It's been over six months since I last offered advice in the world of fantasy football on Cincy Jungle. For six months I've patiently waited, calming my hands as they shake with anticipation when the prospect of fantasy football comes to mind. It's too soon, I think to myself: Readers aren't ready to hear about a game of fake football teams when real football hasn't even started training camp.
So, I waited.
The NFL Draft came along, and I saw players like Tyler Eifert coming off the draft board. Could Jay Gruden really find a way to effectively attack opposing defenses with two first-round tights ends? Giovani Bernard is drafted, and thoughts of points-per-reception (PPR) sleepers begin to consume my thoughts. Would the Bengals be able to get Bernard involved in the passing game to make him a strong value pick in fantasy?
But I waited.
OTAs and minicamps began. I remember the potential that Mohamed Sanu had in the red zone before he was injured in the 2012 season. I began to wonder if Andrew Hawkins might return as the deadly threat that we witnessed early last season. How about that Cincinnati defense that was practically a top five force (according to Yahoo! rankings)?
I couldn't take it anymore.
I just knew that I had to pump out some speculation before training camp. Something. Anything. Whatever I could at least offer in terms of discussion and debate, I'd do it. So, I began to think about the unknown. Of course, fantasy football by nature is unknown. A.J. Green may arguably be a top three wide receiver in fantasy football, but we don't really know that. Regardless, I want to discuss the deeper unknown for the Bengals in 2013. The "unknown" I'm referring to is what one should expect from players not named A.J. Green in 2013 and to go even further, not named Andy Dalton, Jermaine Gresham, or BenJarvus Green-Ellis. There are expectations we have of returning players as fans, but the unknown of the players that we really don't have a handle on is what intrigues me in the month of July. And so, with unbridled anxiety, I present some of the mystery that fantasy football fans will face regarding the Cincinnati Bengals:
Tyler Eifert -At 6'6" and 250 pounds, it's hard not to consider Eifert's ceiling alongside some of the great tight ends over the past several years. Rob Gronkowski has very similar measurables, and Jimmy Graham has about an inch on Eifert. The point is that both tight ends have been a fantasy goldmine (when healthy), and the prospect of pairing Eifert with Jermaine Gresham creates visions of New England in the minds of fantasy managers hoping to scoop up the next big thing at tight end. There are a few concerns of course. First and foremost, Eifert is a rookie. As with any rookie, we can only presume to know what Eifert is capable of. If we were to spin Eifert's lack of NFL experience in a positive light however, he should be going very late in your fantasy draft. The other concern will be how much time Eifert sees as a rookie. Jermaine Gresham is now entering his fourth year in the NFL with two Pro Bowls under his belt. I'd envision Gresham getting the bulk of opportunities between the two tight ends, but all it takes is some chemistry between Eifert and Dalton, and coaches could begin plugging Eifert into the game plan much more frequently.
Some leagues may not even draft Eifert, but I'd be hard pressed to imagine a league of Cincinnati fans passing up on him. Grab Eifert for his upside, but grab him late. I would also hope that you have a primary tight end already drafted as you allow some incubation for Eifert on your bench.
Giovani Bernard - If Bernard proves to be the shifty sure-handed back he was drafted to be in the NFL, I'd expect great things from him in 2013. He's currently being drafted in the sixth round (according to fantasyfootballcalculator.com), and he's going slightly earlier in PPR leagues. PPR leagues are going to be where Bernard's upside will be the most prevalent. Green-Ellis, up to this point in the offseason, is being widely considered as the bell cow in Cincinnati, and that's the mindset you'll need to maintain until camp or preseason would prove otherwise.
Even if Bernard becomes the hot hand in the Cincinnati backfield, it's hard to imagine him getting the bulk of goalline carries with BenJarvus Green-Ellis on the roster. If anything, you're drafting Bernard for his receptions and all-purpose yards. The real strategy comes into play for the manager that drafts Green-Ellis. Not only could Bernard be a worthwhile handcuff, he could also serve as a suitable option in the receiving game alongside Green-Ellis, much like Darren Sproles is today. Of course, this is assuming that Bernard reaches closer to his ceiling in 2013. The sixth round is a bit rich for my tastes, but there's no denying he has the potential to pay dividends. I'll be watching his preseason stock closely either way.
Mohamed Sanu - I'm sneaking Sanu into this fantasy preview simply because his sample size in the NFL is a small one, but it was an impressive flash until his season-ending injury in 2012. Sanu is a sleeper candidate mostly due to his touchdown potential. During Sanu's three starts in 2012, he racked up four touchdowns (we'll overlook the passing touchdown for fantasy purposes). If he and Andy Dalton pick up where they left off in 2012, Sanu could end up being the next Anquan Boldin on your roster. If he can't get it done, you presumably haven't risked much in drafting him, and you'll be doing some bargain bin shopping on your waiver wire in no time at all.
If you're in a league that rewards heavily for touchdowns, I'd grab him as a late round flyer. He's rarely being drafted in mock drafts at the moment, but I wouldn't be surprised if he was taken by a homer in the final rounds of your draft.
There are more potential sleepers you could find for your fantasy team of course. Between Andrew Hawkins, Marvin Jones, and even Cedric Peerman, you may have some players targeted for your own faux football roster. We'll get to them in due time, of course. It is only July after all, but I obviously can't fault you for dwelling on it already.