*Part of our on-going 2012 series of a team-by-team review of 2011, and our look ahead to 2012. Designed more for Dynasty League players, but may come in handy as early homework for traditional Fantasy Football players.
The problem with the getting overly excited about the Bengals prospects in any given year, is that they play in the AFC North. We almost have to begin every season thinking -- the Bengals will have four tough game/losses built-in with BAL-PIT, and if they split with CLE…then a (1-5) or (2-4) record is automatically embedded into every preseason prediction (in theory). The AFC North issue, leaves the Bengals having to win 7-8 of their other 10 games to be playoff relevant. This past season, Cincinnati went (9-0) against non-playoff teams…and (0-8) against playoffs teams (including a 1st-Round playoff loss to HOU), and an obvious (0-4) with PIT-BAL.
The AFC North problem (despite game wins or losses), bleeds into the Fantasy Football aspect of Bengals offensive player outlooks. In a 12-13 week Fantasy Football regular season, it's possible that 20%+ of the Fantasy regular season could be chewed up facing the Ravens and Steelers defense…not good for Fantasy output typically. There have been occasional "exceptions to rule" seasons for Cincy, but the smart money would always be that the Bengals are a collective lesser-talent/lesser-franchise compared to Baltimore and Pittsburgh in any given season…we feel 2012 will be no different.
I know it is very chic to say that Andy Dalton and A.J. Green will lead the Bengals into the new millennium. We are being classically conditioned to think that with a perpetual media drumbeat. No different than years ago saying that Carson Palmer and Chad Johnson will turn around the Bengals franchise’s fortunes. The Bengals went (46-51) with Carson Palmer as a starter from 2004-10, including (0-2) in the playoffs in seven years. The Bengals made the playoffs in Palmer’s 2nd-season (2005), returning again 4 seasons later in 2010. It's not a horrible era, but nothing memorable either…and probably an underachievement when looking back through the lens of time.
Will top free agents really flock to the worst run franchise in the sport (not just opinion, it was voted upon last year)? Will Cincinnati be able add, and maintain/sustain top weapons on a consistent basis...we probably all know the answer to that one...
We have always been pro-Andy Dalton, but our fear is that this is the same ole’ Bengals franchise…and if Andy Dalton has the potential to be an "A+" QB, it may never come to pass as a member of the Cincinnati Bengals. If Dalton reaches a "B+" level status, and the Ravens and Steelers continue to dominate the NFL landscape…it’s going to be a rocky road for Dalton to produce big Fantasy Football output consistently, which thus brings into question the Fantasy Football high-output potential for the surrounding cast in that same light.
We were pro-Dalton before it was popular to do so pre-NFL Draft. We were a vigorous defender in the preseason when national media made fun of his performance against the Jets, and called him the worst NFL starting QB going into 2011. In the right situation, we think Dalton could push to a “near” elite QB status in the long-term, like a Tony Romo or Eli Manning. Our fear is that he will be mired into a Fantasy Football mediocrity, somewhere between the 10th and 15th best Fantasy Football QB in any given year…a virtual “no man’s land” for Dynasty/Fantasy owners.
Dalton showed enough pocket presence and game management, that I would never give Dalton away or bet heavily against him. I also would not overpay for (or overvalue) Dalton, as a Bengals QB. Although, we have had much higher scouting grades on Dalton, I might rather have a Matt Ryan in Dynasty leagues going forward for the next few years...given Ryan’s surroundings (weapons, coaches, dome/turf, and conference/schedule).
We’ve beaten this one to death, but one more time…we think Green is good, just not a difference making WR. Green is a not on the level with the true elites -- Fitzgerald, Nicks, Calvin, Andre type WRs…or even in Julio Jones’s class (to us). Just as the Bengals/Dalton have to perpetually face BAL-PIT, so will Green. Toss in the possibility that Cleveland may have the best pass-defense in the conference, and it could be six very brutal games built in per year for Green.
Green against the AFC North in 2011 (5 games, missed a BAL game) = 2.6 receptions, 60.0 yards, 0.6 TDs per game. Consider one of his TDs was against Cleveland on opening day when a coverage breakdown allowed Green to have no DB over him, leading to his only catch in the game...an uncontested 41-yard TD.
We have said several different times the past few weeks...you should be dealing A.J. Green now, at the apex of his Dynasty League Fantasy Football value. On a 1-10 valuation scale, Green is sitting as a 9-10 value in most Dynasty League owner’s minds…but to us, Green is a 6-7 value at best. I’ve beat the drum on this all 2011...I think we are seeing Mike Williams/TB circa-2010 here with Green. Much like Williams/TB, Green’s value resides in his TD productivity. Early in 2011, against the easier part of the Bengals schedule, Green had 5 TDs in first eight games. In his last nine games (including playoffs), Green had just 2 TDs. Those with Green in Dynasty Leagues, you are holding a hot “internet stock” at its peak value…it would be a smart, franchise-changing decision to move him at the “high.”
Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott
It would seem logical for the Bengals to let Benson go, and move on to other cheaper/just as effective options…if that's logical, then it definitely means that the Bengals will re-sign the under-productive Benson for another. At the start of the 2012 season, Benson will be 29 years and 9 months old...nearing ancient in RB terms. Benson has had back-to-back seasons with under 4.0 yards per carry, and has averaged less than a half-a-TD per game in the last couple years combined as well. Benson is solid at best, but any decent RB who received the carries that Benson does, would have easily put up similar numbers. What the Bengals affinity for Benson is, I have no idea.
There are rumbling that Benson will be let go, and if so…Benson has a rapidly declining Fantasy Football value, as the Bengals have breathed life into Benson with a heavy workload; a workload he will not likely see anywhere else. A Benson release does not necessarily equate to a Bernard Scott emergence...although we'd love it to. We have always preferred Scott to Benson in our scouting models, but the Bengals have never agreed with that. Scott had a very respectable 76 yards on 22 carries against a very stout Seattle run-defense in Week-8 (Benson suspended), and his reward for that workhorse game...was 6 carries in his next game, and 6.8 carries per game in his next eight games (ignoring Week-17).
The Bengals have been reluctant to turn over things to Scott, so even if Benson is gonzo…the Bengals will likely bring in a hopeful front-line RB via draft or free agency. If all the Bengals do is keep Benson, and do not draft/sign an RB of interest…Bernard Scott’s Fantasy Football value rises heavily in our books. With Benson approaching 30 years old, it’s wise to bet against his ability to play a full-season...and rather bet that he under-performs worse than the past two seasons, and then Scott knifes his way in there as the main ball carrier.
Our computer scouting on Simpson has been very good, but the one thing we cannot quantify is figuring out which NFL players will have several pounds of marijuana in their dwellings. My guess is Simpson will miss half, or the entire 2012 season with a suspension. If not, Simpson is an unrestricted free agent…and probably only has one home, with the desperate teams who tend to tolerate off-field antics…so either he’s back with the Bengals, or possibly he becomes a Jaguar.
Simpson can be really good, and we think at their peak performances…he’s as good/better than A.J. Green. However, Simpson acted erratic on the field this season, and his output was inconsistent…this is one WR we regretfully walk away from, until we see a definitive change. There are too many other intriguing WRs in the world of Fantasy Football, to waste time messing with Simpson right now.
If Gresham was going to be a superstar NFL TE, this would have been the perfect breakout season. A 2011 season with a solid/emerging rookie QB, and really no dependable weapons outside of A.J. Green. By default of the extra coverage afforded to Green, Gresham should have had much greater statistical output. Gresham had a steady/mediocre output all year, and was solid, but not spectacular…a respectable amount of TDs, but little else. In pre-NFL Draft computer study, we saw Gresham as a nice/useful NFL TE, but too slow/non-agile in his physical profiles from the NFL Combine compared historically to become a breakout NFL star…and so far that’s been true to form.
If you like Andy Dalton’s ability to control the tempo of a game, do not be shocked if in 2012 Dalton turns away from over-reliance on A.J. Green…and more turns his primary attention to Ryan Whalen as his Wes Welker-lite type WR. Whalen is a taller, thicker, quicker version of Jordan Shipley. Both Whalen and Shipley are solid WRs, whichever one emerges as a 2012 starter, could have a very nice 2012 PPR season under-the-radar.
Assuming Jerome Simpson is gone in 2012, or otherwise disposed…Vidal Hazleton and Armon Binns are intriguing low-budget options as younger/bigger UDFA WRs to try to fill the gap. We like Binns more, and see a possibility for him to be a solid NFL WR…with a chance to be a very good NFL WR. It depends upon how much he hits the weight room…Binns is 6’3, but struggles to stay over 210 pounds, a proto-typical skinny/small-framed tall WR (which is an injury risk). Keep an eye on Binns for a long-shot play for Fantasy Football down the road.
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