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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Cincinnati Bengals

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The Bengals overhauled their offense last year when they replaced Carson Palmer with Andy Dalton and Chad Ochocinco with A.J. Green. Most people would agree those moves were upgrades.

Dalton finished as a Top 15 Fantasy quarterback as a rookie, and he enters this year as a high-end No. 2 passer worth a late-round pick. Green turned into an elite Fantasy option as the No. 16 receiver, also as a rookie, and he should be considered a No. 1 receiver worth a pick in Round 3.

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Now, the Bengals are making another switch, this time at running back. Cedric Benson is gone and BenJarvus Green-Ellis has left the Patriots to step into the starting role after signing a three-year deal in March.

Green-Ellis should be considered a No. 2 Fantasy running back since Cincinnati will lean on him more than New England did. He has a tremendous opportunity to get the majority of carries. The Bengals will use Bernard Scott as a change of pace rusher and on passing situations, but Green-Ellis will be considered the featured back.

We know Green-Ellis is good at two things, which is scoring touchdowns and not losing any fumbles. He had 24 touchdowns the past two years with at least 11 in each season and never lost a fumble over that span in 410 carries.

But since he played for the Patriots, he was never used like a workhorse rusher. Last year he had just four games with more than 15 carries, and he has 27 games with fewer than 20 carries and 10 games with fewer than 10 carries the past two seasons.

That will change with the Bengals since Benson averaged 298 carries a year for the past three years, and we'll find out if Green-Ellis is ready for that kind of workload. He should easily match Benson's production over that span, which was 1,143 rushing yards and six touchdowns.

Green-Ellis wasn't the ideal replacement for Benson (we would have preferred another free agent like Michael Bush), but he has the chance to succeed given his opportunity. He should be drafted around Round 5, and hopefully he can rush for 1,200 yards and score double digits in touchdowns. That would make it another positive change for the Bengals offense over the past two years.

Fantasy Value Chart
Player Draft Day value Estimated round
Quarterbacks
Andy Dalton 12
Running Backs
BenJarvus Green-Ellis 5
Bernard Scott ND
Brian Leonard ND
Wide Receivers
A.J. Green 3
Mohamed Sanu ND
Jordan Shipley ND
Marvin Jones ND
Tight Ends
Jermaine Gresham 9
Kickers/Defense
Mike Nugent ND
Bengals DST ND
ND - not expected to get drafted

Breakout ... Jermaine Gresham, tight end
Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said he wants Gresham to play like Rob Gronkowski. Those are lofty expectations, but Gresham certainly has the talent. We consider Gresham the No. 2 option in the passing game for the Bengals behind Green, and he has done a nice job scoring touchdowns in his first two years with 10. But we need Gresham to score 10 touchdowns this year if he's going to take the next step in his career. The good thing about Gresham is you can wait on him in your draft. While other owners reach for Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham in the first three rounds, you can secure standout running backs and receivers and then take Gresham later. If he plays as expected then he will reward you with your patience.

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Impact rookie ... Mohamed Sanu, wide receiver
The Bengals are also in the market for a starting receiver after Jerome Simpson left as a free agent for Minnesota. Sanu will compete with fellow rookie Marvin Jones to start opposite Green, but we expect Sanu to win the job. He is a productive receiver who had 115 catches for 1,206 yards and seven touchdowns last season with Rutgers. Green recently raved about Sanu that he's a more polished receiver than he was as a rookie, and he could be a great red-zone target at 6-foot-2, 211 pounds. If he does win the starting job then he could be worth a late-round pick in deeper leagues. He's also worth a mid-to-late pick in dynasty/keeper leagues and a second-round pick in rookie-only drafts.

Bounce-back candidate ... Jordan Shipley, wide receiver
Shipley is not going to get drafted in the majority of leagues, and he could still be slow in his recovery from last year's torn ACL. But for owners in PPR leagues, you should put Shipley on your radar. As a rookie in 2010 he had 52 catches for 600 yards and three touchdowns. He will see most of his time in the slot, and he should get plenty of single coverage with Green, Gresham and Sanu drawing most of the attention. Don't expect him to have huge yardage or touchdown totals, but he could lead the Bengals in receptions if he's healthy by Week 1. Dalton is going to like relying on Shipley as his safety valve on short and intermediate routes.

Schedule breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
@BAL CLE @WAS @JAC MIA @CLE PIT bye DEN NYG @KC OAK @SD DAL @PHI @PIT BAL
Cincinnati will play on the road in three of its first four games with a date at Baltimore in Week 1. The team also landed what is probably the toughest three-game homestand anyone will have this season with the Steelers, Broncos and Giants coming in succession. Then they play the Steelers in Pittsburgh in Week 16 after playing the Eagles in Philly on the last Thursday night game of the season. Then once that's done they finish the season at home vs. the Ravens. In between all those rough patches they have some favorable matchups, but unless they can rise to the level of play of their opponents they're decidedly looking at an 8-8 type of season. Aside from the games against the Ravens and Steelers, the Bengals' run game shouldn't be too challenged.

Training camp topics

Green said in June he plans to work out with Larry Fitzgerald prior to training camp, and that has been a great thing for receivers in the past (see Greg Jennings and Sidney Rice, among others). We hope Green learns a thing or two because he can continue to be a dominant force for the Bengals and Fantasy owners.

2011 Touches Leaders
Player Touches
Cedric Benson 273 carries, 15 catches
Bernard Scott 112 carries, 13 catches
A.J. Green 65 catches, 5 carries
Jermaine Gresham 56 catches
Jerome Simpson 50 catches

The No. 2 receiver battle should be fun to watch between Sanu and Jones, and we hope Shipley can return at 100 percent. It will also be interesting to see if Gruden follows through on his offseason pledge to use Gresham like the Patriots use Gronkowski, which would only enhance his value.

The Bengals are expected to use Scott and Brian Leonard in passing situations, but Green-Ellis' value could improve if he gets some time on passing downs. And Dalton now has plenty of weapons to succeed. The Bengals are headed in the right direction, and they are hoping for a return trip to the playoffs after losing in the wild-card round to Houston last year.

Injury update

Shipley (knee; probable for the start of training camp) ... Leon Hall (Achilles' tendon; questionable for the start of training camp)

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg and on Facebook .

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(8:03 pm ET) Raiders tackle Khalif Barnes (quad) returned to practice Wednesday, but he may not regain his starting role from Menelik Watson, CSNBayArea.com reports.

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