The Bengals' wide receiver unit will look much different in 2016 than it did in 2015. Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu left the team via free agency and left behind a huge number of targets that are now up for grab. The question is, who will be getting those targets?
Will any of the Bengals' wide receivers, other than A.J. Green, be worth drafting in your fantasy league this year? Here's a look at the Bengals' 2016 receivers from a fantasy football perspective.
A.J. Green is Mr. Reliable
When you start thinking about wide receivers to own in fantasy, A.J. Green is one of the first to come to mind. He may not finish with the most fantasy points at the end of the season, but he consistently produces week to week and year to year. Green has never recorded less than 1,000 yards receiving since he's arrived in the league. Last year, Green ranked as the eighth best receiver at season's end.
Going into this season Green will have all eyes on him, especially if Tyler Eifert misses any regular season games. Green finished with 132 targets last season and it isn't crazy to think that will increase with the departure of Jones and Sanu who combined for 151 targets last season. Those extra opportunities could lead to Green producing a more steady weekly output than last season. A healthy Green getting all the targets he can handle could easily make him a top five fantasy receiver once again.
Expect Green to be drafted in the late first or early second round.
Where will all those targets go?
Who stands to be the beneficiary of all the targets that don't go to Green and which other Bengals receivers will become fantasy relevant?
The most conservative projection is Brandon LaFell. LaFell spent his last two season in New England where he fell out of favor in his second season. In his first year in New England, LaFell recorded 953 receiving yards on 74 catches. He also added in seven touchdowns and helped the Patriots win the Super Bowl.
But in his second season LaFell barely eclipsed 500 yards receiving. He also missed five games due to a foot injury, but he still struggled to get playing time despite the injury due to drops and inconsistent play.
LaFell is looking for a fresh start in Cincinnati though, and he has never been able to play as a complementary receiver to a guy like Green during his career. LaFell spent most of his career playing in a run-heavy Carolina system where Steve Smith Sr. soaked up most of the receiving opportunities.
Andy Dalton has been fairly good at spreading the ball around, so LaFell just being on the field more than other receivers gives him a huge advantage over the other prospects. If you're looking to take a flyer on LaFell you shouldn't draft him to be anything more than your fourth or fifth (preferably) receiver, and hope he becomes a possible flex option. The less you have invested in him, as far as where you draft him, the better. In many leagues he may not even get drafted. If he maintains the starting job throughout training camp, as expected, he's worth a late look.
The rest of the receivers remain even more speculative as options. Second round selection Tyler Boyd is the obvious next option, but many only see him as a slot receiver. That could be beneficial early if Eifert misses some regular season games. However, when Eifert comes back, Boyd could struggle to get snaps if he gets relegated to simply a slot receiver role.
Plus there is the added track record of rookies getting little playing time under Marvin Lewis, but Boyd may get playing time out of necessity.
Potentially easy schedule
The Bengals' schedule looks formidable as far as wins and losses, but most of the teams they'll play struggled at stopping receivers last season.
The Broncos, Texans and Cowboys are three of the better defenses at stopping wide receivers the Bengals will face this year. But, compared to last season where they faced five of the top defenses against receivers, this is pretty tame. The AFC North games look especially vulnerable based off last season. The Steelers, Ravens and Browns all were some of the worst at stopping receivers last season. That makes up six games right there against doormats for receivers in fantasy.
A.J. Green will likely take a step forward into the top five receivers in fantasy based on increased targets and an easier schedule. He's worth a late first round pick, but if he falls to the second that's even better. As for the rest of your options, I'd put my money on LaFell winning the starting job next to Green which would make him a nice bench option. Although, he could easily turn into a flex option if he thrives and does better than he did last season. Boyd could be a waiver wire pickup early on in the season if Eifert misses time. Outside of that, Boyd probably won't be in play to draft until next season.