A.J. Green was quietly in the MVP race last year before a hamstring injury ended his season prematurely.
Before going down in Week 11, Green ranked near the top of many receiving measures and was on pace for the best season in his six-year career. But even had Green kept up his torrid pace, he likely wouldn’t have won the award with the Bengals floundering out of playoff contention and finishing the season with a losing record, the first losing season Green has ever endured.
In heading into 2017, the Bengals are hoping to heat back up with a healthy Green and CBS Sports has the star wideout listed as the Bengals’ best non-quarterback NFL MVP candidate:
Cincinnati Bengals: A.J. Green (50/1)
Green is the third highest receiver on Oddsshark's list, trailing only Antonio Brown and Julio Jones. It's pretty easy to see why. Green is the star in Cincinnati's offense, and quarterback Andy Dalton's favorite target. Despite playing in only 10 games in 2016, Green still managed 66 catches for 964 yards and four touchdowns. Eighteen percent of Dalton's completions last year went to a guy that missed six games. Green is a consistent player that shows up week in and week out. He's a surprisingly efficient receiver for how often he's targeted as well.
The key for Green will be staying healthy. He has the capacity to be a 90-100 catch player, but his injuries have hampered him. Perhaps it's his workload catching up to him, but if he can come back in 2017 at 100 or even 90 percent, Green has the potential to join the conversations that people have about Jones, Brown and Odell Beckham Jr.
On the surface, it seems difficult for Green to remain in MVP contention with as many weapons as this offense has. In order for a receiver to win MVP, he has to be dominant throughout a season and rarely have games in which he’s not making a big impact on the offense.
That would seem like a tall task for Green in an offense as loaded as this Bengals one looks to be. Tyler Eifert is one of the game’s best tight ends when healthy. John Ross is a top-10 pick with a world of talent and the poise to make a big impact as a rookie.
Then you’ve got a promising running back in Joe Mixon who could have a heavy workload in 2017, coupled with the duo of Jeremy Hill and Giovani Bernard. All of this would seemingly keep Green from having the kind of production necessary to be an MVP candidate.
Or, it could actually help Green’s cause. As good as Eifert is, he hasn’t proven he can stay healthy for a 16-game season. When healthy, Eifert helps takes coverage away from Green by having safeties come down and cover the big athletic tight end.
Speaking of, Ross is a burner who’s going to keep most defenses from doubling down on Green while keeping a safety deep to make sure Ross doesn’t torch them. That could further open up more field for Green to do damage in the short-to—intermediate passing game, where he’s shown he can methodically carve up defenses.
And with the addition of Mixon, defenses will be forced to respect the Bengals’ ground game more, whereas before, they could keep a light box and still shut down the black hole that Hill has become.
Having a balanced offense that keeps defenders committed to Bengals players not named A.J. Green could help the team’s No. 1 receiver have more offensive freedom then he’s had in his pro career. Perhaps that is why Green could be a sleeper MVP candidate heading into the 2017 season.