Bengals Fantasy Preview

John Daigle
Rotoworld

2018 Stats (Rank)
Total Offense: 4,972 yards (26th)
Offensive Touchdowns: 27 (16th)
Offensive Plays: 938 (30th)
Pass Attempts + Sacks: 579 (21st)
Rush Attempts: 359 (26th)
Unaccounted for Targets: 22 (31st)
Unaccounted for Carries: 14 (28th)

 

Coaching Staff

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After perpetually bathing in mediocrity with seven Wild Card appearances (and ensuing losses) under former coach Marvin Lewis the past 16 seasons, the Bengals finally begin a new regime behind 36-year-old offensive stalwart Zac Taylor, who most recently coached Los Angeles’ quarterbacks under play-calling aficionado Sean McVay. A true unknown as a head coach, Taylor’s resume includes coordinating the Cincinnati Bearcats to the fifth-fewest points scored among 128 FBS teams in ’16, a jump to the Rams as an assistant receivers coach the following year, and his aforementioned stint as the team’s QB coach — all within the last three seasons. Even so, Cincy’s offensive philosophy admittedly shouldn’t change much: the team passed from 11 personnel (three-wide sets) at the eighth-highest rate (81%) last year, and Taylor will likely continue to do so given that he fell from McVay’s coaching tree. The difference, however, will be noticeable when the new coach makes his best five-card hand in the trenches. Whereas the Rams confidently ran their way to an eighth-overall finish in rushing attempts behind Football Outsiders’ No. 1 o-line in Adjusted Line Yards last season (and ninth-overall in attempts the year prior), Cincinnati ranked 19th in Adjusted Sack Rate and just 22nd in Adjusted Line Yards in ’18; an obvious issue if the Bengals truly intend on creating space for their running backs via a high rate of play-action, as shown by Jared Goff’s league-high 220 dropbacks on fake handoffs last year.

 

Passing Game

QB: Andy Dalton, Ryan Finley, Jeff Driskel
WR: A.J. Green, Cody Core
WR: Tyler Boyd, Auden Tate
WR: John Ross, Alex Erickson
TE: Tyler Eifert, Drew Sample, C.J. Uzomah

Entering the year surrounded with arguably his finest ancillary weapons to date, Andy Dalton still mustered a mere 61.9% completion rate and 7.0 yards per attempt through 11 starts before a torn ligament in his thumb sidelined him for the remainder of the season. Dalton quietly ranked as fantasy’s QB12 prior to the team’s Week 9 bye, but did so in hindsight against the sixth-softest slate of opposing pass defenses to that point. Warren Sharp projects the Bengals with the toughest passing schedule of 2019, making it likelier than not the team sheds the Red Rifle’s contract to create $17.7 million in cap room next offseason before they experience an out-of-nowhere above-average campaign in the 31-year-old’s ninth year. At best, Dalton makes sense as a late-round reserve in 2-quarterback leagues. He can be completely glossed over in re-draft formats.

Fourth-year backup Jeff Driskel had only attempted 110 preseason passes before being thrown into the (dumpster) fire in Week 12 sans A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert. Despite an elevated floor on 3.8 scrambles per game, the former Gator project bombed with an average 5.46 YPA and four fumbles in his five starts. Team beat speculation lists Driskel as a cut candidate if fourth-rounder Ryan Finley, who the Bengals traded up for, shows well in camp. Although Finley was hand-picked by the new coaching staff, the 24-year-old (25 in June) forecasts as a long-term backup with middling arm strength. Still, his 67.3% completion rate from play-action — 20th-overall among qualifiers and fifth-highest in this year’s class — with the Wolfpack last season is worth noting in Taylor’s presumed scheme.

Fantasy’s WR6 through the first eight games, A.J. Green continued his tear as Dalton’s go-to target before undergoing season-ending surgery for torn ligaments in his toe. Only Julio Jones (1,140), John Brown (1,122), DeAndre Hopkins (1,093), Mike Evans (991), and Odell Beckham (976) had accumulated more air yards than Green (947) at the time of his injury. He fortunately remains ahead of schedule for ’19, even participating in individual drills at offseason activities. An annual top-15 option now entering the final year of his previously signed five-year extension, Green's 80.2 receiving yards per game for his career is the sixth-highest mark in NFL history.

Lost in the background following the first-round selection of John Ross a year later, Bengals 2016 second-rounder Tyler Boyd launched in year three with team-highs in targets (108), receiving yards (1,028), receiving touchdowns (7), and Next Gen Stats’ average yards of separation at target (2.9). Perhaps more impressive was his standalone value alongside A.J. Green as Boyd’s 23 percent target share through Week 8 fell only three percent shy of Green’s at the time. He also garnered WR12 aplomb while Green was healthy. With only one threat available following the latter's aforementioned toe injury, Boyd’s opportunity seemingly plummeted to an average 4.5/68/0.3 in six games to close the year. Pegged with a sixth-round ADP, the 24-year-old would have to finish as a borderline WR3 to underperform his current average draft position. For that reason, I’m confidently buying Boyd as a safe WR3 with an obvious path to WR2 numbers in season-long formats. He’s my WR25 in Best-Ball scoring.

The No. 9 overall pick in 2017, Ross followed up his underwhelming 17-snap rookie campaign with a surprising seven-score sophomore showing, miraculously hitting pay dirt on 5-of-6 looks inside the 10 despite his nightmarish 36.2 percent catch rate on the year. Ross still failed to eclipse 14 fantasy points in any outing as his touchdowns actually accounted for 49.4 percent of his fantasy production. Reportedly struggling with consistency and learning the new offense in camp, Ross is an odds-on favorite to lose reps before reaching WR3 status. Other potential reserve options on the fantasy radar include Cody Core and Alex Erickson, the latter who Next Gen Stats charted with the eighth-fastest game speed of any receiver during his 77-yard punt return in Week 15 versus Oakland. Barring a role change, however, Boyd’s presence in the slot admittedly blocks Erickson from receiving full-time run. It’s worth noting Cincinnati reportedly nixed trade offers for the elite special-teamer this offseason. NFL exec-turned-analyst Michael Lombardi picked Erickson as his breakout fantasy player of 2019.

Signed to a one-year “prove it” deal in March, Tyler Eifert’s appeared in just 14 games over the past three seasons. There’s still little competition at that position despite his consistent unavailability. The Bengals nabbed Washington TE Drew Sample in the second round and re-signed C.J. Uzomah to a three-year, $18 million contract, but Eifert’s upside remains the only desirable piece in the room. Sample totaled 46 receptions in his collegiate career.

Running Game
RB: Joe Mixon, Giovani Bernard, Trayveon Williams
OL (L-R): Cordy Glenn, Clint Boling, Billy Price, John Miller, Bobby Hart

Strictly from a personnel standpoint, no team put more emphasis into making life easier for one individual player this offseason than the Bengals did with Joe Mixon, so much so that OC Brian Callahan stated the soon-to-be 23-year-old “should be very happy” post-draft. Despite hemorrhaging fantasy points to opposing offenses via bottom-five marks in both passing and rushing yardage allowed, Cincinnati pulled the trigger on PFF College’s top-graded run-blocking tackle, Jonah Williams, with the No. 11 overall pick, then responded in the second with the draft’s best run-blocking tight end at No. 52. Herein lies the issue: Williams had shoulder surgery to repair a torn labrum and will “likely” miss the 2019 season, pushing seven-year vet Cordy Glenn back to left tackle alongside former first-rounder Billy Price, free agent acquisition John Miller, fourth-round rookie Michael Jordan, swinging-gate Clint Boling, and recently extended RT Bobby Hart. Whereas Cincy’s line was expected to be much improved with the Bama rookie manning Dalton’s blindside, it now arguably sinks (back) to below-average regards. Even so, Mixon singlehandedly propelled himself to an RB10-finish and AFC-leading rushing total (in only 14 games, nonetheless) due in part to his top-10 accolade in yards generated after contact (652) last season. He’s currently my RB7 and a dark horse bet to lead the league in rushing (+1200) over FanDuel Sportsbook favorites Ezekiel Elliott (+300) and Saquon Barkley (+360).

In what’s likely his last ride in Paul Brown Stadium, 27-year-old Giovani Bernard enters 2019 on the final year of his three-year, $15.5 million extension inked in ’16. The seventh-year back spiked two top-12 finishes in a couple of spot-starts for Mixon in Weeks 3 and 4 but ultimately took a backseat on 36.3 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in his other 10 outings. Still an adept backfield piece as proven by his five runs of 10-plus yards in said starts last year, Bernard solely projects as the odd-man out due to the Day Three selections of former Mixon-teammate Rodney Anderson and Texas A&M’s Trayveon Williams, the latter who’ll reunite with the same offensive line coach who helped him amass 600/3,615/34 (6.0 YPC) rushing and 66/561/1 receiving as the Aggies’ lead back. Long-time scouting guru Matt Waldman noted Williams’ effort in pass-pro at the collegiate level was unmatched among his peers, giving the rookie a leg up as the team’s No. 2. He’s become one of my favorite late-round Best-Ball targets, especially given his week-winning ceiling in the event Mixon’s unable to lug 16 games for the third straight year.

Win Total

Cincinnati’s concerted effort to build their offense inside-out came directly at the expense of their bottom-dwelling defense; 29-year-old journeyman B.W. Webb remains the team’s biggest offseason addition on that side of the ball. With five of the Bengals’ first eight games occurring against teams that finished top-10 in pass defense DVOA last season and no clear-cut signal-caller under center in place for this year, Vegas’ 6.0 Projected Win Total seems like a stretch. There’s slight value on the Under (+105), though I’d personally allocate bankroll elsewhere.

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