I think we all agree that for the duration of his Bengal career, Jerome Simpson has been a relatively big disappointment. In his first two NFL seasons from 2008-2009, Simpson was only on the active game day roster in eight of a total of 33 games, which includes the 2009 Wild Card Playoff game against the Jets. Simpson contributed only one catch for two yards in those seasons. Though there’s an old adage in the NFL that goes something like this: "it takes Wide Receivers two or three seasons before they truly understand the game and impact it", having the perceived (lack of) ability to play in only 25 percent of games is unacceptable for a former second-round draft choice.
Going into 2010, not much was expected again of Simpson. Over the last three years, everyone had been hearing about his freakish athleticism and that dreaded word, "upside", when referring to him. But, that wasn't getting him any positive and/or tangible results on the field when it counted. Unfortunately for Simpson, with the "T.Ochocinco" circus in town, he ended up buried low on the depth chart. Even though he led the team in receiving yards during the 2010 preseason, the fact that he made the team was a surprise to some. He only played in two games early in the regular season, again contributing very little.
As fate would have it, he got his chance to start the last three games of the year and caught everybody's attention with his spectacular play. In those three games, Simpson racked up 20 catches (12 alone against the vaunted Baltimore Defense) with 277 yards and three TDs. For you stat geeks out there, that's a three-game average of 6.67 receptions, 92.33 yards, and one Touchdown per game. A pretty impressive stretch by any Wide Receiver's standards. Although it would be somewhat ridiculous to presume that Simpson would put up those averages over an entire 16-game season, it's safe to say that the expectations for Simpson in 2011 have been ratcheted up quite a bit from those of 2010.
Outside of his raw athleticism, there's three things in Simpson's corner that makes us believe that he'll be the best and most productive Wide Receiver in 2011.
The first is experience. With the recent departure of Chad Ochocinco, it now leaves Simpson and Andre Caldwell as the most experienced wideouts on an offensive roster that seems to be getting younger and younger. While some could argue that Caldwell or Jordan Shipley will be the more productive receivers on the team next season, it's Simpson that primarily plays the "big play" Receiver position, otherwise known as the "X Receiver". Shipley plays the slot and is more of a possession type of player and Caldwell seems to shift to multiple positions. Simpson's three-game tear as the go-to Wide Receiver gave him the experience needed to be "the go to guy" again in 2011.
The second thing going Simpson's way in 2011, is the simplification of the new offense. With new coordinator Jay Gruden coming on board, he's bringing a new offensive system that will be much easier for all of the players to digest over the previous system run by Bob Bratkowski. The biggest hurdle we've all heard that Simpson had with getting on the field was his inability to grasp the playbook. In Gruden's new, simplified system, it should be much easier for Simpson while Gruden adjusts the offense to Simpson's strengths. This is key because Simpson then can rely on athleticism and instincts instead of playing tight and thinking too much -- something he's been guilty of in his first three NFL seasons.
From experience and simplification comes confidence. He undoubtedly now has full confidence in himself and his abilities because he's shown everyone that he can play at the NFL level, and at times, dominate the game. But, more importantly, he now has the confidence of his coaches and teammates. Marvin Lewis was always hard on Simpson and basically refused to put him in the game. Coach Lewis always danced around the subject, basically alluding to the fact that Simpson wasn't mentally ready to play. When finally given his chance, Simpson showed Lewis and the rest of the Bengals that there's life after Chad Ochocinco and that he could be relied upon to make plays.
Make no mistake: A.J. Green is the future of this offense and will likely be the team's best player in a year or two. As we've already chronicled, Green has been tearing it up at camp so far. But, Green will undoubtedly experience "growing pains" with a rookie Quarterback and a new offensive coordinator, as well as his own mistakes he'll be making as a young player. We believe that all of these aspects lead to Jerome Simpson having the most productive year among all of the Bengals Wide Receivers in 2011.