How much should training camp reports change your view of a player for the upcoming season? 99% of the time, they shouldn't. We're mostly getting second-hand accounts of what's going on, often with restrictions on what can be reported -- formations, depth charts, and play calls are often off limits to reporters in training camp. When dealing with incomplete and anecdotal evidence, your prior assumptions should mostly hold strong, with allowances for reports about playing time and depth chart stuff when they do happen.
But, there's that 1% of times that serve as the exception, and I wonder if we might be seeing one in the Bengals camp. Because reports of the Bengals offensive struggles -- and Joe Burrow's coming back from his torn ACL, especially -- aren't just coming from beat writers. This quote from Bengals wide receiver Tyler Boyd certainly caught my attention Wednesday:
Tyler Boyd today on Joe Burrow's progress:— Jeremy Rauch (@FOX19Jeremy) August 4, 2021
"I think he's a little iffy on his knee, but it's hard to tell. I think he's ready to go, but he doesn't want to do too much."
Just one quote, but TB perfectly described what JB looks like right now. #Bengals @fox19
That's a surprisingly earnest quote for this time of year, when optimism tends to reign. And it fits in with what we've been hearing from beat writers like The Athletic's Jay Morrison and Paul Dehner Jr., who included Burrow among their "three down" in an analysis of the team's first day in pads Tuesday:
It's just not good right now. Throws that felt like layups last year are dropping harmlessly away from receivers or easily broken up by multiple defenders. There might be a multitude of reasons for the struggles, but this has been ugly. At one point, pressure pushed into his face and Burrow lifted his leg into the air almost to avoid any accident with the close pocket. It makes you wonder if the knee is still in his head, but that's strictly guesswork. The bottom line is there's no way to say his play looks comfortable at this point and this isn't at all what you have seen from Burrow even in the early camp moments of last season.
We're still at the part of training camp where the offense is installing plays, so execution isn't necessarily the most important thing. However, against a pass rush that isn't trying to take the quarterback down, Burrow went 5 for 12 with an interception and only one completion longer than 10 yards.
And that's been a consistent theme throughout the first week-plus out of Bengals camp. If we were getting these kinds of reports out of Tampa or Kansas City, it would be easy enough to write them off; those offenses are known quantities, with proven superstars all over the place. The Bengals are a very exciting offense, one the Fantasy community has a lot of expectations for, but what they aren't is proven. And, the early returns in their hoped-for breakout season aren't showing them moving in the right direction.
Sure, Burrow had a promising rookie season before his season-ending knee injury, but there's a difference between "promising" and "good." The Bengals averaged 21.3 points per game in Burrow's 10 starts, which would have been good for 25th in the league over the full season. And, while Burrow's numbers look pretty good -- a 16-game pace of 4,300 yards, 21 touchdowns and just either interceptions -- he was just 17th in points per game even if you remove the game he left early with the injury.
This is an offense with great potential, but what we've seen from them hasn't justified how they are being valued by the Fantasy community -- Joe Mixon is a top-20 pick, Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase are both top-60 picks, and Tyler Boyd is a top-85 pick in NFC drafts since July 1. For all of those players to live up to expectations, this offense needs to take a step forward, and potentially a pretty big one.
Which is why this start to training camp is so discouraging. Yes, the Bengals are capable of making that leap thanks to their collection of young skill players, but they've also got an offensive line that is a work in progress (to put it nicely) and a QB who doesn't sound like he's fully thereafter his serious injury. Burrow is just under nine months removed from his injury, and while he's been fully cleared medically, it sounds like he's still trying to knock the rust off. And speaking of knocking the rust off, Chase, the presumed No. 1 receiver, hasn't played in a competitive game since the 2019 college football season.
In all likelihood, Burrow will find his form and the talented receiving trio will start creating more separation from the defense as camp moves forward. Like I said earlier, this is still the mostly perfunctory portion of training camp, and the defense often has an advantage early in training camp. It's too early to panic, surely.
But it's not too early to start paying attention. I'm not moving any of the Bengals down in my rankings, but I also came into camp a bit more pessimistic about their chances of taking that collective leap than most in the Fantasy industry. Maybe this is just confirmation bias on my part, then -- I'm seeing reasons for concern where I expected them -- but for a team with something to prove, they certainly haven't done that, yet.
The onus is on Burrow and this Bengals offense to prove they're worth the hype. We'll be watching closely for signs.