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Offseason Primers: Cincinnati Bengals

Senior Fantasy Writer
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It seems like the Bengals have snuck up on the NFL the past two years. After making the playoffs in 2011 thanks in part to an improving defense and a burgeoning offense, the team did it again in 2012 with ... well, an improving defense and a burgeoning offense. The defensive unit is among the best in the league, complete with a deep, evolving pass rush that can challenge any team in the league. On paper the offense should be as strong but isn't quite there. Yet.

Don't pin any problems on A.J. Green, who has established himself as one of the best all-around receivers after just two years. You might nitpick that he doesn't catch enough of the targets thrown his way over the course of a season but the blame could go in another direction. And you might be concerned that he could start drawing coverage like Calvin Johnson does if he doesn't get help across the field but that might not be the case for much longer. Thanks to his big-game potential (he's posted 10-plus Fantasy points in 19 games over two years), defenses are still struggling with covering him and that should continue.

2012 Touches Leaders
759 total touches (rush attempts + receptions)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis 300 (278 car., 22 rec.) 39.5%
A.J. Green 101 (97 rec., 4 car.) 13.3%
Jermaine Gresham 64 rec. 8.4%
Andrew Hawkins 57 (51 rec., 6 car.) 7.5%
Andy Dalton 47 car. 6.2%
Cedric Peerman 45 (36 car., 9 rec.) 5.9%
Brian Leonard 44 (33 car., 11 rec.) 5.8%
All Others 101 13.3%

But defenses aren't having quite the same amount of trouble with BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who joined Cincinnati last season with the hopes of upgrading its running attack. Green-Ellis got off to a good enough start, scoring in two of his first three games before having a nightmare session in Jacksonville, going 0 for 3 at the goal-line with a fumble. That seemed to spur a lack of trust from the coaching staff in the ensuing weeks as he didn't score again until Week 9 against the Broncos on a two-yard run. He had similar struggles from the goal-line late in Week 12 against Oakland and scored once more between then and the end of the year. A big selling point on Green-Ellis last preseason was how he'd dominate carries and rack up goal-line scores. Dominate the carries he did with 278 of them, but only 21 of them came from the inside the 10 and of the 10 he had at the 1 only four found the end zone. More was expected in that regard as was in his rushing average, a weakish 3.9 yards per carry. The Bengals are expected to add another back into the mix and tone down Green-Ellis' workload. That's not so good for his Fantasy prospects.

But if Green-Ellis is as bad as things get in Cincinnati, and he's not really that bad, then things are looking up for the Who Deys. The biggest positive they have is consistency: No major changes on either side of the ball, especially compared to their division rivals. Coordinators Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer interviewed for openings but are staying put. Maybe there are some concerns about the depth of the secondary and linebackers following free agency but it's nothing they can't fix through the draft and picking through the scrap heap come cut-down day after training camp. The Bengals' diligence is paying off -- if only it meant advancing in the playoffs.

Andy Dalton -- Late-round flier

2012 Target Leaders
540 pass attempts
A.J. Green 164 30.4%
Jermaine Gresham 94 17.4%
Andrew Hawkins 80 14.8%
Marvin Jones 32 5.9%
BenJarvus Green-Ellis 29 5.4%
All Others 141 26.1%

You'd have thought Dalton was on the way out of Cincinnati when offensive coordinator Jay Gruden said in March that "he's got a long way to go." Gruden critiqued Dalton's deep passing and touch passing, two areas he absolutely must improve in order to be a great NFL and Fantasy quarterback. Dalton was inconsistent last year, posting 25-plus points in four of his first six games in 2012 and again going on a three-game hot streak from Week 10 to Week 12. Everything else, including his late-season meltdown (four passing touchdowns in six games), was disappointing. Dalton seemed to really sizzle when he was able to connect with another target besides A.J. Green. Early on it varied from Andrew Hawkins to Jermaine Gresham and in that Week 10 to 12 span it was Mohamed Sanu stepping up. If the Bengals can find that solid second contributor we'd like Dalton's chances to put up numbers better (lowering his turnovers would be nice, too). Dalton's a breakout candidate at a bargain-basement price -- a late-round pick. Like several other quarterbacks out there, there's little harm in picking him in Round 12 or 13, seeing how he starts the year, and evaluate from there.

Mohamed Sanu -- Late-round flier

There are heartbreaking injuries every season but the one suffered by Mohamed Sanu registered among the worst-timed ones. For three weeks Sanu had the playing time of a starter and flourished, scoring in three consecutive games. Then he suffered a stress fracture in his left foot while practicing before Week 13 and was done for the year. Sanu sounds like he'll be recovered in time for training camp and if he is then he should have a real chance to resume his role as the No. 2 receiver opposite A.J. Green. He won't put up a wild receiving average but as an end-zone threat with lots of playing time at his fingertips, he'll be worth stashing on rosters.

Jermaine Gresham -- Top 10 tight end

Expected 2013 Draft Averages
Andy Dalton Late-round pick
BenJarvus Green-Ellis 65-75 overall
A.J. Green 20-30 overall
Mohamed Sanu Late-round pick
Jermaine Gresham 125-135 overall
Mike Nugent Late-round pick
Bengals DST Late-round pick

Four things are going Gresham's way. One: The Bengals are sure to solve their receiving depth issues to help clear out coverage on him. Two: He's healthy, which is a big plus since he started last year at less than 100 percent. Three: His stats have trended in the right direction each of his three years in the league. And four: He's entering a contract year where a big season will help him get paid (see Martellus Bennett). Andy Dalton leaned on him plenty as Gresham registered the second-most targets on the team. That should continue. Fantasy owners should feel good about looking for Gresham late in drafts as a 60-to-70 catch candidate and low-end Fantasy starter with potential to play up to the level of second-tier tight ends.

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

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Player News
Giants' Bennett Jackson making transition to safety
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(5/23/2015) Giants second-year cornerback Bennett Jackson is spending the offseason transitioning to safety. 

"At the end of the day, I’m a DB,’" Jackson said, per the New York Post. "I think my strengths are cover skills, I got good speed and I got good ball skills. The thing it’s gonna take for me to get out there and make an impact is, I just got to learn the defense and really just communicate the calls fluently."

"It is all in front of him," coach Tom Coughlin said. "We think he can cover. He has done a good job of getting us lined up and then we will see how he plays."


O'Brien impressed with Jadeveon Clowney's work ethic
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(5/23/2015) Texans coach Bill O'Brien has been impressed with the work defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has put in to recover from microfracture surgery in his knee. 

"I've been impressed with the way JD's been working," O'Brien said, per HoustonTexans.com. "He's been out there. He's in early. He's rehabbing. But he's also being able to take part in some of the things that we do in the weight room. He's not able to do all of the things that we do on the field just yet, because of his rehab. But he's on the right track."


AJ McCarron throwing deep for Bengals
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(5/23/2015) Bengals quarterback AJ McCarron has recovered from the shoulder soreness that bothered him for most of his rookie year. 

McCarron is now throwing deep again. "I feel great," McCarron said, per the Cincinnati Enquirer. "Body feels great and I feel like I'm slinging it better than I ever have, really."


Brooks Reed injured, may miss time at Falcons' OTAs
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(5/23/2015) Falcons linebacker Brooks Reed suffered a groin injury during the recently-completed voluntary minicamp, per ESPN.

The injury was termed "minor", but it still might keep Reed from full participation in the Falcons' upcoming OTAs, which start Tuesday. 


GM: EJ Manuel on 'equal footing' with Bills' other QBs
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(5/23/2015) Bills general manager Doug Whaley denied reports that the team is moving on from quarterback EJ Manuel

The team acquired Matt Cassel and Tyrod Taylor in the offseason.

In an interview with Jim Rome, Whaley said, "I look at it this way, in this business controversy sells,. The more controversy that you can drum up then the more intereste people are going to be."

"For us we’re excited about the future of all three of those guys," Whaley said. "It’s going to be a great competition. And we can keep three quarterbacks. So I dismiss that as just someone trying to get something stirred during this down time and lack of media stories for the NFL." 

Whaley said all three quarterbacks have an equal shot of winning the starting job. 

"I look for him to come in and compete and try to take the job," he said. "Everybody has got an equal footing. It’s a clean slate for all four of our quarterbacks. We’re not tied to anybody. We just want the best man to start."


Bengals' Vontaze Burfict may start year on PUP
by Shawn Krest | CBSSports.com
(5/23/2015) Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict's rehab may not be progressing as quickly as the team had hoped.

Burfict had microfracture knee surgery and initial post-surgery reports said that he could be recovered by the start of training camp. 

This week, the team's website said that Burfict's status was "up in the air" and that a return by the start of the season would be a "tight call".

If Burfict isn't ready by the opener, the Bengals may choose to put him on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list. 


So far, so good for Texans rookie CB Kevin Johnson
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5/23/2015) First impressions aren't necessarily important for first-round picks in the NFL. They are far more critical to lower selections and undrafted free agents who desperately need to raise a few eyebrows immediately lest they be back out looking for work.

But whether necessary or not, Texans first-rounder Kevin Johnson is making one heck of a first impression on Bill O'Brien. The clornerback opened some eyes at minicamp.

"This is a guy that's a very quick guy," O'Brien said. "He's a tall guy. He's a guy that has really good transition ability. He's got what I call really good recover transition. If he's getting beat, he can stick his foot in the ground and really make up a lot of ground.

"He's a very bright player. If you ask him questions in the morning meeting, he really has obviously studied the night before. He's working out on his own and doing things to help stay up on material that's being installed."

Johnson believes he needs to do the little things right to make a big impact in his rookie year.

"From the training room to the classroom to the film study, everything is just more detailed," he told the team website. "I'm just trying to take it all in and use everything around here and just get better."


Bears CB Tim Jennings could transition into slot role
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5/23/2015) Bears cornerback Tim Jennings is "still trying to figure out" where he will fit into the secondary this season, the Chicago Tribune is reporting.

The nine-year veteran, who is entering his sixth season in the Windy City, has 95 career starts and led the league in interceptions in 2012. He is even a two-time Pro Bowler. But he spent significant time as the slot corner in minicamp. That's an unsatisfying role for him that he just might be forced to embrace.

Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio prefers his outside corners tall and physical. Jennings is 5-8, 185 pounds. He might still earn an outside role opposite Kyle Fuller, but do achieve that goal he must at the very least outperform free agent pickup Alan Ball, who better fits the ideal description.

If the words of new coach John Fox are any indication, that's unlikely to happen.

"Dimension-wise, he's built like a nickel corner," Fox said. "He's played it before."

Jennings has started all but three games over the last seven years.


Report: Cardinals' Daryl Washington unsure of NFL standing
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(5/22/2015) Cardinals linebacker Daryl Washington is approaching the one-year mark for his suspension though his NFL status is still in limbo. 

But according to a report from FOX Sports 910 in Phoenix, Washington is unsure about his status with the league. He was suspended a year ago on May 30, 2014 for being a multiple offender of the NFL's substance-abuse policy. 

However, he was expected to apply for reinstatement a month ago but did not do so. 

Assuming Washington is reinstated to the NFL at some point he will likely be subjected to punishment under the NFL's domestic violence policy. On March 24, 2014, he pleaded guilty to assaulting his ex-girlfriend. 


Titans' Massaquoi rehabbing shoulder, to miss OTA's
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(5/22/2015) Outside linebacker Jonathan Massaquoi will not participate in the Titans' first organized team activities, per ESPN.com.

Massaquoi, who was claimed off waivers from the Falcons earlier this year, is recovering from shoulder surgery. He had a bone spur removed from the area, but the procedure was categorized as a minor cleanup.

Massaquoi recorded 22 tackles in 15 games with Atlanta last season.


 
 
 
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