Bengals fans have wide-ranging opinions on Brandon LaFell, Cincinnati's only outside offensive signing so far this offseason. Many fans worry he has drop issues and isn't explosive enough to make an impact on the Bengals. But, those fans are mostly only taking into consideration his down 2015 season that saw him battle through a foot injury, on which he had offseason surgery prior to the 2015 season. Not having an offseason to train can take its toll on NFL players and there's more to LaFell than his 2015 season. The Bengals see that and that's why they signed him this week to a $2.5 million deal that can be worth up to $4 million.
We spoke with Rich Hill, Managing Editor at Pats Pulpit, SB Nation's Patriots blog, to get his take on LaFell's strengths, weaknesses and his thoughts on the Bengals adding the former Pats receiver to the roster.
Here's what Rich had to say:
LaFell's value to the Patriots in his short time in New England cannot be understated. The franchise doesn't win Super Bowl XLIX without him. He's a selfless player that loves to block down the field and he's a great #3 or #4 target in any offense. The Bengals will have him in a great position to thrive with A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert on the roster.
He primarily functioned on the sidelines for the Patriots, but he was a flanker with the Panthers that spent a considerable amount of time in the slot. He's great on comeback, back shoulder, crossers, and slants routes. He eventually was asked to run screens, go routes and crossers, and that's where the flaws started to show.
LaFell doesn't have the best hands and is prone to have a concentration drop every game. He battled a foot injury that impacted his ability to drive down the field and he was not competitive on those deep balls. The Patriots started feeding him with screens and crossers, not because of his yards after the catch ability, but because they needed to build up his confidence again after a few straight bad games.
While LaFell's foot injury derailed this past season with the Patriots, it was also clear that he wasn't able to be the #1 or #2 option in the offense after the team lost Dion Lewis, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola, and Rob Gronkowski in consecutive weeks.
He left on great terms and Patriots fans will definitely be rooting for him to find his 2014 form.
I also asked Rich his opinion on if LaFell's 2015 down season was a fluke, and, you'll be happy to know he thinks it was, though, he added, he's not sure how he'll recover since foot injuries are always hit-or-miss.
LaFell seems to think the injury is behind him. On a call with members of the Bengals media today, LaFell said the following (via the Cincinnati Enquirer):
"To go out there and get back to play at a high level, which I did the year before I got injured. It motivates me a lot," LaFell said. "I want to get back on the right foot. Going out there healthy, clean start. I just want to get back at playing at a high level and watching how I played last year definitely motivates me to work hard this offseason because I know what I put on film last year wasn’t me at full strength."
Rich was a proponent of the Patriots retaining LaFell this offseason, but hopefully, the Patriots' loss will be the Bengals' gain.
We'll have our own film review of LaFell's time with the Patriots in the coming days, but until then, you can check out Rich's film review of LaFell's time with the Carolina Panthers.