Is Brandon LaFell back to his pre-2015 injury form?
It certainly appears that way. Through four games, the veteran wide receiver has tallied 208 yards on 13 catches. And while LaFell has yet to catch a touchdown pass as a Bengal, his impact has been enough. In fact, he’s been far better than almost anyone expected.
On Thursday night, LaFell played 68 of 76 possible snaps on offense and caught four of six passes that came his way for 44 yards, including a long of 23.
There’s no doubt Marvin Jones, who left for Detroit in free agency, is a better receiver than LaFell. Jones looks like a legitimate number one receiver for the Lions, and prior to A.J. Green’s strong showing against Miami, Jones led the league in receiving. Forget that the Lions already appear to be out of the mix; Jones’ choice to move on — yes, it was Jones’ choice to leave Cincinnati, as there are no reports nor reason to believe the team low-balled the wideout — paid dividends for the receiver. The once-number three option in Cincinnati’s passing attack, Jones is emerging as a face of the Lions franchise.
But how much worse is LaFell, really? Because we’re not talking about the two players in a vacuum, here. Had he stayed in Cincinnati, Jones would still be the number three to Green and Tyler Eifert, so it’s hard to imagine he’d be putting up numbers at his current trajectory had he elected to stay put in the Queen City.
Let’s look at LaFell’s 2016 numbers compared to those of Jones in his first four outings of the 2015 season.
- Through four games in 2015, Jones had 10 catches for 165 yards and 2 touchdowns.
- Through four games in 2016, LaFell now has 13 catches for 208 yards and 0 touchdowns.
Jones eventually found his rhythm later in the season, ending the year with 103 catches, 816 yards and four touchdowns. But even if LaFell maintains his current trajectory, and fails to score throughout the rest of the season, he’ll end 2016 with 52 catches and 832 yards.
Like it or not, Jones was a luxury to the Bengals. And while the team offered to keep him around, it shouldn’t be surprising he left. The wideout has already put up massive numbers this season -- his 408 yards through three games are exactly half of the yardage he compiled throughout the entire 2015 season.
Fortunately for the Bengals, however, LaFell has shown that Cincinnati can plug-and-play veterans at the WR2 position with little to no difficulty. Or maybe the lesson to learn is just that life isn’t too rough for receivers who have the privilege of lining up opposite Green, who is quietly making a case as one of the NFL’s best receivers this season.
Sure, it would be nice to see LaFell grab a touchdown, but, Andy Dalton has only thrown three touchdowns through four games this year, and two of them have gone to Green while the other went to running back Giovani Bernard.
More opportunities for LaFell are sure to come and the Bengals’ signing of the former Patriots and Panthers receiver was a massive bargain. As of now, Cincinnati is getting virtually the same production as the team got from Jones in 2015, but at a fraction of the price it would’ve cost to re-sign Jones.
The Bengals were more than willing to bring the receiver back, but the parting of ways appears to have worked out for Jones and hopefully will work out for both parties involved by season’s end. For now, it’s time to sit back, relax and watch LaFell continue to prove his doubters wrong.