Almost one year after signing Laveranues Coles to be the team’s starting wide receiver opposite Chad Ochocinco, the Bengals have signed former Buc Antonio Bryant to provide the production Coles failed to. Bryant has signed for a reported $28 million over four years.
Bryant is coming off a down year in Tampa Bay which was partly due to knee surgery during training camp. The Bucs also used inexperienced quarterbacks for most of the year. In 13 games, he had 39 receptions for 600 yards and four touchdowns.
The Bengals are hoping that his knee is fully recovered and that he can duplicate his career year in 2008 when he had 83 receptions for 1,248 yards and seven touchdowns, all career highs. The team struggled in the passing game in 2009, finishing 26th in yards passing while featuring the league’s 9th best running attack.
Although Bryant isn’t a true burner, he is a strong, physical receiver who is adept at making acrobatic catches and is capable of getting deep, as evidenced by his career average yards per catch of 15.4.
In Cincinnati, Bryant joins a team that morphed from being a passing team to a running team during the 2009 season. The team averaged just 181 yards passing last year and quarterback Carson Palmer had his worst year statistically since his second year in the league (excluding his injury shortened 2008 season).
With the Bengals making the playoffs using an offense based heavily on the run, there is little reason to suggest they will change that in 2010. Bryant figures to be more productive than Coles, who clearly lost a step in 2009, or Andre Caldwell and Jerome Simpson, 2nd year players last year who clearly were not ready for feature roles.
Bryant figures to slot in as a fantasy WR4 or WR5 with upside. However, look for him to be drafted higher than that based on his strong 2008 campaign and perhaps the unfounded belief that the Bengals will revert back to their pass happy ways. A season of 750 yards and 4-6 touchdowns seems likely.
Bryant’s presence should have no effect on Ochocinco but certainly hinders the prospects of Caldwell and Simpson as well as Matt Jones. Caldwell figures to get the work out of the slot with Jones being used more in the red zone. Simpson might be looking for employment elsewhere in 2010.
As for Palmer, his status as a fantasy backup remains unchanged. Ignore these stats at your own peril—only nine games with over 200 yards passing, one game with over 300 yards passing and just five multi-touchdown games. He moves up in the rankings with Bryant on board but remains a low end backup at this point.