A.J. Green is the best player on the Bengals roster. He's a versatile, physical freak of nature. His ability to climb the ladder and bring the ball down is among the best in the league. He's a matchup nightmare for just about any defender, and defensive coordinators must base their gameplan around stopping A.J. Green.
That defensive focus, however, might be a problem for a Green from a fantasy perspective. Teams will double cover A.J. Green for perhaps the entire year. His skillset is elite, but will his numbers also be 'elite'?
Most fantasy projections have A.J. Green going off the fantasy board between wide receiver number five and fifteen. They say Green will post between 1000-1200 yards, with 8-12 touchdowns. That's pretty fair. This offseason, offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, wide receivers coach James Urban, and Green have been scheming up ways to use Green creatively and teaching him to beat double coverage. Green is becoming a better route runner. He's becoming a better technician. He's bulked up in the offseason and now knows how to attack physical coverage. He'll always be able to out jump defenders. All those things help with double coverage.
At the end of the day, to me, Green is a lock to improve upon his rookie stat line of 65 catches, 1057 yards, and 7 touchdowns. You should feel comfortable with A.J. Green as your number one wide receiver. However, because the Bengals don't have a high octane passing offense and Green's targets won't be among the best in the league, you definitely shouldn't take Green in the first round, and probably not the second either. He's a good selection in the third round, but ideally he slides to the fourth round or later, where you can snatch him up. Remember, drafting in fantasy football is about getting value for your pick, not taking your favorite player.
A few weeks ago, I projected 75 receptions, 1200 yards, and 9 touchdowns for AJ Green.
Now, having watched eight of the Bengals' training camp practices already, some things have caught my attention. The connection and chemistry between quarterback Andy Dalton and Green is very, very special. They trust each other immensely, and they always seem to be on the same page. Green knows where he needs to be, and Dalton knows where he needs to throw it. Both shy, hard workers, they hardly even need to converse on the field. When times get rough in 2012 and the offense struggles to move the ball (as all offenses do sometimes), Dalton will turn to Green to make the clutch catch. The third down conversion. Or the goal line touchdown.
Additionally, I think offensive coordinator Jay Gruden will use A.J. Green a little more creatively this year, to help beat the extra defensive focus. More short throws, more high percentage catches - just to get the ball in Green's hands.
I thought those ideas already, but now I'm far more convinced. If Green stays on the field for all sixteen games this year, he can definitely reach the below totals. Remember, he missed a game and a half last year.
2012 Projection: 140 targets, 90 receptions, 1300 yards, 14.4 yards/reception, 12 touchdowns.
Starter - No. 1 or No. 2 receiver on your fantasy team.
Ideal Draft Spot: 4th round or later. 3rd round at the earliest.