As the NFL season nears, there’s a lot to consider regarding how the year will play out. That includes hirings, firings, breakout seasons, bounceback seasons and much more. Who will be the star of the year? How about the dud of the year?
ESPN released a list of 99 people who will have an impact on the 2017 NFL season. Three Bengals made the list for varying reasons. A.J. Green made the list as a star returning from injury, Marvin Lewis made the list as a coach on the hot season and Joe Mixon made the list as a candidate for Offensive Rookie of the Year.
WR A.J. Green
Before Green got hurt last season, the issue was insufficient help in the offense. With first-round pick John Ross and, ideally, a healthy Tyler Eifert in the fold, a healthy Green could elevate the Bengals' offense to new heights.
Dan Graziano, who wrote the article basically nailed it. Green was on pace for a career season before he went down with a hamstring injury in the Week 11 game against the Bills.
Green played in 11 games, technically 10 because he went down extremely early in the Bills game. In those 10 games he caught 66 passes for 964 yards and four touchdowns. But even before his injury, the rest of the Bengals offense was struggling, especially when Tyler Eifert was out, which was for the large majority of the time during which Green was healthy.
Opposing teams were content to roll coverage over to wherever Green was, and force Andy Dalton to make someone else beat them. Tyler Boyd and Brandon LaFell both took some time to get adjusted to the offense, and by the time they did, Green was injured.
With this season’s additions of John Ross, Mixon, and the return of Eifert, the offense should greatly open things up and keep defenses from double teaming Green as frequently. With the Bengals’ star receiver hitting the height of his career, this could be a great season for No. 18. And, Green has no intention of calling it quits anytime soon, which is great news for Bengals fans.
The next member of the Bengals on the list made it for much more pessimistic reasons.
Head coach Marvin Lewis
Lewis heads into the final season of his contract without an extension. He is part of the fabric in Cincinnati and is more vital to the workings of the team than many realize. But another down season could have ownership thinking about a change.
Lewis is a member of the article’s hot-seat watch. Many Cincinnati fans are hoping for this to be true, but Lewis seems to be on this list every season. If the Bengals have a bounce-back season and make the playoffs, it’s hard to imagine Lewis being fired. But, if the Bengals have another losing season, maybe Lewis really will be on the hot seat in 2017. I wouldn’t even say he needs to win a playoff game to be completely safe at this point. Odds are, Lewis is closer to retiring than Mike Brown is to actually firing him.
Still, if we are playing a game of hypotheticals, we can take a look at a few hot coaching names also on the list of 99 who could possibly be available.
Steve Spagnuolo, defensive coordinator, New York Giants: Spagnuolo hadn't had a decent season since his first New York stint ended in 2008, but after last year's free-agent spending spree, the Giants fielded one of the best units in the league. Another dominant year and it's not crazy to think Spagnuolo gets head coach interviews again.
Mike Smith, defensive coordinator, Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Some around the league expected Smith to be a head coach candidate, but he stayed in Tampa and will oversee a defense that made major strides in his first season there. Watch for second-year pass-rusher Noah Spence and others to benefit.
Josh McDaniels, offensive coordinator, New England Patriots: McDaniels entered January as a hot head coach candidate, but he believes the job he has now is better than a few of the head coach jobs he might be able to get. New England will continue to benefit from his career patience.
Josh McDaniels seems like the best fit if the Bengals want a drastic shift in the dynamic of the locker room. Some might be scared off because his first head coaching stint in Denver ended about as bad as it possibly could end, but a lot of times coaches are far better during their second go around in a head coaching job.
The Bengals could possibly be one of the premiere landing spots for any candidate. Few teams have the offensive and defensive foundations the Bengals do. Not to mention they’d have a large say in personnel like Lewis did.
The third Bengals representative on the list also made it for great reason. That’s Joe Mixon who is one of the top five Offensive Rookie of the Year candidates.
RB Joe Mixon
No player in this year's draft class comes in with more controversy. But that doesn't mean Mixon won't be a huge part of Cincinnati's offense.
This was probably the most shocking name to make the list from the Bengals. Not because it isn’t accurate, because it is very accurate. It’s more shocking because most national sports writers don’t seem to want to touch talking about Mixon with a 10 foot pole. Part of me can’t blame them, but if you’re talking about possible rookie of the year candidates, Mixon has to be fairly high on that list.
Mixon joins a Bengals team that is desperately looking for an infusion of talent at the running back position. It is clear Jeremy Hill’s time in Cincinnati is coming to an end, and Giovani Bernard is coming off an ACL injury.
Mixon is also an insanely great fit for what the Bengals do. During the past couple of seasons, the Bengals’ offense has shifted to running more shotgun formations which suits what Dalton does best. However, it has hindered Hill who runs far better behind a fullback with the quarterback under center. Clearly this creates a problem, but Mixon won’t have those issues. He almost exclusively ran out of shotgun formations at Oklahoma, and he is an incredible receiver out of the backfield as well.
It will be interesting to see where he finishes among other offensive rookies, but it is quite possible he could be ending the season with some big-time recognitions.