Fantasy Alert: Bengals Rookie Damion Willis to Start for Injured A.J. Green

Scott Polacek@@ScottPolacekFeatured ColumnistAugust 25, 2019

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver Damion Willis (9) catches the ball during the first day of NFL football training camp in Dayton, Ohio, Saturday, July 27, 2019, in Dayton, Ohio. (AP Photo/Bryan Woolston)
Bryan Woolston/Associated Press

Fantasy football players, take note. The Cincinnati Bengals officially know who they are going to rely on during A.J. Green's absence.

On Sunday, the Bengals announced undrafted free agent rookie wide receiver Damion Willis will start the Sept. 8 season opener against the Seattle Seahawks. Josh Alper of Pro Football Talk noted Willis has nine catches for 118 yards and a score in the preseason and will fill in for Green while the seven-time Pro Bowler is sidelined by an ankle injury.

The starting chance alone puts Willis on fantasy radars, but so does the fact that wide receiver John Ross said "We'll find out," when asked if he can return from hamstring injuries for the regular season as part of the same announcement on the team's official website.

That puts an even larger spotlight on Willis, who figures to share targets with Tyler Boyd at the start of the season.

Geoff Hobson @GeoffHobsonCin

Willis first undrafted rookie to start opener for Bengals since HBack Ryan Hewitt in '14

Willis finished with 56 catches for 876 yards and 10 touchdowns last season at Troy and proved he can use his size to go up and high-point passes at 6'3" and 204 pounds. Cincinnati can use that size in the red zone, especially as it searches for a viable replacement with Green sidelined and Ross dealing with health concerns.

How long Green is out will determine Willis' ultimate fantasy value, and Ian Rapoport of NFL.com reported in July the go-to receiver is expected to miss multiple games during the regular season.

Cincinnati faces the Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers, Buffalo Bills and Pittsburgh Steelers in its first four contests. The Bills (first), Steelers (10th) and 49ers (11th) all finished in the top 11 in the league in passing yards allowed last year, and asking an undrafted rookie to perform in an environment as hostile as Seattle (17th) in his first regular-season game is a tall task.

The schedule doesn't exactly set the stage for fantasy dominance, and the wise choice at this point would be to target the Troy product as a late-round gamble instead of a mid-round starter.

He doesn't figure to see significant playing time when Green and Ross are fully healthy, meaning his overall value is limited as an early season replacement player. Many of the injuries that will be a problem for fantasy players later in the season haven't cropped up yet, so there are fewer spots for Willis to fill.

Green's spot is available for now, though, so the rookie has value as a high-reward, low-risk bench play for the first few weeks of the campaign.