Once upon a time, at the end of the 2013 season, A.J. Green was the consensus number two wide receiver in football. It's hard to remember, as the emergences of Dez Bryant, Julio Jones, Antonio Brown, Odell Beckham Jr. and others all coincided right around 2014, a season in which Green was frequently absent due to injury. On top of that, plenty of young wide receivers, such as DeAndre Hopkins, Allen Robinson and Sammy Watkins, are quickly climbing the totem pole.
There's no question whether Green is among the NFL's best when it comes to wide receivers; Green is one of two receivers in NFL history to record at least 1,000 yards receiving in his first five seasons. Not only did Green put up those big numbers, but he did it with an equally young quarterback while oftentimes playing through--or missing time due to--injury.
Injuries haven't derailed Green's career in any sense, but they've seemingly minimized the respect toward Green as a premiere receiver. Fantasy analysts will be the first to point out Green's injuries, but they oftentimes fail to recognize that Green, unlike guys like Bryant and Jordy Nelson, is durable enough to put up 1,000 yards every season, whether injured or not.
A.J. Green fantasy ranking, per NFL fantasy analysts pic.twitter.com/K25jZ4PHWf— Connor Howe (@HoweNFL) May 27, 2016
Despite Green's yearly consistency, analysts disrespect him on a yearly basis. Also, can I just point out how funny it is that Adam Rank, who predicted the Bengals to be "4-12 bad" in 2016, is higher on Green than the rest of his colleagues?
But seriously, it's insane that analysts are more willing to believe that Bryant, Robinson and Nelson are going to be better fantasy players than Green next season. Someone please back me up on this. Green is going to feast on an insane amount of targets this season, and that's not even considering whether Tyler Eifert misses time due to injury or not. Meanwhile, guys like Jones and Hopkins could potentially see reduced targets with new weapons entering the fold on their respective offenses (Mohamed Sanu and Will Fuller, respectively). Fantasy analysts have deemed Green as injury-prone, but he has only officially missed four games in his five-year career (though I'd argue he's missed six, as he left two games by the end of the first drive).
That aside, let's re-focus. The point of this article isn't to prove Green is the best fantasy value at wide receiver (which he currently is, until analysts give him a bump due to Eifert's injury); it's to question whether Green can return to the pinnacle of his performance. And to me, there's nothing that suggests otherwise.
The Bengals' offense will depend on the Dalton-Green connection more than it ever has in 2016, and Andy Dalton has finally learned that he doesn't need to force the ball to Green, which is always a good thing. Though the Bengals will understandably attempt to get Jeremy Hill back to his 2014 form to start the season, Green should continue thrive in the red zone, especially in Eifert's potential wake.
The competition Green faces will also play a factor. He'll have an opportunity to face--and potentially outperform--Darrelle Revis, Aqib Talib, Joe Haden, Josh Norman and a few other very talented corners. In Green's favor is that he faces the majority of the top corners on the schedule before the bye; afterwards, he'll face a very beatable schedule.
Corners A.J. Green faces before bye week:— Connor Howe (@HoweNFL) May 27, 2016
Corners A.J. Green faces post-bye:— Connor Howe (@HoweNFL) May 27, 2016
That's a weak slate.
It also helps that the four corners Green is slated to face in primetime are Byron Maxwell, Janoris Jenkins, William Gay and Jonathan Joseph. Maxwell and Jenkins are very streaky, while Green has gotten the best of Gay in year's past. Joseph and the Texans' defense could challenge the Bengals as always, but beating the Texans in primetime would obviously be huge, as Cincinnati has been terrible against Houston throughout Green's career.
Green couldn't be facing better circumstances; if he bests Revis in Week 1, he'll immediately step into the forefront of the wide receiver discussion. From Week 2 on, Green will face a beatable schedule and could potentially see the most targets he's seen in his career. Establishing himself as the league's top receiver will certainly be a possibility for Green, but it's up to the wideout to capitalize on his opportunities and execute in 2016.