It's a question most of us inquired about during the sweltering summer heat only a handful of months ago: Who will emerge as the Bengals "No. 2" receiver?
Remember that burning question? Sure you do. The question of who would complement the awe-inspiring A.J. Green rattled in our fragile minds, with little to Xanax our excitement (or anxiety) heading into the 2012 season. The player deserving of the No. 2 sparked speculation, debate, and plenty of headlines - perhaps to a fault. At least it killed time.
So, here we are. Eleven games deep into the NFL regular season, it's about time that we reexamine the situation.
Obviously touchdowns and yardage factor as important indicators when assessing the production of a receiver. Yet, as we often have at Cincy Jungle, we can't ignore the targets for each player, as shown below.
Just about every possibility was explored last summer as we theorized who would emerge as the Bengals de facto number two.
Jermaine Gresham certainly always hovers within striking distance of the discussion. His physicality, recent Pro Bowl nod and two years of NFL experience led many to believe that the Bengals tight end could become the true "second receiver." Gresham's targets, pace to set several career-high and just about every other statistical category, obviously leads man to believe that Gresham is truly Dalton's second go-to pass catcher on the field.
That may be the case for now, but it's important to realize that Gresham was only targeted thirteen fewer times than Jerome Simpson throughout the entire 2011 season. While Gresham has clearly been one of the leading targets and receptions, he isn't exactly offering a powerful argument with five games remaining this season.
Then again balance speaks volumes with this team's offensive philosophy, as does the satisfactory use of the tight end; absent from recent Bengals offenses (looking at you, Bob Bratkowski).
Aside from the typical training camp buzz, Andrew Hawkins wasn't favored as a preseason candidate to emerge as a huge threat this year. Obviously opinions have change and Hawkins, currently injured with a knee, tailgates Gresham's target and reception count. In fact, before Hawkins was inactive recently, he led Gresham in targets. Perhaps it's more accurately: Gresham and Hawkins were sharing the "number two" role earlier this year.
Cincy Jungle had a poll early in the season (change the poll question every once in awhile, Josh) asking readers who they believed would be the Bengals No. 2 receiver. Armon Binns outpaced Brandon Tate 19-13. While Tate has steadily averaged two targets per week, Binns heavily dropped off partially due to injury and the recent emergence of rookie Mohamed Sanu. Sanu led the Cincy Jungle preseason poll by a landslide forty-one percent, picking him as the favorite to become the Bengals next receiving threat behind A.J. Green. We're friggin' visionaries, man.
Mohamed Sanu hasn't A.J. Green'ed the yardage since emerging earlier this month, there's no question he's a heavily targeted receiver recently. Save for A.J. Green, no Bengals player has seen more targets than Sanu over the last four weeks; twenty six of Mohamed Sanu's thirty targets have occurred within the last four games. Though Sanu is handling most of Hawkins' duties, the rookie receiver still averaged five targets during Hawkins' final two games before he sat with an injury. Based on how Sanu is playing, we're not entirely sure what Hawkins' participation will entail when he returns, but it's hopeful that both coexist, thriving if utilized properly.
All things considered, do we really have more clarity on the No. 2 Wide Receiver situation in Cincinnati than we did last summer? Sure. At least enough. One exceptional possibility is that Andy Dalton spreads the football evenly to those behind A.J. Green on the depth chart. While Jermaine Gresham is currently leading the pack, Andrew Hawkins held his own earlier this year and Mohamed Sanu is catapulting his way up the chart every week.
Another point to consider is the fact that A.J. Green is only three targets shy of his total for the entire 2011 season. Green has taken his game to another level this season, and as long as he's getting the job done, the demand for an identifiable "Number Two" isn't quite as high as it was heading into the season; though nice when opposing defenses like Oakland obsess about Green.
There's no question that Hawkins, Gresham, and Sanu have collectively offered production and contributions to a greater offense. Regardless of what Bengals fans projected during the summer, it's hard to imagine anyone being disappointed with players stepping up each week. Perhaps there will be a more identifiable receiver behind A.J. Green at the end of the season.
Perhaps as long as the Bengals are winning, it doesn't even matter.