Brandon LaFell only signed a one year contract worth $2.5 million with the Bengals this offseason, but his potential impact is pretty substantial. With the Bengals having lost both Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones this offseason, there should be plenty of opportunity for LaFell to shine should he step into his new role and prove his worth.
LaFell was a third round draft pick for the Carolina Panthers in 2010. He stayed with Carolina for four years, posting 167 receptions for 2,385 yards and 13 touchdowns. He left as a free agent in 2014 to join the New England Patriots, where he recorded his best season (74 receptions for 943 yards and seven touchdowns). He even caught the winning touchdown pass in the AFC divisional round game against the Ravens. However, his 2015 season was marred by injury and a complete lack of ability to find the endzone, leading to his release this offseason.
If you're doing the math, LaFell's stats through his first four years with the Panthers are pretty similar to Mohamed Sanu's stats with the Bengals, who was generally fairly successful as the team's No. 3 receiver. He posted 152 catches for for 1,793 yards and 11 touchdowns with the team. Not to mention, both players seem like mirror images of each other. They were both 6'2 and 211 pounds coming out of college, known as fearless ball catchers who will fight for extra yards, and are generally most effective in the slot.
For all the similar traits that LaFell and Sanu possess, the transition from one offense to another could be a difficult one. However, if you ask LaFell, he'll tell you that the offenses are actually pretty similar.
"Both teams go with a little no-huddle, play with a little tempo," LaFell told ESPN, " make a lot of calls at the line of scrimmage to get the whole offense into the right plays.
"Once you get a taste of winning you don't want to take a step back and go somewhere where they're trying to rebuild. If you have options to pick and choose where you want to go, you pick and choose a team that still is winning, has a good quarterback, good system and good opportunity to win."
Providing LaFell can jump in to fill Sanu's role quickly, the offense shouldn't have too much trouble accommodating him. He'll probably have to be willing to be the fourth or fifth most targeted ball catcher on the team, but that won't really be that much different than when he shared targets with Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, and Danny Amendola in New England, or when he shared targets with Greg Olsen, Steve Smith, and Jeremy Shockey in Carolina.
"The running backs are a big part of the passing game, and the tight ends are a big part of the passing game." LaFell said in comparing how the Bengals and Patriots are similar. "They like to stay in attack mode."
There's always the chance that LaFell fizzles out and accomplishes very little in his time with the Bengals. He could experience a bad transition between teams or continued problems related to his 2015 foot injury. However, one look at his history in the NFL makes you feel pretty good about his chances, and it's true, the Patriots and Bengals do have a lot in common, including consistent trips to the playoffs.
LaFell transitioned from the Panthers to the Patriots seamlessly so if you're projecting his ability to fit in with the Bengals this season, there's no reason to think he won't gel quickly.