QB Andy Dalton
(2013 QB Rank–#3, 23.6 FPts/G)
Since the days of fellow former second-rounder Boomer Esiason, the team in tiger stripes hasn’t seen a quarterback sling it around the yard. Last season, though, Andy Dalton set career highs with 33 touchdown passes and nearly 4,300 yards in the air. His tremendous stat line vaulted him into the top-five at his fantasy position. Entering only his fourth season, fantasy owners should be falling all over themselves to make Dalton their fantasy starter. But the gridiron leader in the Queen City doesn’t seem to be much of a fantasy king. What gives? The most troublesome blemish on Dalton has more to do with his failings as a real life quarterback, rather than a fantasy one. Although he has helped drag a perennially losing team out of the muck, he has been an utter failure in the playoffs with a 0-3 record and 1-6 touchdown to interception ratio. Last year was perhaps the biggest disappointment, as he was one of the hottest quarterbacks in the league from Week 10 on. Despite the great touchdown totals, Dalton was turnover prone, throwing the fifth most interceptions (20) in the league. A look at the numbers shows that Dalton was dreadful when the heat was on, ranking in the lower quarter of the league in third down conversion percentage and completion percentage when under pressure. These statistical numbers should be improving as he gets more experience in the NFL, but they aren’t. He was the only top-10 quarterback anywhere near those poor totals, and this speaks to his greatest fault: He simply isn’t at his best as a volume passer. The Bengals clearly agree. In comes former Bengals running backs coach Hugh Jackson, who brings a decidedly more conservative offensive approach than departing offensive coordinator Jay Gruden. Besides for a philosophy change, the Bengals front office has yet to put a vote of confidence in Dalton in the form of a lucrative extension.
Despite not extending Dalton, the Bengals did nothing in the offseason to bring in a legit challenger to his position. Jason Campbell is merely a veteran mentor, and rookie A.J McCarron won’t see the field due to an injury disaster. So what does all this mean for his fantasy outlook? Any quarterback who throws for 30+ scores and 4,000 yards is worth paying very close attention to. Dalton’s No. 3 finish wasn’t exactly out of nowhere, as he was a fringe QB1 by the end of 2012. And that is where his value as a fantasy quarterback should return to again in 2014: a fringe fantasy starter. With a more conservative approach, Dalton won’t approach the touchdown or yardage totals, but he could actually be more consistent. With the bevy of offensive weapons around him, including one of the game’s best young receivers in A.J. Green, Dalton definitely adds value to a fantasy roster. Let another owner overdraft him based on his 2013 stats, but don’t be afraid to pull the trigger late, as he could be one of better value selections in the QB2 tier.
RB Giovani Bernard
(2013 RB Rank–#16, 10.6 FPts/G)
Whether the offensive coaching staff lacked confidence or worried about overworking him, Giovani Bernard was a woefully underutilized asset in 2013. Only a supremely talented three-tool running back could finish in the top 16, despite having 37 fewer carries than those ranked above him. A skillful playmaker with the ball in his hands, Bernard did a ton of damage in the passing game, racking up 56 catches (on 71 targets), 536 yards and three scores. While he didn’t get a ton of opportunities on the ground, the eighth most targeted running back in the league certainly proved more than capable as a pass catcher. New offensive coordinator Hugh Jackson is very familiar with what Bernard can do with the ball in his hands, so expect the second-year back from North Carolina to carve out more of defined role on the ground as the leader of this two-headed backfield. Bernard offers substantially more big play and chunk yardage potential than plodding veteran BenJarvus Green-Ellis and hammerhead rookie Jeremy Hill. He was very respectable in the red zone with 21 carries (to Green-Ellis’s 30) and four scores. Although he cooled off in the second half – especially down the stretch, (averaging only 3.6 yards per carry over the final five games) – Bernard should play a key role this year with the Bengals. With an uptick in carries, he could approach 1,000 yards rushing. And if the Bengals stay committed to using him creatively in the offensive game plan, Bernard is a sure bet for strong RB2 value with RB1 upside.
RB Jeremy Hill
(2013 RB Rank–N/A)
Make no mistake: This Bengals offense is a two-back system. Even though Giovani Bernard had a breakout season and will lead the backfield in touches, don’t sleep on Jeremy Hill, the rookie out of Louisiana State University. Shifty and agile for his large size, Hill comes to the Bengals from a run-based, pro-style college offense. The second back taken in the 2014 draft, Hill should find his way onto the field quite often if the Bengals stay true to their commitment to the run. His physical tools, pedigree (former high school All-American) and draft position all should give him the leg up with any potential battles with veteran counterpart BenJarvus Green-Ellis. Hill has a nose for the end zone (28 touchdowns in two years with the Tigers) and if he is able to earn the trust of the coaches with good ball control and blitz pickup, he could handle as many as 100+ rushes in his first season. Hill could take over the 30 carries Green-Ellis had in the red zone last season, as well as exceed five rushing touchdowns. Hill will clearly have the most fantasy value to Bernard owners, but there remains some serious potential value for everyone else as RB4/5.
RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis
(2013 RB Rank–#31, 7.5 FPts/G)
Entering his third, and most likely final season with the Bengals, BenJarvus Green-Ellis remains a fantasy mystery. When no one believed he was for real, he followed up his breakout 2010 season with a decent 2011 and 2012 seasons with 11 touchdowns and 1,000 yards rushing, respectively. But the writing was on the wall in 2013, as Green-Ellis, never known for dynamic running ability, mucked his way to a career-low 3.4 yards per carry average. Heralded for his reliable ball control and goal line prowess, Green-Ellis began ceding carries to the younger, more explosive Giovani Bernard around midseason. The Bengals made an even bigger statement when they drafted running back Jeremy Hill in the second round. Should Green-Ellis be able to salvage a roster spot with the Bengals, he could be lurking in the weeds waiting for an opportunity. Bernard and Hill are still very young players on a playoff contender, though. So, don’t underestimate Green-Ellis’ value as a reliable runner inside the red zone should he be called upon. Should Bernard or Hill suffer a long-term injury, a sly fantasy owner might still be able to squeeze a last little bit of value out of the “Law Firm.”
WR A. J. Green
(2013 WR Rank–#4, 13.0 FPts/G)
Only 25 years old and still getting better, A.J. Green gives fantasy owners everything they want in an elite No. 1 wide receiver. Green finished in the top six in targets, receptions, yards and touchdowns. Redraft, Dynasty, PPR or Standard, Green stacks up in any fantasy format. He has increased his totals during each of his three years in the league and has the benefit of being on a team with a young offensive nucleus, which should mean solid production for years to come. Clearly a top-five fantasy wide receiver, there are a few things than could prevent him from reaching the top of the charts. Despite being 6’4’’, Green is slightly built at only 204 lbs., as most players in his height class are 220+ lbs. This lack of bulk might explain his poor catch percentage inside the red zone the past two seasons – 20 catches on 42 targets or 48 percent. Another interesting stat is his red zone touchdown numbers. In 2012, Green scored eight or his 10 total touchdowns inside the 20. Last year he only scored half that number and watched teammate Marvin Jones score nine. These numbers can easily be contributed to increased defensive attention, but this actually could be an area where Green can improve. Offseason training reports seem to indicate that Green has worked to bulk up. An increased dependability near the goal line is a reason why he will maintain his elite status despite the Bengals planned dedication to the run game. Expect a slight dip in receptions and yards, but Green will remain a consistent threat who scores at least 10 times each season, doesn’t miss games, has a good head on his shoulders and looks like a WR1 as much as anyone in the league.
WR Marvin Jones
(2013 WR Rank–#21, 8.6 FPts/G)
Marvin Jones was a surprise hit in 2013, racking up a silly 10 touchdowns on only 51 catches. Fighting to earn playing time opposite stud A.J. Green, Jones made a gigantic fantasy splash in a Week 8 game against the Jets when he went off for 122 yards and four touchdowns. While he had a few decent games very late in the year when he finally seemed to be a more consistent member of the starting lineup, Jones wasn’t nearly the valuable fantasy asset his final rankings make him seem. He’s a young, talented receiver who will benefit from single coverage. You are much better off looking elsewhere when filling out your starting line-up, however. On an offense that figures to flip its run-pass ratio – Cincinnati had a 45 percent to 55 percent ratio in 2013 – and has a host of options fighting for targets behind superstar wide receiver Green, there doesn’t seem to be enough volume coming Jones’ way to make him anything but an end of the roster WR4/5. Expect a slight uptick in catches and yards now that he should be entrenched as a starter, but count on the touchdown total to tumble back into the lower single digits.
TE Tyler Eifert
(2013 TE Rank–#29, 3.8 FPts/G)
If you are looking for a fantasy starter at tight end, you’ve come to the wrong place. Tyler Eifert, the towering 6’6’’ tight end out of Notre Dame was, by many accounts, a disappointment in 2013. Expected to provide a seam-stretching threat to a young, blossoming offense, Eifert was out-produced by his incumbent teammate Jermaine Gresham, who was ranked #21 at the end of 2013. While the duo combined for a respectable 85 catches and 906 yards, the Bengals passing attack flows through A.J. Green and Giovani Bernard. Cincinnati also couldn’t seem to find a way to utilize the size of its tight ends in the red zone, as they combined for a paltry 11 targets. The Bengals’ run-based, two tight end system makes it difficult for either tight end to carve out a spot on your fantasy roster. Eifert does offer intriguing upside and should become more involved in the offense if he can improve his blocking. Upside and opportunity are the best you can hope for a low-tier TE2.