3-Point Stance: Bengals backfield not quite as crowded as it appears
As the mercury rises, Brad Evans and Liz Loza will tackle pressing fantasy questions tied to every NFL team. Read, ponder and get a jump on your offseason research. Friday’s topic: The Cincinnati Bengals.
BELIEVE or MAKE BELIEVE: Joe Mixon muscles his way past Jeremy Hill and Gio Bernard to not only start Week 1, but also to close out the year inside the top-fifteen players at the position.
Liz – MAKE BELIEVE. There’s no questioning Mixon’s immense on-the-field talent. In fact, he was my No. 1 ranked rookie RB this spring, ahead of Leonard Fournette and Dalvin Cook. His landing spot, however, is less than ideal. Not only is there a crowded backfield to contend with, but moreover the Bengals offensive line is flimsy at best.
Ranked by Football Outsiders among the bottom ten in terms of open field yards, Cincy’s run blocking unit did little to help the backfield in 2016. In fact, the Bengals’ rushing attack averaged 3.9 YPC, which placed them 20th in the league for that statistical category. With the recent departures of Andrew Whitworth and Kevin Zeitler, the potential of this entire offense could be undone by the o-line.
Make no mistake, Mixon will get his shot, especially with Gio Bernard expected to be eased back in and Jeremy Hill disappointing in back-to-back campaigns. But it’s important to remember that the former Sooner is a rookie, and one with some behavioral red flags. I think it’s more likely that Mixon finishes in the RB18-23 range. FF: 219 carries for 876 yards and 5 TDs, 33 receptions for 280 yards and 2 TDs
Brad – BELIEVE. His reprehensible past aside, everything is starting to come together for Mixon. Whispers have started to turn into shouts Gio Bernard will miss regular season games in his slow recovery from a torn ACL. Meanwhile, Jeremy Hill, who stumbled terribly in consecutive seasons, is vulnerable to sliding down the training camp depth chart. That leaves the rookie, an extremely talented, multi-down producer who possesses the burst, wiggle (48 total evaded tackles with Oklahoma in ’16), power (3.7 YAC/att last fall) and hands to immediately usurp the alleged incumbents and safeguard the starting job rest of season. Most convincingly, his workout metrics comp to a previous rookie sensation, Zeke Elliott. Arousing.
Staying on the straight and narrow is obviously key and the Bengals makeshift offensive line is a concern, but Mixon’s path to 260-270 touches is apparent. Keep Hill at bay and storm out of the gate Weeks 1-3 against Baltimore, Houston and Green Bay, and the youngster leaves everyone in the dust. A popular Round 3 grab in PPR or standard (34.8 ADP, RB14), he should deliver a solid return on investment.
For the first time since entering the league in 2011, A.J. Green failed to top 1,000 receiving yards last year. Do you believe 2016 was a fluke, or that it was something more? OVER/UNDER Green’s final WR rank of 6.5?
Brad – OVER. Before Green zealots employ a witch hunt on yours truly, listen to the reasoning. This answer is NOT an indictment on the player. The multi-time Pro Bowl selection is typically a targets hog who is unequivocally one of the virtual game’s elites. His WR7 ranking is a matter of preference. Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, Odell Beckham and Jordy Nelson, in that order, I feel are slightly better options. And it’s not like the wideout is flea free. Green did miss 10 combined games from 2014-2016. A healthy Ross and Eifert could also reduce his targets share to around 25 percent. Additionally, if Mixon proves worthy, the receiver may not completely dominate red zone work compared to years past. Yes, he’s ridiculous, but an 80-1180-8 line feels right.
Liz – UNDER. While Green’s season totals were down in 2016, he averaged more catches and yards per game than the previous two years. Under Hue Jackson, the six-time Pro Bowl talent managed 5 catches and 80 yards per contest. With Jackson gone and a thinned out receiving corps, Green grabbed 6.6 balls for 96 yards per outing. In fact, before getting hurt, over the first ten weeks of the season, the Bengals’ stud was the fourth most productive fantasy player at the position.
It can be argued that the lack of surrounding talent worked as a double-edged sword for Green. While his weekly totals (18 FPTS/gm) increased, perhaps the additional wear and tear led to the hamstring injury that ended his sixth professional campaign. Regardless, the 2017 squad has a new look with additional chess pieces to take the heat off of the almost-29-year-old wideout. Given his consistent ability to produce, regardless of injury (ex: 2014 season) and/or offensive makeup, Green deserves top-five consideration.
TEAMMATE TUSSLE: Who finishes the year with more yards: TE Tyler Eifert or WR John Ross?
Liz – ROSS. Still rehabbing from shoulder surgery, it’s likely that Ross will be forced to sit out the beginning of camp. That’s going to put the rookie behind the eight ball, since reps are so essential to first-year players. However, there’s no telling what sort of finesse Eifert (who’s also expected to miss the start of camp) will retain since going under the knife nearly six months ago.
Over the past two years, when healthy, Eifert has averaged between 47 and 49 yards per game. Extrapolated over a 16-game season, that totals 768 yards. Given his fragility, I don’t think Eifert has a full-slate in him. And while I think Ross will probably miss up to three games (strained hammy, calling it), his speed and after the catch potential lead me to believe he can come close to that number.
Brad – ROSS. The chance either injures a significant body part jumping into a giant foam pit is rather substantial. Eifert and Ross have kept doctors, trainers and rehab specialists quite busy over the years. Really, the answer to this question boils down to longevity.
Still, assuming each plays a 16-game stretch, a miracle equivalent to Ted Ginn catching every targeted pass, I’ll give the rookie the edge. He showcases Ferrari speed, runs clean variable routes, displays fancy footwork, can beat press coverage and owns reliable hands (six drops on 105 catchable balls with Washington 2015-2016). Quickly recover from his latest setback, labrum surgery, and he races past Brandon LaFell in the race for the starting ‘Z’ job opposite Green. Due to the favorable coverages he’ll unarguably see and a 55-800-5 line is attainable in Year 1.