For a fourth straight season, Razzball will be interviewing local NFL beat writers for some actual in-depth football knowledge to shed some additional light on our fantasy football knowledge. Keep your eye out for an interview for every NFL team through the summer. This installment comes courteous of Josh Kirkendall from leading Cincinnati Bengals blog Cincy Jungle (date of interview – August 2nd):
1) I’ve seen a lot of negativity on Andy Dalton floating around there, and despite leading the Bengals to a 4-1 record down the stretch in the final five games, he only threw 4 total TDs in those games. Then it was a rough game for him in a loss to the Texans in the Wild Card. Is Dalton going to be that flashy fantasy QB we saw in the first 10 games last year, or are defenses figuring him out?
There’s always fluidity when discussing Dalton’s prospects, usually led by mainstream impressions that he inhibits physical limitations. The debate is further compounded by a deep hunger to label him as a franchise quarterback, which is naturally an incompatible marriage for any quarterback that’s entering his third season that was originally drafted outside of the first round.
Could he be elite? Does he make the players around him better? Or does he need better players to be more consistent? If you ask me, he’s the latter. When Cincinnati’s running game produced, when his receivers were healthy (and properly sorted), Dalton’s numbers were ridiculously good. When Dalton didn’t have help around him, or if he played a game with significant implications, he struggled.
That being said, the players around him are better. As long as there’s no adversity or injury that impacts Dalton’s supporting cast, he could have a great year. But he can’t do it on his own. He’s not an elite-caliber quarterback. Not yet.
2) Dalton’s #1 target A.J. Green is an absolute beast, but there aren’t too many consistent options to keep defenses off him. Jermaine Gresham was solid last year, but is there any concern with Green getting so much attention from opposing defenses? I know he’s been playing against frequent double teams his whole career, but will defenses try to amp it up even more?
Early during the season, before the Bengals introduce the weapons remaining in the passing game, defenses will obviously target Green’s intermediate and vertical routes. Usually the cushion is so soft that he could run five-yard hook and curls all afternoon without much interference from the defense.
Ultimately it comes down to the rest of the team.
Second-year receivers Mohamed Sanu and Marvin Jones should make similar progress that most second-year receivers do. Rookie Tyler Eifert is a versatile asset who has been practicing at “X” “Y” and even slot; solidified with how the team is using him during training camp. However, we project that he’ll primarily play as a tight end, joining two-time Pro Bowler Jermaine Gresham in duel-tight formations. But it wouldn’t be surprising at all to see him lined up anywhere on the line of scrimmage. Rookie running back Giovani Bernard figures to impact the passing game out of the backfield, giving offensive coordinator Jay Gruden the type of weapon a west coast offense needs.
Green will always be the focus of opposing defenses; there’s no getting around that. Will the rise of others help free Green’s routes? Absolutely.
3) One of the guys hoping to alleviate the aforementioned pressure on Green is Mohamed Sanu who went on a nice mid-season run last year before getting injured. Any fantasy sleeper value in Sanu who looks to enter the year as the WR2?
I think there’s plenty of value there, especially in the Red Zone. He was extremely lethal scoring touchdowns (even as a passer), using his body to shield defenders. When it matters the most, he knew how to produce. We’re very excited to see what Sanu does for an entire season. One thing we should point out, however, is that we’re not projecting a full-time No. 2 wide receiver – most likely the team will rotate that position among multiple players.
4) As a BenJarvus Green-Ellis owner in several leagues last year, I was happy with the ho-hum but consistent production at my flex. For all the hate he got, he was still close to an 1100-yard rusher with 6 TDs in 15 games. That said, the Bengals seem intent on getting a lot of work to rookie back Giovani Bernard. How is the RB situation looking there? And I’m going to put you on the spot for season predictions yards and TD-wise for the pair:
Since Jay Gruden was hired in 2011, he’s always desired a two-back system. A big workhorse that eats the tough yards and powers through for short conversions, joined by an athletic back with quick feet that can help in the passing game. Cincinnati tried applying that system in 2011 with Cedric Benson and Bernard Scott, but it didn’t work. They tried again last year, but Scott was hurt all season and there wasn’t a replacement for the one-two punch.
Green-Ellis will be the primary back that will start, perhaps a first-down option, short third down and goalline situations. Green-Ellis led the NFL with the most conversions (14) on third-and-one opportunities and actually converted all of his attempts except for one. Giovani Bernard would be the change-of-pace player, offering third down routes in the passing game but used extensively between the 20s. If a Bengals fan is reading this, we’re envisioning a James Brooks and Ickey Wood relationship with Bernard and Green-Ellis filling those roles respectively.
Prediction-wise, I’m going 800 yards rushing for BenJarvus Green-Ellis and ten touchdowns. Bernard will have over 1,200 yards from scrimmage, perhaps a 600-yard split running and receiving. Let’s say six touchdowns total for Bernard.
5) Out of all the players unmentioned heading into the season, which Bengal do you think has the best shot at fantasy relevance that’s a little off the radar?
I wouldn’t sleep on Marvin Jones. Good football speed makes him a strong vertical threat and quick scorer. Had some problems with his hands catching the football, but he’s had a strong training camp this year.