By Cole Hoopingarner (with Contributions from Joe Zollo and Chris Tyler)
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Another year, another season of mediocrity in Cincinnati. Whaddya know? The Bengals’ offense didn’t kick into gear until the last quarter of the season, but by then it was too late. For the fourth straight year, Andy Dalton statistically defined the word “average” (more on that in the quarterback section). Running back Joe Mixon split time with Jeremy Hill until Hill was placed on injured reserve, so we didn’t get a chance to see Mixon as the lead back until late in the year. Superstar A.J. Green had his worst year since his rookie season – and he STILL finished as fantasy’s tenth best wide receiver. Tight end Tyler Eifert got hurt again and has been given one more year to prove if his 13-touchdown campaign in 2015 wasn’t a fluke.
|(Projected Starting Lineup)|
|QB2||Matt Barkley (w/ ARI)||N/A||N/A|
|RB3||(R) Mark Walton||N/A||N/A|
Rookies and Undrafted Free Agents to Watch: RB Mark Walton & WR Auden Tate
Andy Dalton has finished in the top 5 at his position just once, when he finished as fantasy’s fourth best quarterback in 2013. Every year since then, he’s finished as fantasy’s 18th best quarterback. That’s right—four straight years as QB18. Let’s save both of us some time: Andy Dalton doesn’t belong in your starting lineup. In deep leagues, he’s fine riding the bench and can be used as a bye week replacement. None of Dalton’s backups are legitimate threats to taking his job, so you can avoid them too.
The departure of Jeremy Hill to New England has Joe Mixon primed to kick the doors down this year and have a top 15 impact at his position. Mixon assumed the starting running back role last year after Jeremy Hill was placed on injured reserve and did well, averaging 11.16 points per game as the starter. With Hill gone, it’s Mixon’s time to shine. Remember when Los Angeles Charger Melvin Gordon struggled mightily in his first year, and came back in his second year to blow the competition away and finish as fantasy’s RB7? I foresee similar improvement from Mixon. A top 15 finish is a lock, and he’ll be a steal in the 4th or 5th round of your draft. Get him while he’s undervalued, because in 2019, he’s gonna be a second round pick. Book it.
Behind Mixon are veteran Giovani Bernard and rookie Mark Walton. They’re third down backs, and thus aren’t worth your time. They’ll spell Mixon at points but shouldn’t be on your roster as anything more than a handcuff if you have Mixon.
Last year, A.J. Green finished as the tenth best wide receiver in fantasy. It speaks volumes about Green that a 10th place finish is considered underwhelming. Green’s season total of 75 receptions was the lowest of his career since his rookie season (not counting 2014 and 2016 when he missed ample time due to injuries). Good news for fantasy owners: last year’s decline in production was not due to a decline in Green’s abilities or talents. At 29 years old, he’s still in the prime of his career and should bounce back in a major way this season. The Bengals improved their offensive line and will have a full offseason with Bill Lazor as their offensive coordinator under their belts. If he stays healthy, he’s a sure bet for 85 catches, 1300 yards, and eight touchdowns. He’s a WR1 who will likely slip to the late first and early second rounds of drafts.
Behind Green is veteran Brandon LaFell, third-year man Tyler Boyd, and sophomore John Ross. Last year, LaFell finished as WR51. At this point in his career and in this offense, LaFell is a good bye week replacement or deep roster stash. He’s shown he can be useful for fantasy purposes when the Bengals play teams with strong corners or when teams put double coverage on A.J. Green. Personally, I’ll be searching for LaFell on the waiver wire when bye weeks hit.
There was a lot of buzz about Tyler Boyd when he was drafted in 2016 and he actually produced admirably in his rookie season, finishing as WR61. But the sophomore slump was real for him. Granted, he missed six games last year, but his numbers in the ten games he played were forgettable: 22 receptions for 225 yards and two touchdowns. He’s got incredible hands and may be one of the most underrated pass catchers in the league. With youth on his side and a new offensive coordinator, 2018 may be Boyd’s time to shine. I’ll try to get him on my roster in the 12th-14th rounds in case he decides to break out.
Lastly, there’s John Ross, whose 2017 rookie season didn’t pan out as well as Boyd’s did in 2016. In fact, it was a train wreck. Ross was injured for most of the offseason and preseason. When he did finally play, he made a couple of bonehead mistakes and on one occasion gave up on a route. His final stat line from 2017 made fantasy owners who invested in him as a sleeper grind their teeth: 0 catches for 0 yards, and 1 rushing attempt for 12 yards and one fumble. Total fantasy points in 2017: -0.8. Yikes. But the Bengals would like you to believe there’s hope in Cincy for Ross. Head Coach Marvin Lewis and Green have praised Ross this offseason and are predicting big things for him. Is he worth another deep round investment in fantasy drafts? That’s your call, obviously, but for me, I’m passing in standard leagues but I may reserve a spot for him in my dynasty league.
You really don’t want anything to do with the Cincinnati tight end situation. Tyler Eifert blew fantasy owners away with a 13-touchdown campaign in 2015 en route to finishing sixth at his position. Sadly we didn’t get a chance to see if Eifert could come close to replicating that in 2016 and 2017 due to multiple injuries. The Bengals signed him to a one year contract with a maximum value of $8 million. The Bengals clearly see this as a “prove it” year for Eifert. Do you feel comfortable asking Eifert to prove it to you on your fantasy team? I’m not, and I’m only drafting him if I’m in a deep league or a league that starts two tight ends.
Behind Eifert is Tyler Kroft. Kroft’s clearly the number two tight end option in Cincy and therefore doesn’t need to be on your rosters unless Eifert gets hurt. If that happens, you could do worse than Kroft at the position. Until then, stay away.
Rookie to Watch
After the departure of Jeremy Hill, the Bengals found themselves in need of depth at the running back position. In the 4th round, they selected RB Mark Walton from Miami. Before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in 2017, Walton started the first four games with 56 carries for 428 yards. That was a better start to his 2016 campaign when he rushed for over 1,000 yards. Walton’s gift is how well he grabs the edge. He’s likely to be used on 3rd downs at the next level so his quickness will be an asset to an enigmatic Bengals’ offense. – Chris Tyler
Tyler Eifert has been non-existent since 2015 when he posted an incredible 13 touchdowns and ranked 6th overall at the tight end position in fantasy football. That non-existence comes from injuries he has suffered since 2016. Eifert is back now on a one-year deal in Cincinnati and is looking to prove he can still be effective after his injuries. Target Eifert as your backup TE as he has a tremendous upside to move into your every week starter role, even with Andy Dalton as the QB. – Joe Zollo
2018 Loose Ends
I’m most interested to see how Mixon fares this season. I believe he has the talent to be a top 10 back for years to come. I’ll be targeting him and I’m hopeful many of my counterparts will be too disappointed in his rookie season to take a chance on him.
|2||9/13 (Thurs)||vs BAL|
|9||** BYE WEEK **|