Cincinnati Bengals Fantasy Outlook – 2013

This page begins with a discussion of the Cincinnati Bengals’ passing and rushing games, key personnel additions and losses, difficulty of schedule and a win-loss projection, but you can jump to your player of interest by clicking on any of the following links:

Quarterbacks: Andy Dalton
Running Backs: BenJarvus Green-Ellis | Giovani Bernard
Wide Receivers: A.J. Green | Mohamed SanuAndrew Hawkins
Tight Ends: Jermaine GreshamTyler Eifert
Kickers: Mike Nugent
Defense/Special Teams: Cincinnati Bengals

The Air Attack

The Cincinnati Bengals have a pretty average passing game overall, but they do have one of the NFL’s best wide receivers in A.J. Green. Unfortunately, he is about the only receiver to whom Andy Dalton will throw the ball. In 2012, Green was targeted 164 times. That is only two fewer targets than the combined total of the Bengals’ next four  wide receivers (Andrew Hawkins – 80, Marvin Jones – 32, Armon Binns – 29 and Mohamed Sanu – 25). Tight end Jermaine Gresham was the receiver Dalton targeted second most. However, even with his 94 targets, Gresham didn’t even finish among the league’s top-10 tight ends in fantasy scoring.

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Cincinnati’s 2012 passing game is basically the Dalton-to-A.J. Green show. It will likely stay that way next year, but there will be a couple of new faces for Dalton to consider when he drops back to pass in 2013 – rookie running back Giovani Bernard (North Carolina) and rookie tight end Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame). When the Bengals score, they like to do it through the air and who could blame them with a talent like A.J. Green on the receiving end. The Bengals ranked 7th in the league in passing/receiving TDs with 28, of which A.J. Green had 11.

Even with A.J. Green, the #4 fantasy wide receiver in the NFL, Andy Dalton could only muster a 12th place finish among fantasy quarterbacks (based on the Yahoo! public league scoring format) last year. Much of this was due to the type of offense the Bengals employ. In 2012, Cincinnati’s pass attempt to rushing attempt ratio of 1.26 was the 19th highest in the league. Such a balanced approach is great as a strategy for winning football games, but it doesn’t excite fantasy owners who may want to invest in members of the Bengals’ passing attack other than A.J. Green.

Ground and Pound

Although the Bengals took a balanced approach in play selection last year, they just weren’t all that productive on the ground. The team managed to only rank 20th in terms of yards per carry (4.1). The leading running back, BenJarvus Green-Ellis, with his 3.9 YPC, was the main contributor to that weak result. But even with a 3.9 YPC, Green-Ellis was able to break the 1,000 mark through sheer volume (278 carries for 1,094 yards). The Bengals ranked 18th in total rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and rushing fantasy points scored. It just doesn’t get your fantasy juices flowing, does it?

The addition of rookie running back Giovani Bernard will do more to help the Bengal’s passing game than the running game. His intended role will be to catch short passes out of the backfield although he will also take running plays to the outside. The between-the-tackle carries, as well as the goal-line work, will still belong to Green-Ellis.

So Long, Farewell, Auf Wiedersehen, Good-bye

Kicker Josh Brown was signed by the Bengals late in 2012 when Mike Nugent suffered a calf injury. He performed very well connecting on 13 of 14 on field goal attempts over the last four games of the regular season plus one playoff game. The Bengals decided to keep Mike Nugent for 2013 and did not re-sign Brown. The New York Giants, however, did sign Josh Brown to a one-year contract.

Welcome Aboard!

The Cincinnati Bengals signed aging free agent middle linebacker James Harrison from their division rival Pittsburgh Steelers in the offseason. Harrison had to swallow his pride and accept a salary lower than he wanted, but at least he will remain in the AFC North where he has vowed revenge on the Steelers and Ravens – teams that have cut him from their rosters during his career. If nothing else, Harrison will add some additional attitude to a defense that already has bad-boy image due to its members’ frequent involvement with the criminal justice system.

The Bengals’ Schedule for 2013

Cincinnati has the 20th most difficult schedule in 2013 as determined by Fantasy Football Impact. This is based primarily on the quality of opponents but also accounts for bye week placement, the number of opponents on the schedule coming off their bye, short weeks, length of home stands and road trips, the number of long-distance trips and time zones crossed, early game times and exposure to the elements. (Click here for our detailed analysis of the Bengals’ schedule. It will open a new window within this site.) Also discussed in the schedule analysis are Cincinnati’s fantasy football playoff match-ups – week 15 and week 16. Make sure you know where and against whom your fantasy players are competing during the playoffs!

Fantasy Football Impact’s Bold Prediction

The Cincinnati Bengals will end the regular season with a record of 11 – 5 and finish in first place in the AFC North ahead of the Baltimore Ravens (9 – 7), Pittsburgh Steelers (7 – 9) and Cleveland Browns (6 -10). The Bengals will host a first-round wildcard game in the 2013 playoffs.

Fantasy-Relevant Bengals

Andy Dalton (Quarterback)
25 years old (6’2”, 220 lbs) – 3rd year (3rd as a starter) – all with the Bengals

Dalton accumulated the 12th most fantasy points (266.76) among NFL quarterbacks in 2012 and played in all 16 games. His overall stats for the season were 3,669 passing yards, 27 passing touchdowns, 16 interceptions, 120 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns and four lost fumbles. He also had three games with over 300 passing yards.

Although Andy Dalton never led the league in any week at his position, he was a top-10 fantasy quarterback seven times. Over the course of the entire season, he averaged 16.7 fantasy points per game (shown as the horizontal blue line in the chart below) with a standard deviation of 6.7 and a 0.40 coefficient of variation. (For a discussion of using the standard deviation and coefficient of variation to evaluate fantasy football production, please read our article, “Consistency – the Key to Winning Fantasy Football.” It will open in a new window within this site.) His season high was 25.7 points in week 3 at Washington. The fewest fantasy points he scored in any game of the season was 6.9 at Baltimore in week 1.

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There are two knocks on Dalton that affects his fantasy value – his apparent lack of arm strength when throwing the deep ball and his accuracy. It is not certain whether he can improve on these areas over time and that limits his fantasy upside. He does, however, have talented receivers with which to work.

Last year, Dalton was drafted, on average, in the 13th round of standard public leagues and cost $2.10 in public auction leagues as a QB2. He was on average, the 19th quarterback drafted and outperformed expectations with a 12th place finish among his peers. He will be drafted as a QB2 again in 2013, but will likely go a couple of rounds earlier based on the anticipation of another strong year from wide receiver A.J. Green.

2013 Projection for Andy Dalton: 330 of 543 for 3,832 passing yards / 28 passing TDs / 16 INTs / 44 rushes for 121 yards / 1 rushing TD / 267 fantasy points (standard public league scoring)

BenJarvus Green-Ellis (Running Back)
28 years old (5’11”, 220 lbs) – 6th year – 2nd with the Bengals

Green-Ellis accumulated the 19th most fantasy points (151.8) among NFL running backs in 2012 and played in 15 games. The only game he missed was a meaningless week 17 contest against the Ravens due to his hamstring tightening up during pre-game warm-ups. His overall stats for the season were 1,094 rushing yards, six rushing touchdowns, 104 receiving yards and two lost fumbles. He had four games with over 100 rushing yards.

Although Green-Ellis never led the league in any week at his position, he was a top-10 fantasy running back twice and a top-20 running four times. Over the course of the entire season, Green-Ellis averaged 10.1 fantasy points per game (shown as the horizontal blue line in the chart below) with a standard deviation of 5.3 and a 0.52 coefficient of variation. His season high was 19.8 fantasy points against the Raiders in week 12. The fewest fantasy points he scored in any game of the season was 1.4 at Pittsburgh in week 16.

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To add some spark to the Bengals’ running game, Cincinnati drafted running back Giovani Bernard (North Carolina). He will handle the running plays designed to go outside and catch passes out of the backfield. This still leaves the carries between the tackles and short-yardage looks in the hands Green-Ellis and as such, should keep his fantasy production relatively the same as last year.

Last year, Green-Ellis, was drafted, on average, in the 9th round in standard public leagues and cost $6.70 in auction leagues. He was viewed as a strong RB3 and should get similar consideration in 2013.

2013 Projection for BenJarvus Green-Ellis: 209 rushes for 825 yards / 6 rushing TDs / 11 receptions for 76 yards / 126 fantasy points (standard public league scoring – non PPR)

Giovani Bernard (Running Back)
21 years old (5’9″, 206 lbs) – 1st year out of North Carolina

The Bengals selected Bernard in the second round (37th overall pick) of the 2013 NFL draft. He was the first running back to come off the board, but was drafted as a complement to BenJarvus Green-Ellis, not as a replacement. Cincinnati wants to add other dimensions to their backfield at which Green-Ellis doesn’t excel, namely running outside and catching the ball in space. The Bengals will find a way to get their talented rookie on the field as often as possible because the more they can keep opposing defenses honest with regard to the threat of their running backs, the more time Dalton will have to look downfield and hopefully make accurate passes to his targets.

Even though he was the first running back taken in the 2013 NFL draft, he will not be a high-demand player in fantasy football. This is not do to his lack of talent, which is immense, but rather to the role he will play in the Bengals’ offense. Bernard should be drafted as an RB4 in 2013.

2013 Projection for Giovani Bernard: 152 rushes for 743 yards / 3 rushing TDs / 41 receptions for 304 yards / 2 receiving TDs / 135 fantasy points (standard public league scoring – non PPR)

A.J. Green (Wide Receiver)
25 years old (6’4″, 207 lbs) – 3rd year – all with the Bengals

Green accumulated the 4th most fantasy points (202.8) among NFL wide receivers in 2012 and played in all 16 games. It was obviously a very good year for Green and it was only his 2nd as a professional. The sky is the limit for Green due to his incredible talent. The one area of concern fantasy owners will have about Green is the seven drops he had last year. Hopefully it is an area on which he will focus during the offseason. His overall stats for the season were 1,350 receiving yards, 11 receiving touchdowns, 38 receiving yards and one lost fumble. He also had five games with over 100 receiving yards.

A.J. Green led the league one time in fantasy wide receiver scoring with 25.4 points (not his season high) at Washington in week 3. Including this league-leading performance, Green was a top-10 fantasy wide receiver five times, a top-20 wide receiver five times and a top-30 wide receiver twice. Over the course of the entire season, he averaged 12.7 fantasy points per game (shown as the horizontal blue line in the chart below) with a standard deviation of 6.3 and a 0.50 coefficient of variation. His season high was 25.5 points in week 6 at Cleveland. The fewest fantasy points he scored in any game of the season was 2.6 in a meaningless week 17 game against the Ravens in which Dalton didn’t even through the ball in Green’s direction until late in the first half. (A case in point as to why one should avoid fantasy leagues which hold their championship game in week 17.)

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Green is a fantasy stud and is only entering his third year as a professional. His value is supported by the lack of competition for targets in the Bengals’ receiving corps. Green is Dalton’s favorite and most talented target. The only drawback is that Green attracts a lot of attention from opposing defenses. Even so, he is able to get separation and uses his height and superior leaping ability to great advantage.

Last year, Green was drafted, on average, in the second round in standard public leagues and cost a $29.60 in auction leagues. He was, on average, the fourth wide receiver drafted in public leagues, behind Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald and Victor Cruz. He is easily a top-5 selection at his position in 2013 and will again be off draft boards before the end of the second round. Expect to pay at least $35 for his services in public auction leagues.

2013 Projection for A.J. Green: 95 receptions for 1,375 yards / 10 receiving TDs / 4 rushes for 31 yards / 201 fantasy points (standard public league scoring – non PPR)

Mohamed Sanu (Wide Receiver)
24 years old (6’2″, 210 lbs) – 2nd year – both with the Bengals

Sanu accumulated the 88th most fantasy points (47.8) among NFL wide receivers in 2012 and played in only nine games. He lost the last five games of the regular season due to a stress fracture in his foot. His overall stats for the season were 154 receiving yards, four receiving touchdowns , 15 rushing yards, 73 passing yards and one passing touchdown. He had no games with over 100 receiving yards.

Although he never led the league in any week as the top fantasy wide receiver, Mohamed Sanu was a top-10 wide receiver once, a top-20 wide receiver once and a top-30 wide receiver once. Over the course of the entire season, he averaged 5.3 fantasy points per game (shown as the horizontal blue line in the chart below) with a standard deviation of 5.2 and a 0.97 coefficient of variation. His season high was 15.4 fantasy points against the Raiders in week 12. The fewest fantasy points he scored in any game of the season was zero which occurred three times in week 1, week 4 and week 5. In those games, the rookie wide receiver was never targeted.

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In week 3 at Washington, Sanu was part of a trick play in which he took the direct snap on the first play of the game and threw a 73-yard touchdown pass to A.J. Green showing some of the versatility that makes Sanu a valuable part of the Bengals offense. That play also added 6.92 points to his fantasy value. Sanu also scored four receiving touchdowns in the three-game span before he suffered the stress fracture in his foot that would end his season. The Bengals are very high on Sanu and feel he is there answer for the WR2 position opposite A.J. Green. That still doesn’t mean his fantasy production will be all that significant in 2013. A.J. Green gets the majority of targets in Cincinnati and it will stay that way as long as he is healthy and productive. However, Sanu should be able to make some noise in single coverage at times.

Last year, Mohamed Sanu, went undrafted as a rookie in standard public leagues and public auction leagues. He will be drafted in 2013, but as a WR4 or WR5 with upside. He is worth a flyer near the end of your draft.

2013 Projection for Mohamed Sanu: 53 receptions for 633 yards / 5 receiving TDs / 6 rushes for 18 yards / 95 fantasy points (standard public league scoring – non PPR)

Andrew Hawkins (Wide Receiver)
27 years old (5’7″, 180 lbs) – 3rd year – all with the Bengals

Hawkins accumulated the 61st most fantasy points (80.3) among NFL wide receivers in 2012 and played in 14 games. He more than doubled his rookie totals for receptions (51 to 23) and receiving yards (533 to 263). He was the #3 receiver in terms of targets (80) behind A.J. Green (164) and Jermaine Gresham (94). The next closest receiver was Marvin Jones with 32. His overall stats for the season were 533 receiving yards, four receiving touchdowns and 30 rushing yards. He had no games with over 100 receiving yards.

Although he never led the league in any week as the top fantasy wide receiver or even cracked the top-10, Andrew Hawkins was a top-20 wide receiver twice and a top-30 wide receiver once. Over the course of the entire season, he averaged 5.7 fantasy points per game (shown as the horizontal blue line in the chart below) with a standard deviation of 4.0 and a 0.69 coefficient of variation. His season high was 14.2 fantasy points at Washington in week 3. The fewest fantasy points he scored in any game of the season was 0.9 at Philadelphia in week 15.

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The diminutive Hawkins, will once again man the slot position and look to continue his development as one of Andy Dalton’s productive passing targets. He should see plenty of opportunities as defenses will continue to focus their attention on the dangerous A.J. Green.

Last year, Hawkins, like Mohamed Sanu, went undrafted in standard public leagues and public auction leagues. Hawkins is an exciting player to watch, but based on other options in the league for back-up fantasy wide receivers, he will likely go undrafted in 2013 as well.

2013 Projection for Andrew Hawkins: 53 receptions for 605 yards / 4 receiving TDs / 5 rushes for 26 yards / 87 fantasy points (standard public league scoring – non PPR)

Jermaine Gresham (Tight End)
24 years old (6’5″, 260 lbs) – 4th year – all with the Bengals

Gresham accumulated the 11th most fantasy points (101.7) among NFL tight ends in 2012 and played in all 16 games. He was Dalton’s #2 receiver in terms of targets with 94. His overall stats for the season were 737 receiving yards, five touchdowns and one lost fumble. He also had one game with over 100 receiving yards.

Although he never led the league in scoring at his position, Gresham was a top-10 fantasy tight end four times. Over the course of the entire year, he averaged 6.4 fantasy points per game (shown as the horizontal blue line in the chart below) with a standard deviation of 3.6 and a 0.57 coefficient of variation. His season high was 12.8 fantasy points in week 6 at Cleveland. The fewest fantasy points he scored in any game of the season was zero which occurred only once – in a meaningless week 17 game against the Ravens. In that game he was targeted just once.

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Cincinnati drafted tight end Tyler Eifert (Notre Dame) in the 2013 draft. Some view the selection as a vote of dissatisfaction in Gresham’s development, although he has improved his receiving stats each year of his three-year career. Others see Eifert as another weapon in the arsenal to use in two tight end sets. Either way, Gresham is on notice that he isn’t the only tight end game in town. It is likely that Gresham will continue to receive the majority of tight end targets, but Eifert will cut into his production, lessening Gresham’s fantasy value.

Last year, Jermaine Gresham, on average, was drafted in the 12th round in standard public leagues and cost just $2.49 in auction leagues. With Eifert in the mix in Cincinnati, there is no reason to draft Gresham as a TE1. He will likely perform as a low-end TE2 in 2013 and be drafted in the late rounds.

2013 Projection for Jermaine Gresham: 56 receptions for 592 yards / 4 receiving TDs / 83 fantasy points (standard public league scoring – non PPR)

Tyler Eifert (Tight End)
23 years old (6’6″, 251 lbs) – 1st year out of Notre Dame

Cincinnati drafted Tyler Eifert with 21st overall pick in the first round of the 2013 NFL draft. That’s a pretty high pick to spend on the position if you are already happy with your current tight end. Apparently the Bengals aren’t. Maybe they thought there was too much talent in Eifert to let him pass. Maybe they want to implement more multi-tight end sets a la the New England Patriots. Who knows? Jermaine Gresham undoubtedly noticed the pick and must be wondering the same thing.

Eifert likely won’t be replacing Gresham in his rookie year, but will see some substantial playing time. If that playing time means primarily blocking duties, then it translates into little to no value in fantasy circles. But keep a close eye on the situation as training camp approaches. If, for some reason, Eifert earns the #1 gig outright, his fantasy value will skyrocket, but that’s a big “if” at this point.

2013 Projection for Tyler Eifert: 15 receptions for 168 yards / 2 receiving TDs / 29 fantasy points (standard public league scoring – non PPR)

Mike Nugent (Kicker)
25 years old (5’10”, 190 lbs) – 9th year – 4th with the Bengals

Nugent accumulated the 29th most fantasy points (100) among NFL kickers in 2012 and played in only 12 games. He injured his calf in practice leading up to the week 14 game and missed the rest of the season. His overall stats for the season were 19 of 23 (83%) on field goals and 35 of 35 (100%) on PATs. He was 1 of 2 (50%) on field goal attempts of 50 yards and longer.

Mike Nugent didn’t lead the league in scoring at his position in any week during 2012 but was a top-10 kicker twice. Over the course of the entire season, he averaged 8.3 fantasy points per game (shown as the horizontal blue line in the chart below) with a standard deviation of 2.4 and a 0.29 coefficient of variation. His season high was 13.0 fantasy points which he accomplished against the Raiders in week 9. The fewest fantasy points he scored in any game of the season was 4.0 in week 11 at Kansas City.

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If Nugent were to have played the entire 16-game schedule with his 8.3 average fantasy points per game, he would have finished the season tied as the 18th best fantasy kicker. So releasing Josh Brown, who kicked very well in Nugent’s place for the final four games of the season, averaging 11.5 fantasy points per game and ranking as a top-10 kicker in three of those weeks, is somewhat of a mystery. Cincinnati re-signed Nugent to a two-year deal and the New York Giants, appreciating Josh Brown’s “audition,” quickly signed him to a one-year contract, replacing Lawrence Tynes who was much too expensive to keep. Before he injured his calf, Nugent was automatic under 40 yards (12 for 12) and but converted only 67% (6 of 9) in the 40 – 49 yard range. In the 50+ range, Nugent was 1 for 2.  (Josh Brown, in case you were wondering was a perfect 10 for 10 under 50 yards and, like Nugent, was 1 of 2 beyond 50 yards.) Yes, I am scratching my head also. Nugent performed better as a fantasy kicker when he was at home rather than on the road. At home he averaged 9.3 points per game compared with 7.3 points per game on the road.

Last year, Mike Nugent was drafted, on average, in the 13th round in standard public leagues and cost $1.10 in auction leagues. He was, on average, the 25th kicker selected and things shouldn’t change in 2013. There are more reliable kicker options to be found elsewhere around the league – hint: start with the new kicker for the New York Giants.

Cincinnati Defense / Special Teams

The Cincinnati Bengals’ defense accumulated the 5th most fantasy points (166) among NFL defenses in 2012. Their overall stats for the year were 296 points allowed, 51 sacks, 14 interceptions, 16 recovered fumbles, four touchdowns scored and one blocked kick. Although the Bengals never led the league as a fantasy defense in any week during the season, they were a top-10 unit nine times, including seven of the last eight weeks of the regular season. Over the course of the entire season, they averaged 10.4 points per game (shown as the horizontal blue line in the chart below) with a standard deviation of 6.1 and a 0..59 coefficient of variation. Their highest score of the season was 23 points which they achieved in week 15 at Philadelphia. The fewest fantasy points they scored in any game of the season was -1.0 in week 1 at Baltimore. The Bengals performed better as a fantasy defense when they were on the road rather than at home. At home they averaged 9.3 points per game and 11.5 points per game on the road.

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In the offseason, the Bengals acquired free agent linebacker James Harrison, formerly of their division rival – the Pittsburgh Steelers, which should make for two very interesting games this year. We’ll have to see how much Harrison has left in the tank and whether emotion (read revenge) can make up for any decline in ability.

Last year, the Cincinnati Bengals’ Defense / Special Teams was drafted, on average, in the 13th round in standard public leagues and cost $1.40 in auction leagues. They were only drafted in 12% of standard leagues and 10% of auction leagues. For those who did choose the Bengals, they found them to be a wonderful value. Cincinnati’s defense accumulated more points than 20 other teams that were taken earlier than the Bengals in fantasy drafts. The Bengals, like the Denver Broncos, have made rapid improvement as a fantasy defense over the past three years. In 2010, Cincinnati ranked #28. Then in 2011, they moved up to #12 and in 2012 they reached #5.  Their performance last year will drive up their value in the 2013 draft, but don’t fall for the hype. Fantasy football defenses are a very fickle lot. Only three of the top-10 defenses in 2010 were a top-10 defense again in 2011. And only five of the top-10 defenses from 2011 were a top-10 defense again in 2012. In fact only two fantasy defenses have ranked in the top-10 in all three years – the Chicago Bears and the New England Patriots.

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Other Team Outlooks:

AFC East: Buffalo Bills | Miami Dolphins | New England Patriots | New York Jets
AFC North: Baltimore Ravens | Cincinnati Bengals | Cleveland Browns | Pittsburgh Steelers
AFC South: Houston Texans | Indianapolis Colts | Jacksonville Jaguars | Tennessee Titans
AFC West: Denver Broncos | Kansas City Chiefs | Oakland Raiders | San Diego Chargers

NFC East: Dallas Cowboys | New York Giants | Philadelphia Eagles | Washington Redskins
NFC North: Chicago Bears | Detroit Lions | Green Bay Packers | Minnesota Vikings
NFC South: Atlanta Falcons | Carolina Panthers | New Orleans Saints | Tampa Bay Buccaneers
NFC West: Arizona Cardinals | San Francisco 49ers | Seattle Seahawks | St. Louis Rams

Related articles at Fantasy Football Impact:

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Cincinnati Bengals Fantasy Outlook - 2013

Disclaimer: Fantasy football is a game of speculation; therefore, Fantasy Football Impact disclaims all warranties, expressed or implied, regarding player performance or results associated with its opinions or advice.