UPDATED 6/8/12 - Bengals DEFENSE
Drafting players out of Cincinnati is difficult for me as a homer. It’s like picking your cousin for a pickup game of basketball - You may be more familiar with your cousin’s ceiling on the court than the strangers you’ve met up with, but you also feel obligated to select family. Every season is a Catch 22 for me, personally: The majority of the time, I’m more consistently aware of what goes on in the organization than most "fantasy experts," but I also tend to over analyze projections – and, as much as I want a particular player to succeed, there’s also the double dose of failure I could potentially have to stomach if the player is on my fantasy team. It’s a dilemma that most fantasy players have of their hometown team, I suppose. It could also put me at a unique advantage. I digress.
The point of my ramblings is simple: I monitor the Bengals. I discuss the Bengals. I research the Bengals. I generate photoshopped images of what it would look like if AJ Green and I had a love child. I love fantasy football. Combining these elements is a recipe for a specialty niche that you’ll hardly find in a "Jack of all teams, master of none" write up you’ll typically find within most fantasy football blogs. I know that fantasy bloggers prefer to stay objective in their approach, but I sometimes wish they would just come clean and point out who their favorite teams are so I could really appreciate their opinions on a team they conceivably spend more time following.
So here’s my current take on a handful of Bengals players as of June 2012:
BenJarvus Green-Ellis, RB (fringe RB2/Flex)
I feel that BenJarvus Green-Ellis is being undervalued in fantasy football. Many overlook his fantasy stock and use him as an excuse to make unoriginal jokes about the irony of a "Law Firm" entering this Cincinnati squad. If I’ve unfollowed you on Twitter, it’s probably because you made a joke of that nature – which is about as edgy as Tebowing on your Christmas Card last year. Most projections consider Law Firm as hardly a flex-worthy running back. I disagree. I could pour over statistics to prove how aware I am of the "flags" thrown to diminish BJGE’s stock, but I would hope most of you are already aware of his YPC, TDs, and receptions (etc. etc.) in New England.
With that said, what most fantasy gurus are overlooking is a very important point: The Bengals have no one else to handle the majority of the workload. Sure, Bernard Scott is there as a change of pace back, and Brian Leonard may be used in some 3rd/4th down carries, but the Bengals have yet to prove they’re truly committed to a RBBC approach. Last season, New England relied on their run game about as much as Terrell Owens relies on being punctual with his child support payments. BGJE was still a fringe top 20 back in fantasy in PPR, and easily a top 30 back in standard formats. The Bengals will actually lean on BGJE’s production in 2012. How many teams can say the same for their running back as they head into a 2012 season in a league increasingly emphasizing the passing game?
I’m not suggesting you draft BGJE in the second round, by any means. My point is: If Green-Ellis is available and you still need a RB2, he could be a steal in rounds 6 through 9. Draft him as a flex, if you’re so lucky. I’d feel comfortable grabbing him, while wading through the table scraps, in later rounds as a RB2. You’ll have a back that will be getting close to 20 carries a game with very little downside.
Andy Dalton, QB (QB2)
There isn’t much to speculate on with Andy Dalton in the world of fantasy football. Dalton ended up being the 15th best QB at the end of 2011. I don’t see any reason to assume differently heading into 2012. If you’re looking for a capable backup QB in your league, Dalton fits that profile. I could argue there is some upside to Dalton when you consider his mobility, but at the end of the day he’s a solid backup. No more. No less.
A.J. Green, WR (WR1)
There are many common arguments as to why AJ Green may fall a bit short at being a true WR1 in fantasy football this season. The experts outside of Cincinnati make a handful of general statements I feel are worth addressing. Here are a few outsider points vs. insider counterpoints I’ve devised regarding AJ Green -
The "Outsider" point: Dalton and/or Green could regress in lieu of the sophomore slump.
The "Insider" counterpoint: While a valid concern, the fact remains that both are quickly becoming familiar with catching opponents and critics sleeping on their perceptions (more on this in a moment). I’d argue it’s more likely they’ll at least repeat last season’s production, at the very least, rather than fall short.
The "Outsider" point: AJ Green doesn’t have a WR2 solidified, and will see more attention/coverage.
The "Insider" counterpoint …because Jerome Simpson really helped divert the secondary’s attention last year? Shipley really pushed the slot while on IR. Cedric Benson truly kept defenses honest. C’mon. The people that believe Jerome Simpson left an irreparable void on this team are the same people that didn’t even know Jerome Simpson existed until they saw him doing a front flip on ESPN. With Shipley returning, a larger talent pool competing for the #2 spot, and a year of experience under AJ Green’s belt; the Bengals will find a way to fill the void left by ol’ weed slangin ‘Rome Simpson.
The "Outsider" point: The Bengals caught their opponents sleeping last season. They won’t be as lucky this season.
The "Insider" counterpoint: Last I checked, the Bengals failed to beat the Steelers or Ravens once last season. How many talking heads are predicting the Bengals to take over the AFC North this season? If that criticism is truly noticed by AJ Green and Andy Dalton – good. Let them work on getting their game to the next level. Unless it’s the New Orleans Saints, I highly doubt many teams are legitimately placing targets on AJ Green and the rest of the team’s backs with enough dedication to hamper his fantasy production.
AJ Green’s Average Draft Position is hovering around number 8. The thing to consider when drafting AJ Green is that his projection as the 8th best fantasy receiver in 2012 leaves very little room for upside. Green surpassing that projection, while certainly not inconceivable, is still unlikely. When drafting, if you’ve missed out on the big Three (Calvin, Andre, Fitz), feel comfortable drafting AJ Green as your WR1. If you’re confident that AJ Green could fall to you in round 3, grab your running back or QB in 2 and you’re off to a fantastic start.
Jermaine Gresham, TE (low-end TE1 with upside, buy low)
Gresham has always been difficult for me to project value on - his expected upside is the biggest contributor to this. I’ve had Gresham on my fantasy team, either off waivers or via draft, since his rookie season and his inconsistency has caused more chaos on my team than Brandon Marshall at a strip club. Gresham’s current average rank is at about #14 for tight ends. This may seem shocking considering my sketchy past with Gresham in fantasy football, but I’d argue that Gresham at #14 is the absolute floor on his potential. Gresham is entering his third season in the NFL. With two years to develop as a pro, working alongside a quarterback that excels in short passing situations, and my own lofty expectations for him as a first round talent – Gresham is poised to be a top ten fantasy tight end in 2012, in my opinion.
While he may not crack the top 5 when the season is over, holding out on drafting a tight end to grab other BPA and taking him in rounds 9 through 13 is a solid pickup considering his upside. Orson Charles is another tight end showing flashes of great ability in the receiving game during OTAs, but don’t fool yourself into thinking he’ll detract from opportunities given to the Bengals first round starter.
Mike Nugent, K
If you’re the type of person that reads into kicker projections, I’d recommend picking up Nugent off of waivers if the kicker you drafted falls short. Nugent ranks at #15 on average, but could easily end up being a top 10 kicker by season’s end. Almost every team in the NFL will be touted as a team that will "struggle in the red zone," but the Bengals were notorious for it last season. Nugent will make the field goals asked of him, and in fantasy football that’s minimally what you would expect of him. He was a top 10 kicker in most formats last season, and I doubt this season will change that much. He was franchised, after all. How can he fail?!
In most scoring formats, the Bengals defense ranked just outside of the top 10 in 2011 (not by much). In fact, outside of sacks and fumble recovery (which they ranked 5th on each), the Bengals hovered around 11th to 13th in rankings on almost every defensive category, in terms of fantasy scoring. Oddly enough, the average draft position between the handful of fantasy outlets I’ve referred to (ESPN, CBS, etc) has the Bengals around 17th in 2012.
17th? I would assume it’s very likely the Bengals will minimally crack the top ten. The two biggest contributors to the Bengals falling out of the top 10 in 2011 were Points Allowed (ranked 12th) and a low amount of Interceptions (ranked 26th). With the young talent and depth in our secondary, I’d like to believe the Bengals can post up more than 10 interceptions this season, especially when Leon Hall returns. With Miami’s QB fiasco, Jacksonville’s shaky signal caller, and a green Brandon Weeden (not to mention RGIII) taking the field against the Bengals – that alone should instill some faith in some secondary production. Couple all of this with some assumed improvement on stopping the run and at least maintaining pressure on the QB and there is just no reason the Bengals can’t become a top 10 defense.
Here’s the beauty of ALL of this: If you aren’t in a league with a bunch of Cincinnati homers, the Bengals defense will be completely under the radar. Odds are they’ll still be on the waiver wire in week 1. I’ve found virtually no discussion whatsoever by many fantasy gurus regarding Bengals as even a DEEP sleeper. If you ARE in a league with Cincinnati homers, let them grab Cincinnati if they overvalue their defense. If available in rounds 15 or later, it’s certainly worth buying low.
Now, don’t get me wrong: There are PLENTY of sleepers to consider in the world of fantasy football. Most don’t pan out, some do, and very few end up being pure fantasy gold. Here are a small handful of players to keep your eye on while you’re in round 16 and you’re 10 beers deep in your draft:
One Snooze Button
Any WR working alongside AJ Green.
I know this seems generalized, but until I know for sure who the WR2 in Cincinnati will be, I can’t really point out his sleeper potential in fantasy football. Brandon Tate and rookies Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu are all likely candidates. It’s also a possibility the WR2 position will be treated by committee - which doesn't necessarily bode well for fantasy football owners looking for a true sleeper on their bench. For the moment, I'm throwing Jordan Shipley into this category. Shipley has some great potential especially in PPR formats. However, he's certainly a sleeper considering his injury and subsequent time off of the field.
Two Snooze Buttons
Bernard Scott, RB
I’d normally advise picking up Bernard Scott as a handcuff in any given season in the past, but considering the majority of fantasy experts hardly take notice to the Bengals RB1, I find it hard to push for Bernard Scott. Scott, if used a change of pace back, will only be slightly valuable in PPR leagues if he’s a part of the passing game. Outside of that, I wouldn’t put too much faith into his output. Last season, Cedric Benson was out for one game on suspension, and Scott put up average numbers. If used properly by Cincinnati, he could have upside as an emergency flex.
Three Snooze Buttons, breaking your alarm clock, and waking up next to a stranger, hungover.
Orson Charles, TE
Charles was drafted by the Bengals in 2012, and has received numerous amounts of praise during OTAs. His pass catching abilities have been a focal point. I don’t see Charles doing much for fantasy football owners, but if Gresham gets injured – Charles could break out. Monitor him throughout the season.
Hopefully this gives you a little clarity on your upcoming fantasy draft when considering any of the above Cincinnati Bengals players.