A.J. Green might be the biggest question mark in the NFL right now.
He was one of the top wide receivers in the NFL, but he is on the wrong side of 30 and has struggled with injuries over the past few seasons.
Can Green get back to where he was a few years ago and be Joe Burrow’s WR1?
Age: turns 32 on July 31st
Hometown: Summerville, SC
Experience: Entering his 10th NFL season
When Zac Taylor took the head coaching job in Cincinnati, he must have been very excited about working with A.J. Green. Green is an elite wide receiver, the likes of which Taylor has never worked with.
Green was selected with the 4th overall pick in the 2011 NFL Draft, two selections prior to Falcons’ wide receiver Julio Jones. The Bengals selected Green with their first pick, despite their need at quarterback.
The Bengals got their quarterback in the second round by selecting Andy Dalton, and the pair led the Bengals, who had won a mere four games the previous season, to the playoffs. That year Green went to his first of seven-straight Pro Bowls.
He has totaled 602 receptions for 8,907 yards and 63 touchdowns so far in his career.
But injuries have been a concern in recent years. He missed four games due to injury in 2014. First came a right big toe injury that lingered throughout the early part of the season. Then he sustained a concussion against the Steelers that ended his season.
After a healthy 2015 season, Green’s 2016 season was cut short with a hamstring tear. Green only played 10 games and for the first time in his career came up short of 1,000 yards receiving. He had 964.
Once again he was healthy in 2017, but in 2018 he had more problems with his right big toe. He missed a handful of games, then attempted to come back and re-aggravated the injury. At that point, he was done for the season, after only competing in 9 games.
In 2019 both Green and Tyler Boyd were entering contract years with a new offensive-minded head coach at the helm. Boyd got his extension. Green very well might have been extended during camp, but he suffered a high-ankle sprain at the team’s very first practice and was unable to play that season.
Outlook for 2020
Age and injuries are Green’s biggest hurdles and that is not a promising pair.
Many wide receivers see a major drop off as they approach their mid-30s and injuries tend to speed up this process.
Most of these wide receivers however do not have a secret weapon in the form of a 1st overall pick like Joe Burrow.
Burrow is an incredible talent who helped the offensive weapons at LSU shine.
His top-3 wide receivers last year combined for 51 touchdowns and nearly 4,000 yards. Justin Jefferson led the team in receptions with 111, while Ja’Marr Chase had the team lead in receiving touchdowns (20) and yards (1,780).
To be clear, the presence of Burrow at quarterback does not mean that the Bengals are going to be the LSU Tigers on offense next year in much the same way as bringing in head coach Zac Taylor did not make them the Los Angeles Rams on offense last year.
Burrow will certainly cause some big changes in Cincinnati, but if the trend of young NFL quarterbacks continues, we probably won’t see the big jump until Year 2.
Still Burrow will make a difference. He will be only the second regular-starter at quarterback Green has seen in his career.
Burrow’s ability to extend plays with his legs is perfect for an intelligent receiver like Green, who will work hard to get open late in the play and has the awareness to do just that.
Burrow is incredible at throwing back-shoulder fades, which is a great fit for Green, who is excellent in contested catch situations.
But Burrow can’t run for Green, nor can he keep him healthy.
While the idea of Green at 100% paired with a quarterback like Burrow is exciting, there is certainly reason for concern. Nevertheless, the Bengals have Boyd, John Ross, and Auden Tate who all contributed last season and added Tee Higgins in the second round of the draft.
It is unlikely that Green and Ross, both of whom have struggled with injuries over the past few seasons, will both be on the roster in a year, but 2020 and only 2020 is what they’re concerned with at the moment.
Green is here, he is healthy, and he’s ready to prove the old A.J. hasn’t gone anywhere.