Fantasy Football Booms/Busts 2018: The Cincinnati Bengals

As the mercury rises and we inch closer to the open of training camps, our resident fantasy football sickos, Brad Evans and Liz Loza, will profile their favorite booms/busts of every NFL team. Today’s topic: The Queen City Cats.

Most Bengals, outside of A.J. Green and Joe Mixon, can be found on the clearance rack. Among Cincy’s group of discounted players who has the most BOOM (return on investment) potential?

Brad – GIO BERNARD. With Mixon sidelined by injury in Week 14, the perpetually underrated Bernard took command of the backfield and turned a garbage situation into gold. Over the season’s final four weeks, a money-making stretch for those who backed him, Gio averaged 4.5 yards per carry, 102.8 total yards per game and splashed pay-dirt twice. His resulting 16.02 fantasy points per game over that stretch in .5 PPR leagues ranked RB9. It was a December to remember.

Bernard, once again pushed aside with Mixon backers salivating at the young RB’s prospects and drafters believing rookie Mark Walton is a threat, is a low-cost (136.9 ADP, RB48) bench back with appreciable upside. Yes, Cincy’s offensive line has a mountain to climb to gain respectability, but Gio is efficient, explosive and deceptively powerful (2.7 YAC/att). If the injury imp sinks his teeth into Mixon, the cemented backup could again don a superhero cape.

Liz – TYLER EIFERT. This is a straight-up value play. Of course, owning Eifert comes with tremendous risk. Numerous back surgeries have kept him sidelined for the bulk of the last two years (10 games total in 2016 and 2017). However, the potential reward of drafting the Bengals favorite red zone target (when healthy) is massive. Currently being selected in the thirteenth round of 12-team exercises (152.77) Eifert is a STEAL.

After all, the Bengals just resigned him to an $8 million-dollar deal, of which $3 million is in incentives, so he’ll be plenty motivated to “prove it.” Plus, he passed on interest from the Rams – where his former teammate Andrew Whitworth now plays – to stay in Cincy. That tells me he’s been made some real promises (like playing well ahead of Tyler Kroft).

Finally, with months to heal and playing behind a revamped offensive line, the 27-year-old has a solid shot of rebounding. He may not score 13 TDs in 2018, but he’ll certainly find the end zone with more frequency than either George Kittle or Jack Doyle, both of whom are currently coming off draft boards ahead of the Pro Bowl talent.

Much publicized as a rookie to bank on in 2017, Joe Mixon fell well short of expectations. With a year of experience under his belt, what’s the bust temperature for the once ballyhooed RB at his current price point (31.7 ADP, RB14): LOW, MEDIUM or HIGH?

Liz – LOW. In the interest of full disclosure, I have Mixon ranked as my RB16, so 14 is a bit high. However, I’m a believer. Yes, last year he was a bust. But he was also a rookie in a time-share, playing behind a bottom-ranked run-blocking unit. It wasn’t until Week 11 that he started receiving significant touches (20+ per contest). Unfortunately, he was concussed in Week 13 and then hobbled through the remainder of the year on a busted ankle.

Sporting a sleeker physique and taking snaps as the team’s undisputed RB1, Mixon is in a position to shine. While his 2017 stat line underwhelmed, it is worth noting that he excelled in the yards created metric, racking up 1.54 yards (#13) per carry after the first evaded tackle. His prowess in the passing game deserves a mention too, as he converted 30 of 34 balls thrown his way. There’s no denying the 21-year-old’s talent… and it’s pretty clear his situation has improved as well.

Brad – MEDIUM-HIGH. To be fair, Mixon is an excellent talent. He’s patient, explosive and largely reliable as a receiver. However, after last year’s disaster, he deserves to be the subject of a future Pusha T diss track. According to Sharp Football, he finished No. 36 in run success rate among eligible RBs (75-plus attempts). Additionally, he landed outside the position’s top-30 in yards after contact per attempt (2.3), averaged a pedestrian 4.0 yards per carry against light fronts and tallied just five runs of 15 or more yards. Yes, Cincy’s sieve of an offensive line was primarily to blame, but Mixon isn’t absolved from wrongdoing. Just look at what fantasy playoff savior Bernard accomplished in the same situation Weeks 14-17.

Mixon’s RB13 ranking in yards created per touch offers encouragement and he’s reportedly trimmed down, but the Bengals line must rectify its issues in a hurry. Though rookie center Billy Price owns road-grater potential, guard Clint Boling is the only projected starter who posted an above average run-blocking grade in 2017.

The rusher is skilled, but the perception he’s a top-15 RB is absurd. Comps to Le’Veon Bell Years 1-to-2 are even crazier. Jordan Howard, Kenyan Drake and Jerick McKinnon are far more attractive around the same price point.

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No second guessing, A.J. Green is sure to come off draft boards at some point in Round 2 of 12-team exercises, no matter format. OVER or UNDER final fantasy rank among WRs in .5 PPR 8.5? (OVER = outside the top-eight; UNDER = inside)

Brad – OVER. This is by no means a hot take on Green. His talents, relative consistency and mostly solid health are extraordinary. The man has finished inside the position’s top-eight three times since 2012.

My viewpoint, however, is largely influenced by the situation around him. As stated above, Cincinnati’s offensive line rebuild is very much a work in progress. Last season, Andy Dalton posted the third-highest sack percentage and fourth-lowest average time to throw (2.51 seconds) among eligible QBs. Due to the constant duress, it’s no wonder why Dalton only managed an 81.2 passer rating when targeting his finest weapon, Green.

Equally alarming, the decorated wideout ranked outside the top-50 in yards per target (7.5) and target separation (1.36), a steep drop-off in both categories compared to the year before. Is it the start of a trend? If not for his gigantic target share (28.7 percent in ’17) some might question the soon-to-be 30-year-old is entering a decline.

For now, Green is my WR11, sandwiched between Josh Gordon (WR10) and Tyreek Hill (WR12). If I’m wrong, I’ll simply blame Ambien.

Liz – UNDER. Kudos to Evans for setting a great line, but I’ll have to disagree with his ranking of the stud wideout. Green has cleared over 1,000 yards ever year – save 2016 when he was sidelined for six games due to injury – since his rookie campaign. Understanding that Bill Lazor has a full offseason to prepare and noting the changes to the offensive line, I’m anticipating a bounce back season for the Bengals. Since high tides raise all boats, that good juju should extend to Green. He’s my WR7 on the season.

Bring the blitz on Twitter. Follow Brad (@YahooNoise) and Liz (@LizLoza_FF).