 PPR), is a near lock to land inside the position’s top-10 come year’s end.

Liz: TRUE. Despite running behind a bottom-ten run blocking unit, Mixon remained equal parts productive and efficient. Managing over 80 rushing yards per game while also logging 20 breakaway runs (RB2), the former Sooner posted top-ten FF numbers in 2018. Mixon’s prowess as a pass-catcher additionally boosted his value. Averaging over three catches per contest, his target total actually decreased when A.J. Green was not on the field. At the start of the season, however, Mixon drew over 4.5 targets per game and closed out his second pro campaign with a top-twelve catch rate of 78.2 percent.

With Zac Taylor calling the plays, the Rams’ offense figures to be the base for the Bengals’ scheme. That means more play action and opportunities for Mixon. Given his dual skill-set and burgeoning role in an up-tempo look, he’s a solid top-ten pick and my RB7 heading into the fall.

Brad: FALSE. Apply enough eyeliner, lipstick, and concealer to any RB and they can have the appearance of a runway model. Mixon’s makeup is exclusively tied to volume. Thanks to his 280-touch workload (79.1% opportunity share), he ranked RB9 in .5 PPR last season, but underlying data points to a homely profile. The rusher finished RB28 in broken tackle percentage and RB34 in yards after contact per attempt. Many will blame the Bengals’ No. 26 ranked run-blocking line, but Mixon generated pedestrian outputs in several advanced measurements while seeing stacked fronts only 16.03 percent of the time.

Questions linger, especially regarding Cincy’s offensive line. Any takes implying improvement are entirely ostensible. Green’s return helps, however, a top-10 finish is far from a “near lock.” Nick Chubb, Marlon Mack and Damien Williams, all rushers who will presumably be involved in friendlier game scripts, are slightly higher on my board.

Pick Your Poison

Which scenario do you buy into more: 1) Andy Dalton (185.6 ADP, QB26) returns to the 25 pass TD level or 2) Tyler Boyd (60.1 ADP, WR26) eclipses 75 receptions for the second straight year?

Brad: No. 2. Many would immediately dismiss Boyd simply due to Green’s return, but data suggests the contrary. With Green on the field Weeks 1-8, he accumulated a 49-620-5 line on 66 targets. Extrapolate that over 16 games and you’re talking 98 catches. Now, if Boyd repeats the feat, Tom Cruise knocks out Justin Bieber in a boxing match, but without much competition outside of Green, he should finish in the 75-80 catch range. Additionally, negative game scripts could be commonplace for Cincy this season.

Dalton may seem like the Elmer Fudd of NFL quarterbacks. Even at point-blank range, he would fail to take out a rascally rabbit. But with A.J. Green hopefully slated to register a full season and given the ascension of Boyd, the passer’s completion percentage performance should return to respectable levels. However, getting to 25 TDs operating behind a likely shoddy offensive line seems doubtful.

Andy: If you buy the first scenario, then you can probably feel OK about the second. Dalton is a decent bet to reach 25 passing TDs in a healthy season, and a healthy quarterback would boost Boyd’s production. I’ll say the FIRST scenario is a bit more likely, simply because we’ve already seen the Red Rifle do this four times. In fact, he reached 21 TDs in only 11 games last year.

Dalton’s weapons, when all are healthy, remain among the best in the game. This is a total he can reach even in a meh year.

Best Ball Bargain Bin

Liz: JOHN ROSS. Here we go again. Ross missed minicamp due to “tightness.” Having started just 11 games over the last two seasons, the 23 year old’s soft tissue issues have undoubtedly capped his ceiling. Still, there’s no denying his blazing speed (4.22) and subsequent big-play potential. Talked up by Zac Taylor and entering his third year in the league, the breakout buzz is, again, surrounding the former Husky. I’m doubtful he’ll produce on a consistent level, but some outings that include a 30+ yard score seem entirely likely.

Brad: GIOVANI BERNARD. In the event Mixon was to miss a game or two, Bernard, one of the most under-appreciated backups in the league, is more than a serviceable crutch. Remember in two starts filling in for Mixon last year, Gio compiled 182 total yards and three touchdowns. He’s a fantastic wee-hour flier (213.8 ADP, RB65).

Mad Bets (From FanDuel Sportsbook): Cincinnati 6 wins OVER (-110) or UNDER (-110)

Andy: If you somehow forced me to bet this, I’d take the OVER. But it’s certainly not my favorite wager on the board. Cincinnati reaching seven or eight wins requires a bunch of stuff to go right, health-wise. But if Dalton, Green, and Mixon give us a full season, this is a credible team.

Liz: OVER. A lot went sideways for Cincy in 2018 and, yet, the Bengals still posted six wins. Assuming Green can stay on the field and Zac Taylor provides a breath of fresh air to this offense, improving on last year’s record seems probable.

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