Fitz on Fantasy: 2019 Cincinnati Bengals Buying Guide
There are two or three Cincinnati Bengals who appeal to fantasy owners the way a savory bowl of chili appeals to a carnivore. But in both cases, the whole Cincinnati angle is kind of a wild card.
When most people think of chili, they think of Texas-style chili: ground beef, beans, chili powder and some other spices that deliver smoke flavor and heat. Cincinnati chili is something else entirely, with no beans and an unusual blend of ingredients that might include some combination of Worcestershire sauce, cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg and/or cocoa powder. (For the record, I enjoy Cincinnati chili, but it’s, uh … different.)
The 2019 Bengals have some appealing fantasy ingredients, but what the hell else is going into the pot?
Their new head coach, 36-year-old Zac Taylor, is a wild-card ingredient. Taylor also worked in Cincy three years ago, serving as offensive coordinator for a Cincinnati Bearcats team that went 1-7 and finished 11th in scoring in the 12-team American Conference. Taylor then working for Sean McVay on the Rams’ staff for two seasons, spending a year as wide receivers coach and a year as quarterbacks coach. The Rams’ offense took flight over the last two years, but McVay obviously gets most of the credit for being the pilot, while his position coaches are viewed more as the guys who load the luggage, fuel the plane and occasionally de-ice the wings before takeoff.
Taylor may have been a great hire, he may have been a lousy hire. We simply don’t know yet, though we can only assume that he’s philosophically simpatico with McVay, which seems like a good thing.
Not such a good thing: the season-ending shoulder injury to first-round draft pick Jonah Williams, who would have given a needed boost to a ragtag offensive line. An exemplary worker and technician from Alabama, Williams was supposed to be the rising Crimson Tide that lifted all boats along the Cincinnati offensive line. Now it won’t happen until 2020.
The Williams injury is deflating for Joe Mixon enthusiasts. Despite working with an offensive line that ranked 22nd in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards run-blocking metric last year, Mixon finished fourth in the league in rushing (and first in the AFC) with 1,168 yards in only 14 games. He also displayed his receiving chops, catching 43 of 55 targets. Mixon’s second year as a pro felt like validation to anyone who touted him as a 2017 draft prospect after two impressive college seasons at Oklahoma. Mixon’s rookie campaign was a mixed bag, but Year Two suggested that Mixon will be a first-round fantasy talent for years to come.
Mixon is my RB8, just behind Le’Veon Bell, and I had Mixon ranked ahead of Bell before the Williams injury. It’s a close call between those two. Bell has the established track record, Mixon has less mileage on the odometer. Given the scarcity of workhorse RBs, a lead runner as talented as Mixon is worth consideration late in the first round of fantasy drafts.
Before we move on, we should at least briefly discuss the red-flag episode from Mixon’s past. In 2014, he was caught on camera punching a woman at a restaurant in Norman, Oklahoma, after she had slapped him. Mixon agreed to a plea deal and was suspended for what would have been his freshman season. It was a disgraceful incident, but Mixon has apparently stayed out of trouble since.
Giovani Bernard has provided bursts of RB1 value when circumstances have taken him from character actor to leading man. Entering his seventh season in Cincinnati and the final year of his contract, Gio will likely be playing elsewhere next season, as the Bengals took a pair of running backs in the sixth round of this year’s draft. Slippery and efficient, Bernard has been a versatile run-catch threat since coming into the league in 2013. He’s been a worthy latter-round target for years, but now Mixon has established his workhorse cred and the Bengals have already charted a course for the post-Gio era, so Bernard is no longer one of the more attractive backup-RB targets late in fantasy drafts.
The Bengals drafted Trayveon Williams of Texas A&M at pick No. 182 and Rodney Anderson of Oklahoma at pick No. 211. Williams had 2,038 yards from scrimmage and 19 touchdowns in his final college season with the Aggies. It shouldn’t be hard for him to carve out a role in the NFL since he’s a willing and effective pass blocker and is also adept as a receiver, though his 5-8, 206-pound frame might relegate him to a third-down role. Anderson was regarded by some as one of the most talented running backs in this year’s draft class, but he sustained a broken fibula, a fractured vertebrae and a torn ACL during his four years with the Sooners. He’s an intriguing longer-term dynasty prospect.
A.J. Green has been a top-14 wide receiver in fantasy points per game every season except for his 2011 rookie campaign, when he was 17th. Green was on a 90-catch, 1,374-yard, 12-TD pace through the first half of the 2018 season, sustained a toe injury in Week 8, then reinjured himself when he tried to come back in Week 13 and required surgery for torn toe ligaments.
Last year’s injury could lead to a slight discount in some drafts, but should we still be regarding Green as one of the safest investments a fantasy owner can make? He’ll be 31 when the season begins, Tyler Boyd is a bigger threat to sabotage Green’s numbers than any of AJG’s previous sidekicks, and the Bengals have had a low-octane passing game for two years running.
Green’s current ADP of WR14 seems about right. I won’t target him as aggressively as I have in the past, but I’ll happily take him if he falls into the third round.
Tyler Boyd is sort of like a cult film. The people who are into Boyd are REALLY into him, and others just don’t get the appeal. There are a few compelling reasons to believe Boyd is a high-quality cult film, like “Reservoir Dogs” or “They Live.” Over the first eight weeks of the 2018 season, when Green was healthy, Boyd had 49-620-5, showing that he wouldn’t necessarily disappear in Green’s shadow. In the four games he played with backup QB Jeff Driskel playing all or most of the snaps for Cincinnati late in the season, Boyd had 20-272-2, which is impressive when you consider that Driskel completed 59.7% of his passes and cleared 200 passing yards only once in five starts. At the University of Pittsburgh, Boyd had 85-1,174-8 as an 18-year-old freshman.
There are also reasons to think Boyd could be a disappointing cult film, like “Gummo” or “Napoleon Dynamite.” Green is still the Bengals’ No. 1 receiver. Boyd hasn’t been a big-play guy, with only two receptions of 40 or more yards in three NFL seasons (although the Baltimore Ravens might beg to differ after being knocked out of the 2017 playoffs on Boyd’s last-minute 49-yard TD catch). And Boyd isn’t especially big (6-2, 203) fast (4.58) or athletic (32nd percentile burst score and 47th percentile agility score according to PlayerProfiler.com).
I’m fine with Boyd at his ADP of WR27, but I won’t be heralding him as an all-time cinematic gem.
If Zac Taylor’s offensive philosophy is similar to Sean McVay’s, the Bengals will be using a lot of three-receiver sets. That could give John Ross another crack at fantasy relevance. But let’s be honest: The kid has stunk it up during his first two years in the league.
Ross had 1,150 receiving yards and scored 19 total touchdowns, in his final college season at Washington, then melted stopwatches with a record 4.22-second 40-yard-dash time at the Combine. The Bengals were suckered into drafting him ninth overall despite only one year of college production and an extensive medical history, and they’ve regretted it ever since. Ross was a healthy scratch for most of his rookie season, fumbled the ball away on his first NFL touch (a 12-yard reverse) and finished with two targets and zero receptions. Last year, Ross caught 38.2% of his 55 targets, and his 0.57 yards per route run ranked last in that category by a wide margin. Don’t waste a late-round pick on Ross based on the Bengals’ ill-advised expenditure of early-first-round draft capital. It’s time to wave the white flag.
If the Bengals give up on Ross, there’s an outside chance that Alex Erickson or Cody Core could become fantasy-relevant. My money would be on Erickson, a slippery punt returner who had 77 catches in his final college season at Wisconsin.
Tyler Eifert’s 13-TD performance in 2015 seems like it happened in an entirely different era. The former first-round draft pick has missed 34 games in the three seasons since. Eifert missed all but two games of the 2017 season with a back injury, then hit injured reserve with a broken ankle just four games into the 2018 season. Eifert turns 29 in September, and his body has been through a sausage grinder. There’s not enough upside to justify the obvious medical risk here.
Cincinnati spent a second-round pick on Washington TE Drew Sample, a pure blocking tight end, and the Bengals also spent more money than they should have to re-sign C.J. Uzomah, who might be waiver-worthy if Eifert goes down again.
We all know there’s an unfair societal bias against redheads. I’m a ginger myself, and there’s little doubt that I’d be a world-famous multimillionaire if I had brown or blond hair. Naturally, the red-haired Andy Dalton has a lower ADP than he should. The Red Rifle checks in at QB29, two spots behind rookie Dwayne Haskins, who might not even start in Week 1.
Actually, I get the lack of enthusiasm for Dalton. He finished QB12 in 2016, artificially bolstered by four TD runs, then slipped to QB17 in 2017. He played only 11 games last season, so his fantasy ranking isn’t a fair measure, but Dalton averaged a pedestrian 7.0 yards per pass attempt and averaged an interception per game. The Bengals spent an early-fourth-round pick on North Carolina State QB Ryan Finley and could very well spend a first-round pick on a top quarterback next year if their 2019 season ends in a meltdown. Dalton is certainly rosterable in a 2QB or superflex league, but not in most single-QB leagues. That said, I do think he’s one handsome devil.
|Andy Dalton||QB27||QB26||QB29||2QB only|
|Joe Mixon||RB8||RB8||RB10||Buy confidently|
|Giovani Bernard||RB60||RB61||RB62||Not this year|
|A.J. Green||WR12||WR11||WR14||Buy at a discount|
|Tyler Boyd||WR27||WR28||WR27||Don’t reach|
ADP = Average Draft Position ECR = Expert Consensus Ranking (based on half-PPR scoring)