The Bengals have a variety of wide receivers on the roster who come together to do just about everything. The only component missing is top level speed.
A.J. Green is a superstar who doesn’t have any glaring weaknesses, making him one of the most well-rounded receivers in the league. Tyler Eifert is a stud tight end and one of the best red zone targets in the NFL. Tyler Boyd is a solid route runner who has a knack for making tough catches on third down to move the chains. Brandon LaFell is a fine player who takes on the role of a big bodied possession receiver and acts as a nice target in the red-zone. But, the Bengals already have two guys: Boyd and Eifert, who can take on LaFells’ role in the offense. The Bengals don’t need another big-bodied possession receiver, they need a speedster who can take the top off the defense and take attention away from Green.
There were too many instances last season where Andy Dalton either took a sack or had to scramble and throw the ball away because of receivers not being able to get any separation or get open. Defensive backs made a living within 10-15 yards of the line of scrimmage and nobody on offense (especially once Green went down with a hamstring injury in Week 12) scared opposing safeties into cheating back. If you have a guy who can get behind the defense, the safeties have no choice but to cheat back, which then opens up the intermediate passing game for guys like Green, Boyd, and Eifert.
The Bengals’ two best offensive seasons since the turn of the century happened in 2005 and 2015. A large reason for the offensive success in 2005 was the emergence of Chris Henry. Chad Johnson and T.J. Houshmandzadeh could essentially do what they wanted because Henry added that speed and a deep threat component to the offense.
Who was that guy in 2015? Marvin Jones. The middle of the field wasn’t nearly as congested because Jones was constantly stretching the field, forcing safety help over the top to account for his speed. LaFell just doesn’t provide the top-level speed necessary to stretch the field.
There are a lot of things to like about LaFell. He’s a trusted veteran who shows up and does things the right way. He’s the ultimate pro, and the importance of that shouldn’t be understated. Therefore, I would have no qualms if the Bengals brought him back for added depth. However, if the Bengals decide to re-sign LaFell, it should be with the intention of using him as a backup, and it’s hard to believe LaFell would accept that role or the money attached to it.
If LaFell is the No. 2 receiver at the start of next season, the Bengals will likely be stuck with the same lackluster offense we saw in 2016, one that had a major issue converting touchdowns in the red zone (18th in the NFL), ranked 16th in third down conversions and 24th in scoring. If the Bengals go after a speedy receiver, whether it be in free agency or the 2017 NFL Draft, the team will have the potential to return to a top 10 offense next season.