Revamped and healthy Cincinnati Bengals have makings of a fantasy football juggernaut
The Yahoo Fantasy analysts will preview all 32 NFL teams between now and the eventual start of the 2020 draft season. Here, we’ll tackle pressing fantasy questions, #FantasyHotTaeks, and team win totals. Next up, the Cincinnati Bengals.
Joe Burrow just had arguably the best season for a QB in CFB history. Now he’s stepping into a Cincinnati situation where there’s a lot to like. Would you draft Burrow, or take a wait-and-see approach on the waiver wire?
Dalton: Burrow enters coming off a crazy-good final college season that saw him get a whopping 13.9 YPA on first downs. Over the last decade, only Russell Wilson had a better college CPOE than Burrow’s 2019 season, which he finished with a silly 60:6 TD:INT ratio and revealed further fantasy upside by adding 368 rushing yards and five scores on the ground. Burrow’s somewhat advanced age should be considered a plus for his 2020 fantasy value, and while he relied heavily on identifying mismatches pre-snap in college, the Bengals are ideally suited for that as arguably the deepest team in the league at wide receiver now. I’m treating Burrow as a borderline fantasy QB1 right away.
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Andy: Realistically, if you play in a smallish 8- or 10-person league, then no one should be drafting Burrow. But in any sort of larger league, he’s clearly a player of interest. We’ve never seen a collegiate passing season as impressive as the one he just delivered, and he’s stepping into a sneaky-loaded offense. I’m already on record as a believer that he can make a significant fantasy splash in his first season. It’s historically rare for any QB selected first overall to have so much talent surrounding him. A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, and rookie Tee Higgins are a ridiculous receiving trio, plus Auden Tate and John Ross remain in the team picture. Burrow has a shot at setting a few rookie passing records, no question.
Liz: They call him Joe Cool for a reason. As discussed on the Rookie Snapshot Podcast, Burrow’s game is slick. He’s got the poise and processing speed of a pro, as evidenced by 3,077 air yards in the 2019 season (QB1) and his 76.3% (QB1) completion percentage. He’s also being surrounded by a dynamic group of pass-catchers and will be working behind a revamped offensive line. These aren’t your dad’s Bengals.
While the potential is obvious, the rate at which Burrow can ascend — especially in such an atypical offseason — is the biggest obstacle facing his fantasy relevance in 2020. At such a deep position it doesn’t make sense to start Burrow in standard redraft, but he's a solid draft target in 2-QB or Superflex leagues. For reference, he’s the Yahoo Consensus QB21 — just behind Jimmy G and ahead of Philip Rivers.
Joe Mixon has been able to make a lot of good out of some bad situations the past two seasons. Now, with a new QB and an offensive line expected to be better (and healthier), can he crack a top-five RB finish?
Liz: Mixon showed off game-changing quicks and elusiveness during his sophomore campaign by posting 20 breakaway runs over a 14 game span (RB2). In 2019, he followed that up with a miraculous effort wherein he not only evaded 103 tackles (RB1) and put up a top-four juke rate (32.9%), but he also generated 449 yards after first evaded tackle (RB7).
A multi-hyphenate talent likely to touch the ball 18-20 times per game, Mixon undoubtedly has a top-five FF finish in his range of possible outcomes. Though he’s my personal RB8, he certainly belongs at the top of the second tier of rushers with the likes of Derrick Henry, Nick Chubb, and Dalvin Cook.
Andy: Mixon’s performance last season, considering the team context, was astonishing. He averaged 24.1 touches per week over the final eight games, topping 1,100 rushing yards and 1,400 scrimmage yards for the second straight year. There’s almost no way Cincinnati’s offense won’t improve substantially in 2020, assuming a non-disastrous injury situation. He’s not quite in my top-5 at the moment, but it’s easy to imagine him finishing near the top of his position.
Dalton: Absolutely. He’s a bit of a durability concern, but Mixon just totaled 994 yards with five touchdowns over the second half of last season, and the Bengals’ situation will look much better with Burrow, A.J. Green and Jonah Williams now on his side. Mixon is still just 23 years old, can be a three-down back and projects to have the easiest schedule for fantasy RBs this season. He’s the No. 6 overall player on my board, and I’m closer to moving him higher than lower.
Are you trusting A.J. Green coming off a missed campaign, or are you ignoring him for one of the younger receiving options on this team?
Andy: At Green’s current ADP (78.5), it’s not particularly important that you fully trust him. We’re not drafting him as a bankable WR1. In fact, he’s going only a few spots ahead of teammate Tyler Boyd. Obviously health has been an issue for Green in recent seasons and he’s now on the other side of 30. But let’s please remember that Green is one of the most dangerous receivers of his era ...
Playmaker in Cincinnati since 2011. 🔥
And there's more to look forward to from @ajgreen_18 in 2020. 👏 pic.twitter.com/mkW6V3Kt8y
— NFL (@NFL) March 18, 2020
... and his quarterback situation has improved in no small way. As your fantasy roster’s No. 2 (or 3) receiver, he can be a difference-maker.
Dalton: I don’t exactly trust Green coming off his injuries, but I’d certainly draft him ahead of any other Bengals receiver and love that he’s never been cheaper in drafts. Since I’m in on Burrow, I’m buying Green with a nice comeback season as well. Green averaged 1,173 yards and eight touchdowns over the first seven seasons of his career, is playing for a new contract, and could easily have his best QB ever throwing to him, so count me in.
Liz: It’s important to remember that Green didn’t suffer an in-season injury last year. He tore up his ankle due to poor field conditions at Bengals camp last July. Furthermore, he hurt his left ankle … which had never been an issue previously (his toe maladies were on his right foot). Given the state of the Bengals 2019 effort and Green’s contract situation, there was zero motivation for him to come back early. Therefore, he’s had plenty of time to rest up and rehab.
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While it would be foolish to expect a bounce-back to 2015 form, he is certainly capable — as one of the best jump-ball talents to play the game and with an obvious upgrade in HC and QB — of posting a 75-975-5 stat line. Those numbers would put him on the WR2/WR3 bubble, which is exactly where he’s being drafted. He’s a solid value in the sixth-ish rounds of 12-team exercises.
Liz: Whether he leapfrogs Auden Tate or spells a banged up A.J. Green, Tee Higgins is going to have a few multi-touchdown games in 2020. A former basketball standout, Higgins is an exciting perimeter and end-zone weapon who knows how to high-point the ball. His success in the red area of the field was made evident during his career at Clemson where he scored a touchdown on 20 percent of his catches. Yahoo Sports draft expert Eric Edholm actually comped him to A.J. Green. It may not come early in the season, but Higgins will emerge as the Bengals’ best downfield weapon by the end of the year.
OVER/UNDER on 5.5 Win Total from BetMGM
Dalton: It’s not easy sharing a division with the Ravens and Steelers, but the Bengals have a quietly improving defense to go along with the possible addition of a superstar at sports’ most important position. They also have intriguing skill position players, an innovative young coach, and will have a left tackle who was just drafted No. 11 returning, so Cincinnati is my favorite long shot (125/1) to win the Super Bowl and my favorite OVER of the year.
Follow Dalton: @daltondeldon
Follow Liz: @LizLoza_FF
Follow Andy: @AndyBehrens