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A.J. Green looking for a record-setting year

A.J. Green will be looking to reassert his position as one of the top receivers in football in 2015, after missing significant parts of his 2014 season due to injury. He only needs to put together his best season ever to maintain the dominance that he flashed in his first three seasons, but that's just another day at the office for the star receiver.

Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports

Normal wide receivers aren't disappointed when they put up 69 receptions, 1,041 yards, and six touchdowns in a season. Then again, A.J. Green is not a normal wide receiver. After putting up jaw-dropping numbers in 2012 and 2013 (195 receptions, 2,776 yards, and 22 touchdowns), injuries to his right arm, head, and toe caused Green to miss three regular season games, the team's only playoff game, and portions of other games in which he started but was forced to leave early. As a result, the Bengals lost a huge step in their offense, and Green believes the football world mostly forgot about the Bengals' dynamic #18.

The good news? He's taking it personally. What exactly that means, we'll have to wait to find out. However, if he can return to his 2012-13 form, he could reassert himself as one of the dominant receivers in the NFL by claiming his spot atop the list of most receptions by an NFL receiver in their first 5 seasons. He currently has caught 329 receptions over the course of his career, making him only 97 receptions short of Larry Fitzgerald's 426 through his first five seasons in Arizona. All he needs to do to stand alone as the best in NFL history at catching the ball (through the first five seasons) is to match his 2013 reception total, which also happens to be his career-high.

Can he do it?

Clearly, Green doesn't have too much trouble figuring out how to catch the football. Yes, there are times when he forgets to hold onto the ball as he's going down, but for the most part you know that if you can get the ball in his general vicinity, he's going to come down with it. With all of the help he is expected to have in Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Tyler Eifert, and others taking defensive pressure off of him, how could you doubt him?

The problem is, all of that help that should take pressure off of him could cut into the team's need for him to catch 90+ passes on the season. Yes, Green put up 97 receptions in 2012 and 98 in 2013 with the same quarterback, but let's take a look at the offensive starters in both of those seasons.


QB Andy Dalton

RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (Backup: Bernard Scott)

FB Chris Pressley

WR A.J. Green (Backup: Andrew Hawkins)

WR Brandon Tate (Backup: Armon Binns)

TE Jermaine Gresham (Backup: Donald Lee)

LT Andrew Whitworth

LG Travelle Wharton

C Kyle Cook

RG Kevin Zeitler

RT Andre Smith


QB Andy Dalton

RB BenJarvus Green-Ellis (backup: Giovani Bernard)

FB Orson Charles

WR A.J. Green (Backup: Brandon Tate)

WR Mohamed Sanu (Backup: Marvin Jones)

TE Jermaine Gresham (Backup: Tyler Eifert)

LT Andrew Whitworth

LG Clint Boling

C Kyle Cook

RG Kevin Zeitler

RT Andre Smith

In 2012, there wasn't much talent on the roster capable of taking attention away from Green. By 2013, some of the projected breakout players for 2015 (Marvin Jones, Tyler Eifert) as well as a couple of other important playmakers (Mohamed Sanu, Giovani Bernard) began to make their appearances on the team and their names known. But with at the time, many were first year players, who are now in the prime of their NFL careers.

Add in Jeremy Hill coming off a fantastic rookie year in 2014 and expecting to be even better in 2015, and the fact that run-focused offensive coordinator Hue Jackson is now in charge (instead of pass-happy Jay Gruden) and you've got a recipe for A.J. Green simply not needing or having the opportunity to catch 97+ passes. Remember those gaudy numbers he put up in 2012 and 2013? Part of the reason he was able to do that was because he was targeted 164 times in 2012 and 178 times in 2013.

The obstacle of Jeremy Hill.

The one player who might legitimately challenge Green's ability to put up career-high numbers is Jeremy Hill. The latter half of 2014 was the first time during Green and Dalton's tenure in Cincinnati where the running game was legitimately a force to be reckoned with. As sturdy and reliable as BenJarvus Green-Ellis was in 2012/13, or as dynamic as Cedric Benson could have been in 2011, neither ever lead the league in yards per carry or yards after contact in the backfield. Jeremy Hill did both after winning the starting job in 2014.

Without being too bold, I think it's reasonable to say Hill is the player with the best potential on the offense to be a star next to Green. This is especially true with the support of the very run-focused Hue Jackson calling the shots on offense. Hill could very well open up the passing game with his dynamic running ability, but it is going to be very hard for Green to re-emerge as an all-pro superstar wide receiver with a player as talented as Hill in the backfield.

Why he's going to do it anyway.

Forget everything that I just said about Green's targets and the diverse amount of talent on the Bengals' roster going into 2015. A.J. Green is still A.J. Green, and the Bengals are going to find a way to get the ball into his hands as often as possible. That's what a playmaker is for, and he is still Dalton's most trusted target.

Don't worry too much about the contract situation. Green isn't, and you shouldn't either. If anything, the contract situation could be a jump-start for the passing game, with both Jones and Sanu in contract years as well. However, Jones is still coming back from his ankle injury very slowly, and Mohamed Sanu was woefully inconsistent last season. If you're expecting either of them to put up a significant threat to Green's number of targets, don't.

If you've been keeping up with Bengals' training camp this offseason, you'll know that Tyler Eifert seems to be a favorite target of Dalton's. However, fans shouldn't worry too much about Eifert stealing looks from Green. Eifert is expected to provide more of a check-down, middle-of-the-field type role, leaving the sideline and deep routes to be dominated by Green. If anything, the two targets should compliment each other very well and create more opportunities for each other to prosper.

The bottom line is, no one would bat an eye if Green was to find himself at the top of the list when it comes to receptions in the first five years. He'd top a list featuring Larry Fitzgerald, Torry Holt, Randy Moss, Anquan Boldin, Marvin Harrison and Brandon Marshall. And we can expect him to do this because he's A.J. Green. The mark would just be another feather in the cap of the already highly touted receiver, but it would certainly be a great way to bounce back from an injury plagued 2014.