Offseason Primers: Cincinnati Bengals

by | Senior Fantasy Writer
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It seems like the Bengals have snuck up on the NFL the past two years. After making the playoffs in 2011 thanks in part to an improving defense and a burgeoning offense, the team did it again in 2012 with ... well, an improving defense and a burgeoning offense. The defensive unit is among the best in the league, complete with a deep, evolving pass rush that can challenge any team in the league. On paper the offense should be as strong but isn't quite there. Yet.

Don't pin any problems on A.J. Green, who has established himself as one of the best all-around receivers after just two years. You might nitpick that he doesn't catch enough of the targets thrown his way over the course of a season but the blame could go in another direction. And you might be concerned that he could start drawing coverage like Calvin Johnson does if he doesn't get help across the field but that might not be the case for much longer. Thanks to his big-game potential (he's posted 10-plus Fantasy points in 19 games over two years), defenses are still struggling with covering him and that should continue.

2012 Touches Leaders
759 total touches (rush attempts + receptions)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis 300 (278 car., 22 rec.) 39.5%
A.J. Green 101 (97 rec., 4 car.) 13.3%
Jermaine Gresham 64 rec. 8.4%
Andrew Hawkins 57 (51 rec., 6 car.) 7.5%
Andy Dalton 47 car. 6.2%
Cedric Peerman 45 (36 car., 9 rec.) 5.9%
Brian Leonard 44 (33 car., 11 rec.) 5.8%
All Others 101 13.3%

But defenses aren't having quite the same amount of trouble with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who joined Cincinnati last season with the hopes of upgrading its running attack. Green-Ellis got off to a good enough start, scoring in two of his first three games before having a nightmare session in Jacksonville, going 0 for 3 at the goal-line with a fumble. That seemed to spur a lack of trust from the coaching staff in the ensuing weeks as he didn't score again until Week 9 against the Broncos on a two-yard run. He had similar struggles from the goal-line late in Week 12 against Oakland and scored once more between then and the end of the year. A big selling point on Green-Ellis last preseason was how he'd dominate carries and rack up goal-line scores. Dominate the carries he did with 278 of them, but only 21 of them came from the inside the 10 and of the 10 he had at the 1 only four found the end zone. More was expected in that regard as was in his rushing average, a weakish 3.9 yards per carry. The Bengals are expected to add another back into the mix and tone down Green-Ellis' workload. That's not so good for his Fantasy prospects.

But if Green-Ellis is as bad as things get in Cincinnati, and he's not really that bad, then things are looking up for the Who Deys. The biggest positive they have is consistency: No major changes on either side of the ball, especially compared to their division rivals. Coordinators Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer interviewed for openings but are staying put. Maybe there are some concerns about the depth of the secondary and linebackers following free agency but it's nothing they can't fix through the draft and picking through the scrap heap come cut-down day after training camp. The Bengals' diligence is paying off -- if only it meant advancing in the playoffs.

Andy Dalton -- Late-round flier

2012 Target Leaders
540 pass attempts
A.J. Green 164 30.4%
Jermaine Gresham 94 17.4%
Andrew Hawkins 80 14.8%
Marvin Jones 32 5.9%
BenJarvus Green-Ellis 29 5.4%
All Others 141 26.1%

You'd have thought Dalton was on the way out of Cincinnati when offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said in March that "he's got a long way to go." Gruden critiqued Dalton's deep passing and touch passing, two areas he absolutely must improve in order to be a great NFL and Fantasy quarterback. Dalton was inconsistent last year, posting 25-plus points in four of his first six games in 2012 and again going on a three-game hot streak from Week 10 to Week 12. Everything else, including his late-season meltdown (four passing touchdowns in six games), was disappointing. Dalton seemed to really sizzle when he was able to connect with another target besides A.J. Green. Early on it varied from Andrew Hawkins to Jermaine Gresham and in that Week 10 to 12 span it was Mohamed Sanu stepping up. If the Bengals can find that solid second contributor we'd like Dalton's chances to put up numbers better (lowering his turnovers would be nice, too). Dalton's a breakout candidate at a bargain-basement price -- a late-round pick. Like several other quarterbacks out there, there's little harm in picking him in Round 12 or 13, seeing how he starts the year, and evaluate from there.

Mohamed Sanu -- Late-round flier

There are heartbreaking injuries every season but the one suffered by Mohamed Sanu registered among the worst-timed ones. For three weeks Sanu had the playing time of a starter and flourished, scoring in three consecutive games. Then he suffered a stress fracture in his left foot while practicing before Week 13 and was done for the year. Sanu sounds like he'll be recovered in time for training camp and if he is then he should have a real chance to resume his role as the No. 2 receiver opposite A.J. Green. He won't put up a wild receiving average but as an end-zone threat with lots of playing time at his fingertips, he'll be worth stashing on rosters.

Jermaine Gresham -- Top 10 tight end

Expected 2013 Draft Averages
Andy Dalton Late-round pick
BenJarvus Green-Ellis 65-75 overall
A.J. Green 20-30 overall
Mohamed Sanu Late-round pick
Jermaine Gresham 125-135 overall
Mike Nugent Late-round pick
Bengals DST Late-round pick

Four things are going Gresham's way. One: The Bengals are sure to solve their receiving depth issues to help clear out coverage on him. Two: He's healthy, which is a big plus since he started last year at less than 100 percent. Three: His stats have trended in the right direction each of his three years in the league. And four: He's entering a contract year where a big season will help him get paid (see Martellus Bennett). Andy Dalton leaned on him plenty as Gresham registered the second-most targets on the team. That should continue. Fantasy owners should feel good about looking for Gresham late in drafts as a 60-to-70 catch candidate and low-end Fantasy starter with potential to play up to the level of second-tier tight ends.

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Dave at @daverichard and on Facebook .

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