The Bengals were one of the surprising success stories in 2009, managing to win ten games and capture the division title in the tough AFC North. Even more surprising was that they accomplished the feat behind the impressive running ability of former Bear Cedric Benson and a passing attack that barely topped 3,100 yards.
A defeat at home against the Jets in the first round of the playoffs was the only blight—other than the unexpected death of wide receiver Chris Henry—on an otherwise successful season for Cincinnati
Head coach Marvin Lewis returns and so will a reliance on a power rushing attack and a solid defense that is equally effective at stopping the run and pass. With defensive end Antwan Odom healthy after posting eight sacks in just six games, the Bengals defense might be even better in 2010.
Coming off an elbow injury suffered in 2009, Palmer struggled with his accuracy, and the Bengals turned to the run more often than during any of his other seasons as the team’s starter. Given the success the Bengals enjoyed with their running game in 2009, it is unlikely that Palmer will return to posting the gaudy passing statistics he put up from 2005 to 2007.
Benson was the heart of the Bengals offensive engine last season and should remain so in 2010. He had a breakout season and proved that he could produce if given the ball on a consistent basis. Bernard Scott, who showed flashes as a rookie, may be needed if Benson is suspended as a result of an altercation at a bar over the summer. If Benson is suspended, it is expected to be a short one spanning one to three games.
At wide receiver, the Bengals struggled to replace the production that T.J. Houshmandzadeh could be counted on for, as Laveranues Coles was disappointing in his only season in Cincinnati. Former Bucs wide receiver Antonio Bryant was signed to start opposite Chad Ochocinco, and that tandem provides the Bengals with a pair of receivers capable of making big plays.
Andre Caldwell will man the slot position again this season, unless rookie third-round pick Jordan Shipley is able to supplant him. Matt Jones will battle 2008 second-round bust Jerome Simpson along with Quan Cosby for the remaining wide receiver spots on the team’s depth chart.
After going several seasons without a receiving threat at tight end, the Bengals used their first-round selection in this year’s draft on Jermaine Gresham. The Oklahoma product has excellent size (6’5, 260 pounds) and speed. He totaled nearly 1,000 receiving yards in 2008 while averaging over 14 yards per reception (he missed last season with a knee injury).
The Bengals abandoned their pass-heavy approach from previous seasons in 2009 and were rewarded for it with their first playoff berth since 2005. While Palmer has impressive credentials in the passing game, there is little chance the Bengals will return to their pass-happy ways in 2010.
QB Carson Palmer
Without question, Palmer was a fantasy disappointment in 2009, suffering through his worst year in the NFL since struggling as a first-year starter during his second year in the league. In 2009, he was recovering from an elbow injury that ruined his 2008 season, but the bigger issue was the team’s reliance on Cedric Benson and the lack of a big-play threat once they lost Chris Henry. Palmer had seven games with under 200 yards passing, surpassed 300 yards only once, and had only five games with multiple touchdown passes. In fact, he ranked 18th among fantasy quarterbacks, courtesy of a five-touchdown performance against the Bears along with three rushing touchdowns on the season. Although the Bengals added Antonio Bryant to play opposite Chad Ochocinco and selected tight end Jermaine Gresham in the first round of the rookie draft, Palmer’s outlook for 2010 is not promising. He is a fantasy backup at this point in his career, and that won’t change until the Bengals part with their run-heavy offense. The Bengals are going to run a lot again in 2010, and Palmer will almost certainly be drafted before he should be, based on his name recognition and past fantasy achievements.
RB Cedric Benson
Benson followed up a productive 2008 campaign by becoming one of the league’s better inside runners in 2009, finishing with 1,251 rushing yards and six touchdowns despite not playing in three games. He displayed an ability to cut once past the hole and get outside, breaking several reasonably long runs in the process. In 2010, Benson enters the season as one the league’s true workhorse backs and will get plenty of touches in the Bengals run-based offense. It’s hard to expect him to average close to the 25 touches per game he had in 2009, but an improvement on his six touchdowns is likely if he can remain healthy. His availability for a portion of the entire season is in question as a result of an incident at a bar where he is accused of assaulting an employee. Because of the Bengals’ offensive philosophy and lack of a proven backup running back, Benson is a low-risk option as a high-end RB2 with upside, provided he can avoid a league suspension. Hard to believe after his disappointing tenure in Chicago.
RB Bernard Scott
Scott will enter the season as Cedric Benson’s top backup, and the second-year player has a chance to put up decent numbers on a Bengals squad that likes to run. He lacks the size to challenge Benson but managed a respectable 4.3 yards per carry while showing an ability to make tacklers miss in the return game. If he can carry that over to the base offense, he could be a low-end flex play, but , either way, he is definitely a worthy handcuff for Benson owners.
WR Chad Ochocinco
Ochocinco is coming off a solid comeback season in 2009, where he finished with 1,047 yards and nine touchdowns. However, his age (thirty-two) is becoming a bit of a concern—as is the Bengals offense, which struggled mightily in 2009. The team did sign Antonio Bryant, who should be an improvement over Laveranues Coles and whose presence may free up Ochocinco with more single coverage. Nonetheless, it is unrealistic to expect Ochocinco to return to his glory days from 2002–2007 when he averaged 1,339 receiving yards per season. Expect him to match his production from a year ago, with a number of low-production games due to a lack of targets.
WR Antonio Bryant
Bryant is a talented receiver coming off a disappointing season with the lowly Buccaneers in 2009, where he finished with 600 receiving yards and four touchdowns. Injuries and inconsistent play at quarterback contributed to Bryant’s lack of production, but don’t be deluded into thinking he has an opportunity to match his 2008 Buccaneers season in Cincinnati this year. In fact, Bryant’s fantasy prospects were likely better served had he stayed in Tampa Bay. In Cincinnati, Bryant will be the second most talented receiver on a team that doesn’t throw a lot. Keep your expectations realistic.
WR Andre Caldwell
Quarterback Carson Palmer trumpeted Caldwell’s ability during his rookie campaign, and there was some hope that he would develop into a receiver capable of moving into the starting lineup at some point. However, after a pair of largely nondescript seasons, Caldwell’s future appears to be in the slot; and he has shown little ability in making tacklers miss, averaging just 8.2 yards per reception. He will battle rookie third-round pick Jordan Shipley for playing time and, should he win the job outright, could be a decent flex play in a pinch, given his 52 receptions from a year ago. Not much upside here.
WR Jordan Shipley
Chad Ochocinco isn’t getting any younger, Antonio Bryant and Matt Jones aren’t getting any smarter, Andre Caldwell’s best suited as a backup, and Jerome Simpson will be starting his second career soon. Shipley’s got an opportunity, just not this year. Keep Shipley in mind in your keeper leagues, but avoid him in your redraft leagues.
TE Jermaine Gresham
Forecasting solid production from rookie tight ends is kind of like expecting to win the lottery. It’s very rare, especially when that tight end plays in an offense that’s going to run, and run a lot. While Gresham may be a solid receiving prospect, the Bengals have a decent slot receiver in Andre Caldwell to go along with three big wide receivers in Chad Ochocinco, Antonio Bryant, and Matt Jones.