Sunday, June 29, 2014

2014 Fantasy Football Augury, Chapter 14: Cincinnati Bengals

QB: Andy Dalton had the best season of his pro career last year, with nearly 4,300 passing yards and 33 touchdowns (both career bests).  Those are starter-caliber fantasy numbers.

But, as they say, beauty is only skin deep.

The only OC Dalton has had in his pro career, Jay Gruden, has gone to the Redskins.  New OC Hue Jackson loves the running game.  Red flag alert!

Don't expect Dalton's numbers to get better.  On the contrary, look for him to step back to more Dalton-esque 3,500 yards and 25 touchdowns.  These aren't bad numbers, but they are not premiere fantasy stats, either.  You have been issued your written warning by That Damn Sam.

Dalton will be slightly overvalued because of last year's stats, but he is a lower-level top tier quarterback.  He's as borderline-fantasy-starter as you can get.

RB:  So the big question, friends, is this:  does Giovani Bernard become a fantasy star with his new run-happy OC, or does the sophomore slump go all Doug Martin on him?

Bernard has got fantasy treasure chest written all over him; he has all the fixins of a young Ray Rice.  As a rookie, he touched the ball 226 times, rushed for over 600 yards and had more than 500 yards receiving, along with eight touchdowns.  That should make any fantasy owner's ears perk up.  

Bernard is lower-end top tier material who could put up top five numbers.  He should see 300+ touches this season and should be in for an outstanding 2014 if the football gods are kind.  I gotta feeling about him.

At this point, it is questionable if BenJarvus Green-Ellis will even make the team -- and considering he had over 700 yards rushing and seven touchdowns last year, it is a testament as to how highly the Bengals think of Bernard.  My hunch is the Law Firm will be the odd man out, a cap casualty, because a talented newcomer (with a much cheaper salary) is right on his tail.

Rookie Jeremy Hill was taken in the second round and this dude is big.  My gut tells me Hill and Bernard will be featured in a classic "Thunder and Lightning" approach with Bernard getting the lion's share of the carries.  I don't rank Hill as more than an lower-third/upper-fourth tier running back, but as the situation clears in Cincy, this could (and probably will) change, especially if Green-Ellis is released.

WR:  Fantasy gurus have whiffed on their prognostications for many a wide receiver over the last decade.  Roy Williams, Mike Williams, Braylon Edwards and Darrius Heyward-Bey all were supposed to be fantasy studs for years.  

That didn't work out so well, did it?

Most predicted the same for A.J. Green.   And they were (finally) right.  Green has become an elite receiver.  His numbers have improved every year since his rookie season and last season had a career high 1,426 yards receiving (5th in the league) and 11 touchdowns (8th in the league).  There's no sense in dwelling on the subject here: if you draft Green, you get premiere talent.  Easily top tier material.

Marvin Jones grabbed all kinds of fantasy attention last year.  In his second year, he took the proverbial "next step," jumping from 201 yards receiving to 712 yards.  His touchdown total went from one to ten, literally.  He took pressure off Green and the two promise to be an outstanding duo in 2014.  

I don't see Jones eclipsing his 2013 totals, however.  The Bengals will most likely focus more on the ground game and Jones will draw the short straw for targets.  Still, he makes for excellent depth and a decent flex option when conditions warrant.

TE: Two years ago, Jermaine Gresham was on his way to becoming one of the big up-and-coming tight ends in fantasy football; he topped out with 102 targets and 700+ yards receiving in 2012, which made him a fantasy starter.

But the injury bug paid him a hamstring visit last season which resulted in missing a couple of games and was limping around several others.  The result was the worst season of his four year career (461 yards, four touchdowns).  With the emergence of Marvin Jones and Giovani Bernard (who catches the ball extremely well), Gresham will be a fantasy afterthought.  He's no more than a fantasy back-up.  How quickly things change.