QB Carson Palmer
With the Bengals struggling for much of the season, and with a pair of veteran wide receivers in Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens at his disposal, Palmer threw for 3,970 yards and 26 touchdowns in 2010, good enough to finish as the 11th-rated fantasy quarterback. His play improved upon a 2009 season in which he suffered through the worst statistical year of his career—other than his first year as a starter in 2003 and an injury-shortened campaign in 2008. However, with neither veteran wideout expected back with the Bengals in 2011, and with the team likely to revert to the run-based offense that propelled them to the AFC North title in 2009, Palmer’s fantasy outlook for this season is not promising. The wide receiver depth chart will feature rookie first-round pick A.J. Green and youngsters Jerome Simpson, Jordan Shipley, and Andre Caldwell, along with second-year tight end Jermaine Gresham. That’s a big drop-off from Owens and Ochocinco and probably part of the reason Palmer has asked for a trade. The constant losing in Cincinnati certainly hasn’t helped, either. If Palmer were to stay, he did shine a ray of hope during the Bengals’ final two games last year, where he put up solid numbers while throwing to the team’s youngsters at wide receiver. But that was most likely an anomaly. Palmer ranks among the worst fantasy options at quarterback for 2011.
QB Andy Dalton
He’s a rookie and his receiving corps may be the league’s worst if veteran Chad Ochocinco isn’t back, as is expected. In addition, the Bengals are expected to rely heavily on the run, even though their workhorse runner is a free agent who averaged 3.5 yards per carry in 2010. While Dalton will open the season as the Bengals starter if incumbent Carson Palmer is traded—or holds out or retires—there are basically no reasons to endorse him as anything more than a last resort fantasy option for 2011. With a bevy of young talent at wide receiver, Dalton is a decent option in dynasty leagues, but he should be avoided in redraft leagues.
RB Cedric Benson
After having a career year in 2009, Benson stumbled slightly last season, finishing with 1,111 rushing yards and seven touchdowns on the ground to go along with 178 receiving yards and a touchdown. While his rushing total only dropped by 140 yards, his 2009 production came in just 13 games compared to the 16 he played in 2010, and his average yards per carry dropped from 4.2 to 3.5. Benson is a free agent but figures to return to a Bengals team that has major question marks in the backfield, with quarterback Carson Palmer having requested a trade and only the unproven Bernard Scott behind Benson at running back. Benson has had 667 touches during his two-year, 29-game stay in Cincinnati, so look for him to be one of the league’s few workhorse backs once again if he remains with the team. That argument is bolstered by the success the Bengals had with the run in 2009 and the possibility that rookie Andy Dalton could open the season at quarterback. Given the high number of touches he should get, Benson ranks as a mid-tier RB2 heading into 2011, provided he stays in Cincinnati.
RB Bernard Scott
When the Bengals used a sixth-round pick in 2009 to draft Scott, the assumption was that he would challenge Cedric Benson for playing time. Despite Benson’s inability to generate many big plays and his lack of production as a receiver out of the backfield, Scott has not been able to earn significant playing time in the Bengals offense. He was basically an afterthought for most of the 2010 season, getting nine touches in the opening game but not topping six touches again until Week 15. Given Scott’s lack of production and use, there is little doubt that the Bengals will look for another veteran running back if they fail to re-sign Benson. That makes Scott little more than a handcuff in 2011.
WR Chad Ochocinco
Two years ago, there were rumors the Bengals had turned down two first-round picks for Ochocinco. In typical Bengals fashion, they are now looking at getting a low-round draft pick for him or releasing him outright. He has a large salary for the coming season and the Bengals will soon have to test the youth they’ve acquired at wide receiver. With Ochocinco approaching 34 years of age and having just 831 yards last year and only one 1000-yard season in the last three, his days of being a fantasy stud appear to be over. If the Bengals decide to part ways with him, he has enough left to earn a starting spot wherever he lands, but his diminishing speed means the best fantasy owners can expect from him is a repeat of his 831 yards and four touchdowns from last season. That makes him a low-end WR3 with little upside and a history of inconsistent production.
WR A.J. Green
Chad Ochocinco is getting long in the tooth, and the Bengals seem destined for a youth movement. That bodes well for Green’s targets, and the odds are strong that the fourth pick in this year’s draft will emerge as the team’s top threat at wide receiver early this season. Easily the most polished wideout in the draft and arguably the most talented, Green was very productive at Georgia and had a nose for finding the end zone, with 23 touchdowns in just three seasons. At 6’4” and 210 pounds, Green has prototypical size for a receiver in the West Coast offense that new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden will employ. The biggest issues for Green will be learning a pro offense in a shortened offseason and the team’s uncertainty at quarterback and wide receiver, with the futures of Carson Palmer and Ochocinco in doubt. Green is gold in dynasty leagues, but he ranks as little more than a WR5 in 2011.
WR Jerome Simpson
If you’re looking for a Jerome Simpson endorsement, you’ve come to the wrong place. That would involve ignoring the first 45 games of his career (in which he caught just one pass) in favor of the final three games of the 2010 season, in which he caught 20 passes for 277 yards and three touchdowns, including a pair of games with more than 18 fantasy points. While the former second-round pick likely secured another season on the Bengals roster due to those three games, the fact is that he was headed for the unemployment line and major bust status. Simpson has decent size and speed and he should be considered the front-runner to start opposite rookie A.J. Green, provided Chad Ochocinco is released as expected. However, barring a consistently productive training camp, Simpson carries major risk and is worth little more than a low draft pick in redraft leagues and should be considered waiver wire material in shallow leagues. His finish to the 2010 season makes him worth monitoring, not necessarily worth adding.
WR Andre Caldwell
The Bengals have raved about Caldwell’s ability. Carson Palmer has raved about Caldwell’s ability. Yet in three years he has caught just 87 passes for 855 yards and three touchdowns, and last year he was beat out by rookie Jordan Shipley to be the team’s top slot receiver. Basically, Caldwell isn’t shifty enough to play inside and he’s not big or fast enough to play outside. Move on. And don’t be surprised if the Bengals follow suit.
WR Jordan Shipley
There’s a good side to Shipley and a bad side as well. It was certainly nice that he put up a fine rookie season in 2010, with 52 receptions for 600 yards and three touchdowns. Yet it became apparent over just one season that he is best suited to line up in the slot because he doesn’t have the physical abilities necessary to succeed outside. That limits his fantasy appeal and potential in leagues that employ standard scoring. In PPR leagues, Shipley has some value given the current state of the Bengal’s wide receivers, provided he continues to build on his 2010 production. His value is further increased if rookie Andy Dalton starts at quarterback since young quarterbacks tend to throw shorter routes, which Shipley usually runs. Shipley is a WR5 in standard scoring leagues, but move him up to WR4 in PPR leagues.
TE Jermaine Gresham
After a respectable rookie season with 52 receptions for 471 yards and four touchdowns, Gresham has some sleeper appeal heading into 2011. Unfortunately, that is dampened by the Bengals potentially starting a rookie quarterback and featuring an unproven group of young wide receivers. While both factors increase the likelihood of Gresham’s targets increasing, there has to be significant concern regarding the Bengals ability to move the chains and generate any type of consistent offensive output. And although Gresham started strongly as a rookie, catching four or more passes in five of his first six games, he notched only two other such games over the balance of the season. He has the talent to excel in the team’s new West Coast offense, but Gresham remains a fantasy backup heading into 2011.