2015 Fantasy Football Outlook: Cincinnati Bengals
August 14, 2015 | Chet
2015 Bengals Schedule
As you know, there are positives and negatives when factoring in schedule analysis this early, so tread lightly. After drawing Oakland and San Diego to begin the season, the Bengals then have one of the worst passing slates on paper in the league. Half of their games are against teams that were in top-10 in defending the pass a season ago and road games with three different playoff teams from a year ago also on the docket outside of those games. This was already a passing game that really throttled down last season in a soft environment, so I’m not exactly encouraged by their early outlook.
In year one under Hue Jackson, the Bengals grinded down their volume going from fifth in the NFL in offensive plays in 2013 to 17th last season. Jackson had his work cut out for him as Cincinnati lost playmakers A.J. Green and Giovanni Bernard for multiple games each and essentially were without Tyler Eifert and Marvin Jones for the entire season. With all of those moving parts and missing pieces, the Bengals ended as an overall middling offense in terms of efficiency.
Bengal Ball Control
Cincinnati moved into the top five in terms of rushing play percentage (47.6 percent) in 2014 as they led for 45.9 percent of their offensive snaps, the fifth highest percentage in the league. That aided rookie rusher Jeremy Hill in becoming the first Bengal rookie to hit 1,000 yards on the ground since Corey Dillon in 1997. Hill ran for 140 or more yards in four different games last season, tied for the most in the league with DeMarco Murray.
Hill really had three different seasons wrapped into one as he began the season as part time backup, handling just 25.4 percent of the carries through eight weeks. Then Gio Bernard suffered a hip injury and missed the next three games, allowing us to see how Hill could perform as a true feature back. In those three games Hill ran over 150 yards twice on a robust 5.7 yards per attempt. When Bernard returned, Hill remained the lead back in the offense, but also shared a great deal of time with Bernard. Hill handled 54.5 percent of the team carries over the final seven games including the postseason, but the playing time was split between the two separate roles each back provided the offense.
|Final 7 Games||Snap %||RuAtt||RuYd||RuTD||Tgt||Rec||ReYd||ReTD||PPG||Top24||Top12|
Over that stretch, Hill’s average weekly finish was still as a strong RB2 play at RB17.8, but that RB1 ceiling was gone as he had just one top-12 scoring week over that span. That’s slightly below the current RB11 price tag you’d have to pay to acquire Hill around the second and third round turn this summer. It’s always worrisome when you see backs completely split up in usage like above because you expose yourself to following the game script. The Bengals played so heavily with offensive leverage last season that we didn’t see too much of worry, but in their two big losses over those final seven games (week 14 against Pittsburgh and their playoff loss to Indianapolis) Hill was rendered ineffective by the script as he played just 51 percent of the snaps in week 14, totaling eight carries for 46 yards and just 34 percent of the snaps in the playoff loss registering 13 carries for 47 yards.
I still like Hill a lot as he’s the more talented and consistent runner, has big touchdown upside and plays behind one the league’s best offensive lines. That said, when investing a pick into a second round player, I need that player to not have potential to be victimized by things beyond his control. The Bengals don’t draw the AFC and NFC South year; instead they get the AFC and NFC West. Given Andy Dalton’s propensity to struggle versus better defensive clubs, I need Hill to hit the third round to make the majority of my rosters instead of taking him over the WR1’s that make up the second tier of the position that are available throughout the second round.
The flip side is also troublesome for investing into Bernard as now he’s in a weird area of usage that is somewhere below a limited combo back like Andre Ellington yet above a pure pass catcher like Shane Vereen. For a back that struggles on the interior and is often labeled as a boom or bust runner, Bernard is actually way more bust than boom.
|Player||Att||2 Yd or Less||%||5+ Yds||%||10+ Yds||%|
Bernard had eight carries inside the five-yard line last season, converting four for scores, but not one of those carries came in those seven games in which both he and Hill split duties. Bernard was useful for fantasy when he and Hill shared time, but he played over half of the snaps just three times in those games. Relying on receptions for scoring, he also had 15.7 percent of the Bengal’s targets, the second highest on the team over that span; something we have to assume is in jeopardy with Eifert and Jones returning. As a player going at RB26, I’m actively avoiding Bernard as I’d just rather wait on Vereen himself or even later for Danny Woodhead if that’s the type of player I am adding to my roster.
Spending Green on Green
2014 was frustrating for A.J. Green owners as he battled a litany of injuries all season long. Green was on the injury report for 11 weeks of the season last year as he dealt with a toe injury that made him doubtful or questionable for five of the opening eight weeks of the season then suffered a bruised biceps injury and a concussion late in the season. Three of Green’s top four scoring weeks came in weeks when he wasn’t on the injury report at all as his per game totals were still very much in line with what we’ve seen from him through his previous three seasons.
The two takeaways here are that Green found the end zone less than normal, but that can be explained by his dip in involvement near the end zone. Green had just three total targets all season long inside the 10-yard line, which ranked 108th in the league and was less than half of the targets Jermaine Gresham (seven) had. Prior to 2014, Green had 16, 12, and 12 such targets, so I’d look for him to get back into the end zone more often this season.
The other takeaway is a little concerning, however. That is that Green was funneled with targets per opportunity he was on the field. He was targeted on 31 percent of his routes, a career high, but still seen his fewest targets per game since his rookie seasons since the Bengals threw 84 fewer passes in Jackson’s first season as a play caller. He’s still going to command in the area of 25 percent plus of the team targets even with returning assets, but the days of Green seeing 160 plus targets are in the lower range of outcomes for this offense.
Also mentioned in the open, the Bengals passing schedule is a nightmare on paper. Now, you’re not going to fade a player of Green’s talent level based on strength of opponent, but it’s something to be cognizant of limiting Green’s ceiling. As C.D. Carter points out, Green has had one of the highest fluctuations in points stacked against subpar opponents to high level ones because of his attachment to Dalton and his performance in those games. Carter also highlights Green as a safe commodity at his WR8 price point and I’d agree. I still prefer the players currently above Green at his position and I can see Green being a disappointing asset throughout the Bengals bye week, potentially making him a great trade target in season, but landing a perennial WR1 in the mid to late second is move that is hard to pass on. In closing on Green, I don’t stock this as having major predictive value on Green’s future outlook, but he has one of the most bizarre splits I’ve ever seen in terms of home and road performance and wanted to share it.
Battling behind Green are Mohamed Sanu and the returning Marvin Jones, who missed all of 2014 with a foot injury. Sanu was “Bengal Golden Tate” in a sense because he was completely relevant for fantasy circles, but needed Green’s absence and hindrance due to injury to clear the way. Sanu posted seven top-30 scoring weeks, but all came in games in which he outsnapped Green.
|Week||Rank||Sanu Snaps||Green Snaps||Targets||Rec||Yds||TD||FF Pts|
The other weeks Sanu averaged just two receptions for 18.8 yards per game on just 3.8 targets and failed to score. Inflated by opportunity out of necessity, Sanu is afterthought for fantasy at this stage unless another door is majorly opened for him again.
Jones is a little more intriguing because he was a favorite for many to take another step forward in 2014 after a 51 catch, 712 yard, 10 touchdown season as a sophomore in 2013. The biggest area where Jones was missed last year was in the red zone as he converted nine of 14 targets near the paint for scores that last season he played. Now, that rate wasn’t sustainable, but him missing played a part in Andy Dalton in having his worst performance in the red zone to date.
While I’m enticed by the ceiling Jones may have in relation to his WR58 cost, I’m still not finding myself drafting him often because of the entire situation in place in Cincinnati. If we’re only expecting the Bengals to top out near the 550 pass attempt mark and Green to take up at least a quarter of those targets, I just don’t see enough targets being available for Jones to make major headway for fantasy with Bernard and Eifert also in the fold. I’m leaving Jones for best ball formats only in hopes of snagging a few games built on touchdown production, but will need to see him heavily involved early on before jumping in on his stock this season.
If I am going to pursue a passing asset from this situation after Green, it’s going to be Tyler Eifert. After a 39 catch, 445 yard, two score season as a rookie in 2013, Eifert missed nearly all of 2014 after suffering a dislocated elbow after a three catch, 37 yard opening quarter to start the season. Now that Gresham is no longer with the team, Eifert will have control of the position and Gresham is leaving 16 percent of the team targets (79), 13 red zone targets and seven targets inside the 10-yard line behind. Eifert may be a guy who still has down weeks due to overall volume, but with the Bengals facing so many good secondaries that will limit their outside passing game, I see Eifert as being a major point of emphasis in game planning. If someone is going to emerge as a true second option in this passing game, I’d bet on Eifert. He’s still going for pennies at TE17, and as someone who wants to chase upside at the tight end position, I’ll be targeting Eifert often in the double digit rounds of drafts.
Andy Dalton had a rough go of it 2014 in terms of providing fantasy fruit which is unfortunate considering just how light the Bengals schedule was. Dalton finished 26th in average quarterback finish (QB17.5 per week) with just six top-12 scoring weeks and only one of those being inside the top-six. With all of the missing pieces at times, he had his least efficient season to date.
Dalton actually upped his accuracy, but fell apart everywhere else. In order to circumvent a volume loss like he had last season, he needed to be far more efficient with his attempts from a fantasy stance. I do expect his touchdown totals to come back up this season but I’m not high on his overall outlook because of his performances against stiffer competition and how he performs when he sees a team twice in one season. Using the Games Splits App at RotoViz, not only does Dalton draw the NFC West, but he also has six other games in his own division in which he has been a worse performer for fantasy for his career.
I’ll be leaving Dalton for best ball formats only to avoid the rough parts of the schedule, but Dalton can exploit the softer parts. C.D. Carter has Dalton with a mid QB2 ceiling this season pointing to Dalton being a matchup play quarterback for those waiting until the deep portions of their drafts. I do believe with the returning pieces Dalton rebounds statistically, but even in 2013, he had just six top-12 scoring weeks and had the highest dud percentage of starts among quarterbacks. Despite not being high on Dalton, he’s still sitting at QB24 in drafts for those running a platoon at the position and who want to make a play on him opening with Oakland.