It’s time to hand out the first of many midseason awards for the Cincinnati Bengals, but there’s no room for suspense in this post, as the winner for this award is obvious. The Bengals’ most valuable player over the first half of the season, without question, is A.J. Green. Green’s first-half of the season performance — 59 catches (first in the NFL through eight weeks), 896 yards (first in the NFL through eight weeks) and three touchdowns — warrants recognition, and people are certainly noticing.
Green’s league-leading 112 receiving yards per game have helped him separate himself from his competition, as the receiver’s dominance has turned heads and earned league-wide respect.
Green was the only Bengals player to earn recognition on NFL Network’s Chris Wesseling’s midseason All-Pro team:
"Minus Hue Jackson, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu and (for most of the way) Tyler Eifert, Green almost single-handedly kept the Bengals’ offense afloat with a string of spectacular performances in the first half of the season. He's been the most consistent big-play receiver in the league."
Green also earned recognition on Sports Illustrated’s midseason All-Pro team:
"Green has been so dominant for so long that it almost feels like we take it for granted sometimes. He has been making physics-defying grabs all season and leads the league in yards, yards per game and receptions."
"Sometimes" would be an understatement. The NFL’s best deep threat has been making game-changing plays throughout his career and has been otherworldly in 2016, dating back to Week 1, when he embarrassed Darrelle Revis. We’ve been writing about Green as a guy who can be the NFL’s best since early in the offseason, yet people are just now catching up.
Even still, Green hasn’t gotten the recognition he deserves. Bleacher Report, for example, gave him recognition on their midseason All-Pro team, but Green got half the votes Julio Jones did. That’s not to say Jones hasn’t been fantastic this season, but Green has put up better numbers against better competition than the Falcons’ receiver who, coincidentally or not, has benefitted from breakout campaigns by several teammates including Matt Ryan, Devonta Freeman, Tevin Coleman and multiple offensive linemen.
Wide receiver debate aside, Green has unquestionably been the Bengals’ best player through the first half of the 2016 season. It’s no coincidence that in his best games — Week 1 against the Jets, Week 4 against the Dolphins, Week 7 against the Browns and Week 8 against the Redskins — the Bengals either won or tied, while in every other game, they fell up short of a victory. While Andy Dalton doesn’t have to force the ball to Green like he once did early in the two players’ careers, the Bengals’ offense runs through Green. Especially in Eifert’s absence, the veteran receiver was tasked with beating double-teams and making plays downfield despite opponents’ knowing the ball would come his way.
As the season has progressed, Green has gotten more help from his teammates. He’ll need even more assistance if the Bengals consider themselves serious playoff contenders. But as of now, there’s no questioning which player has been the best in Cincinnati through eight weeks. That title — midseason MVP — belongs to A.J. Green.