Fantasy Football Team Preview 2011: Cincinnati Bengals
Every year the fantasy football gurus of The Sports Cannon come together to give you the best fantasy football rankings, cheat sheets, sleepers, busts and handcuffs. This year, we are giving you an in-depth look at each team with our Fantasy Football Team Previews. In our fourth installment of a 32-team series, we bring you the Cincinnati Bengals.
You can read all of our NFL Team Previews here.
2010 Recap: The Cincinnati Bengals
The Bengals have fluctuated in success these past eight seasons. In 2009 they swept the division on route to an AFC North crown. The Bengals have in fact won the AFC North twice while also posting some
horrendous losing seasons in these past eight years. Last year was one of those losing seasons.
On paper, the Bengals don't look like that bad of a team. They have a somewhat stingy defense; good defensive line, had two of the better corner backs in football and some up-and-comers at linebacker. The Bengals also had two very good receivers, a Pro Bowl quarterback and a resurgent running back. The real downfall, as any Bengals fan will tell you, however, was that they could not hold on to the ball.
The offense, though talented, was plagued with inconsistencies. Carson Palmer threw 20 interceptions, the most in his career. Running back Cedric Benson was never much of a fumbler, but coughed the ball up five times last season. The Bengals also seemingly abandoned the run. In 2009, Benson emerged as fantasy workhorse, as the Bengals ran the ball over 500 times. This year they are without their diva wide receivers, and perhaps will focus more on running behind their very run-blocking skilled offensive line and return to the top of the AFC North.
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The Bengals officially resigned head coach Marvin Lewis to a two-year contract in early July. Lewis had proclaimed he was a free agent at the end of the 2010 season, but didn’t garner many bites from other organizations. His best chance to land a head coaching position was in San Francisco, who ultimately chose NFL rookie head coach Jim Harbaugh.
The Cincy offense will be led by another NFL newbie, Jay Gruden who has spent the last six years designing offenses in the Arena Football League and United Football League. Gruden will run a West Coast offense while also implementing a power running attack.
On defense, the Bengals are led by one of the better defensive coordinators in the NFL, Mike Zimmer. Zimmer has led a pretty good defense in his three seasons as DC in Cincy, but has been critical of the team in the past week over the loss of starting cornerback Jonathan Joseph. So you can add one more name to the list of people frustrated with Bengals’ owner Mike Brown.
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You know the story by now, Carson Palmer threatened to retire if he wasn’t released and per his usual
stubbornness, Mike Brown called his bluff. Now the Bengals will have to keep paying Palmer without playing him. Brown refuses to give in to a player’s demands, in fear it would set a precedent and allow any player to get out of their current contracts. He also refuses to trade Palmer, even though a Pro Bowl quarterback like Palmer could garner some serious returns.
Right now, rookie Andy Dalton is taking the majority of the snaps in Bengals’ practices, and that should continue despite the team signing free agent Bruce Gradkowski. Dalton does not have a very strong arm, but is praised for his decision making and was considered by some to be the most pro-ready QB in the draft coming in. Dalton fits a West Coast offense in that he can make a quick two step drop and hit an open receiver.
Not to say that it will all be peaches and cream for Dalton. The Bengals offensive line isn’t great in pass protection, that being said they aren’t bad either. The line is improving and with the new West Coast style you can expect the Bengals sack numbers to remain about the same.
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The Bengals were at their best in 2009 because they ran the football. This year OC Jay Gruden has stated he will enforce a power running game in to the Bengals’ offense. That is great news for Cedric Benson owners as it means there is a chance he could return to 2009 form.
The Bengals really won’t have a choice but to rely on the running game this season. Not only are they likely to start rookie Dalton at quarterback, but their No. 1 receiver is also a rookie and there is little in the way of veteran experience behind him on the depth chart.
It is unclear how NFL commissioner Roger Goodell will approach personal conduct policy infractions that occurred during the lockout. Benson and Goodell met on January, 21st and they no doubt discussed Benson’s third arrest in three years. Head coach Marvin Lewis doesn’t think any disciplinary action will be made, but in case it does…
Backing up Benson on the depth chart is Bernard Scott who has real potential but few opportunities. Even barring a Benson suspension or injury, Lewis plans on using Scott even more in 2011. You could actually see Scott come close to 100 carries this season.
This brings us back to Benson. Should you be worried about a dip in Benson’s productivity this year? Probably, although he may lose some touches to Scott however, Benson plans on being a bigger factor in the passing game this year, and could come close to 40 catches. If you are in a PPR league, he is still a very viable option.
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The Bengals have a promising group at wide receiver but not much playing experience. The projected depth chart for the Bengals shows rookie A.J. Green leading the group, with Jerome Simpson as the team’s No. 2.
Green has been all the talk of Bengals’ practices so far, and whether it is a shot at his former receivers or not, Marvin Lewis says he is an upgrade over last year’s group. Green is 6’4” but has the athletic abilities and body movement of a smaller possession receiver. What may be more awe inspiring is the rave reviews he is drawing from some of his veteran teammates on defense, who think he may already be in the top tier of receivers.
Green has the ability, there is no doubt but will he have the opportunity? Maybe, Green’s productivity as a receiver hinges on whether or not Andy Dalton can get him the ball. In a division weak in pass coverage, however, Green should have his fair share of mismatches so it will just be up to Dalton to see them.
Jerome Simpson really came on strong last season and will challenge Green for receptions this season. He will undoubtedly see lots of playing time, but don’t expect anything big from Simpson. The Bengals are going to run the ball more often than not, and when they do pass it will be to Green.
Jordan Shipley also showed some flashes in 2010 and will be the team’s slot receiver. In Gruden’s offense Shipley will play the role of Wes Welker, going over the middle for short gains. There is some concern through training camp, however, that Shipley has taken a step back after suffering a concussion last season. If Shipley can bounce back he would be an interesting addition in deep, deep PPR leagues.
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Jermaine Gresham has the ability to become a fantasy worthy starter, but may not have the mental aptitude at this point to be an every game contributor. Jay Gruden will try and focus Gresham on becoming more consistent as a blocker and route runner. Mostly as a blocker. Don’t expect much from Gresham, sans a few games with red zone targets.
The Bengals did just bring in Bo Scaife as well, which is likely because he is more adept at blocking than Gresham is. The Bengals will still see Gresham as a great prospect worth molding, but Scaife should come in to help the running game. This of course will mean some sort of drop in production for Gresham.
Defense & Kicker
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Though they have the components, the Bengals defense has been a fantasy travesty for years. They don’t play in a division of high scoring offenses, but they still allow far too many points via the pass. This year their safety corps remains as weak as it was last season and will be without Pro Bowl cornerback Jonathan Joseph.
The Bengals hardly record any sacks, which probably won’t get any better now that their coverage will have even more holes. I always say that if you can’t get the best 3-4 defenses in fantasy, go with a team that blitzes often and has a high sack count because they will cause turnovers. In other words, stay away from the Bengals.
Clint Stitser took over as kicker for the Bengals last season after Mike Nugent tore his ACL and MCL. The word on Nugent is that he is healthy and kicking well, which is why Stitser is no longer on the team. Nugent has long range accuracy issues, so if your league gives negative points for misses he probably isn’t a good choice.
Sleeper & Bust
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A.J. Green—We usually don’t like rookie receivers in their first years, but Green is starting to make us a believer. We don’t expect all-world number from him in his first year, but he certainly has Dwayne Bowe-esque upside. Being the main target on a run first system means all of his catches will count for something.
Cedric Benson—This will really mean something if Benson faces any kind of suspension this season, but we are a little worried about his health (played his first full season last year) and the fact that he signed on for only one year with the Bengals makes us think Bernard Scott could be getting groomed for the starting gig in 2012.