Projection Predicaments: Cincinnati Bengals
July 10, 2014 | Jeff
Over the last few weeks, I spent a crazy amount of hours digging through the histories of NFL offensive coordinators and using that data to project fake football statistics for the 2014 season (check those bad boys out HERE). The idea had been swirling around in my noggin for months and I finally carved out time in between standard summer activities like mowing the lawn, watching baseball (yawn), and sweating. Thankfully, having an expectant wife who sleeps roughly 23 hours a day afforded me plenty of time in my office to get familiar with guys like Ben McAdoo, Joe Lombardi, and Jedd Fisch. If that doesn’t sound like a party, I don’t know what does!
When the dust settled and I emerged from under a sizable pile of Monster cans and Funyuns bags, I had a three year history for the offensive coordinator from all 32 NFL teams, including in-depth statistics compiled from multiple sources. We will be unveiling this beast to the public in the coming weeks, and it is quite helpful in wrapping your brain around how an NFL offense might perform this season from a fantasy viewpoint. The next step was using this data to create tangible projections to use when preparing for the upcoming fantasy season. This process was extremely exciting and provided some challenges for certain NFL teams that are undergoing a change in offensive philosophy. Today, we’re going to take a look at one of those teams, the Cincinnati Bengals, and discuss what made projecting their 2014 fortunes difficult and what you can expect from them as we head into fake football draft season.
Gone is Jay Gruden, who served as Cincinnati’s offensive coordinator under Marvin Lewis from 2011-2013, and in steps Hue Jackson to lead the Bengals offense in 2014. Gruden oversaw the development of A.J. Green and Andy Dalton, which culminated with Dalton’s surprising top-tier finish among fantasy quarterbacks in 2013. As Dalton matured, his yearly completions, attempts, passing yardage, and touchdown totals grew each season under Gruden’s direction, but that trajectory is likely to take a swift turn with Hue in charge.
The most recent data we have from Hue Jackson in a leadership role is from the 2010 and 2011 season with the Oakland Raiders. The results from these two season in the bay imply that we are going to see a far more run based team in Cincinnati than in previous years. In ’10 and ’11, Jackson’s quarterbacks averaged yearly totals of 297 completions on 507.5 attempts, where Dalton has averaged 330.7 completions on 543.3 attempts over the last three seasons. Now, the leading fantasy quarterbacks for Jackson in Oakland were Jason Campbell and Carson Palmer, but it is still safe to say we will see a dip in attempts for Dalton. Geoff Hobson from Bengals.com has even offered up the idea that “New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is committed to changing it and I think he’s also committed to taking the load off Andy Dalton.”
Ok, so with limited throws coming this season from Dalton, what does that mean for the fantasy options in Cincinnati?
First of all, we should see an increase in touches in the running game for Gio Bernard and rookie Jeremy Hill. Old timer BenJarvus Green-Ellis will be phased out of the ground attack after the organization selected the beefy Hill (6’1”, 235 lbs) in the second round of the NFL Draft. In his NFL Draft Running Back Preview, our own dynasty rookie expert Rich Hribar described Hill as a “carbon copy of what Eddie Lacy was coming out a year ago,” so Green-Ellis will hand over his early down duties and ride into the sunset as a third-string back. We have Gio at #10 in our running back rankings and he makes a fine second round selection this year, with a high floor guaranteed by heavy involvement in the passing game. In Hue Jackson’s two seasons in Oakland, his top three running backs averaged a combined total of 86.5 catches a year, so Bernard should have absolutely no problem hauling in 50+ passes this year. Hill will make a fine mid-late round selection as the presence of Bernard should keep his Average Draft Position low enough to profit from.
As for wide receivers, this is where things get tricky. With lower numbers expected from Dalton and two capable tight ends in Cincinnati, there are only so many catches to go around for the Bengals wide receivers. I have projected a slight dip in A.J. Green’s numbers for the 2014 season, but Dalton’s trust in his jump ball and downfield abilities will likely keep him from sliding down lower than back-end WR1 territory. I personally won’t be taking Green at all this season, as he will likely be selected before I am ready to take the plunge. The rest of the Cinicinnati receiving group is full of players with extremely limited upside like Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Tate, Ryan Whalen, a grab bag full of other practice squad players….and Marvin Jones.
The 2014 prospects for Jones are difficult to assess. He has been generating some nice sleeper buzz on the Twitter contraption, and even if you delete his nutty Week 8 performance from 2013 where he hauled in 8 catches for 122 yards and four scores (Abe Lincoln), he was still a solid contributor in the fantasy world. On the outside, Jones seems primed to improve on his final stat line of 51 grabs for 712 yards and ten touchdowns from a year ago, but with more emphasis on the running game in Cincy, I have projected Jones taking a slight step back in production. With Gio Bernard and A.J. Green serving as staples in the Bengals passing game, and tight ends Tyler Eifert and Jermaine Gresham likely to see plenty of the field, I just don’t see room for Jones to improve upon his final 2013 stat line.
We have Dalton projected at around 310 completions this season and after subtracting already decreased reception totals from A.J. Green, Tyler Eifert, and Jermaine Gresham while factoring in around 75-80 catches for Bengals running backs, that only leaves roughly 75 total catches available for Cincinnati receivers not named A.J. Green.
Overall, the Bengals will have plenty of players for fantasy owners to rely upon in 2014, but stick to the young running backs in Hue Jackson’s offense and let your league mates pay retail price for delusions of an encore from Andy Dalton.