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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Cincinnati Bengals

Senior Fantasy Writer
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Bad things have come in threes for the Bengals. Three straight years, three consecutive playoff appearances and three losses in a row. If they make it four for four -- or worse yet, fail to make the playoffs -- we could see some major changes.

Marvin Lewis remains the head coach, entering his 12th year in Cincinnati. But a year without a playoff victory might make it his last. The same could be said for fourth-year starter Andy Dalton. He's coming off of a career-year (4,293 passing yards, 35 total touchdowns and 23 turnovers) but faces an uncertain future as his contract is up at the end of this season. He also will have to adjust to a new offensive scheme installed by veteran playcaller Hue Jackson after Jay Gruden, who had been with Dalton for all of his short career, moved on to become the head coach of Washington this offseason.

Gruden wasn't the only loss the Bengals had among their coaches this offseason, as defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer moved to Minnesota to coach the Vikings. Zimmer had long been the architect of the Bengals' competitive defense. Linebackers coach Paul Guenther will replace him but also must find a replacement for pass rusher Michael Johnson, now a Buccaneer. The Bengals also have some uncertainty surrounding players coming back from injury, most notably All-Pro defensive tackle Geno Atkins and cornerback Leon Hall, both of whom sustained season-ending injuries last year.

Two new coordinators on a team that hasn't gotten over the hump of winning one playoff game, much less getting close to the Super Bowl. In many instances that's a recipe for disaster, but the Bengals have a lot of talent. Receiver A.J. Green and rusher Giovani Bernard anchor an offense that has done well even when Dalton has an inexplicable meltdown, and linebacker Vontaze Burfict and pass rusher Carlos Dunlap help support a deep and mostly experienced defense.

If the talent can mesh with the wrinkles the new coordinators put into their playbooks, then the Bengals will have another opportunity to play for a playoff berth this coming January.

Bust I ... Andy Dalton

Despite being the third-best quarterback in Fantasy last season, no one wants to draft Dalton to be their Fantasy starter entering 2014.

Maybe it's because he wasn't very consistent last year, posting only seven games with 20-plus Fantasy points (he did have three with 18 or 19 points). Or maybe it's because new coordinator Hue Jackson doesn't have a strong track record of producing big-stat quarterbacks (though the best he's had in four tries in the pros has been Carson Palmer for a half a season). But it's probably because Dalton, for as productive as he was, is streaky. He'll go three weeks with great numbers (like 103 Fantasy points in Weeks 6 through 8 in 2013) before cratering (52 Fantasy points combined in his next four games).

If the best you can hope for is using Dalton three weeks at a time then he's not worth picking as a starter.

Bust II ... Marvin Jones

On the strength of scoring 10 touchdowns, Jones finished as a Top 24 receiver last season. But he also caught 51 passes for only 712 yards, meaning that in order for him to replicate his Top 24 finish he'll either have to keep scoring at a torrid pace or make up for a number of his touchdowns with an additional 200 yards receiving.

If you include the postseason, he had two games over 100 yards and three games over 75 yards. Mohamed Sanu will still attract his fair share of attention from Dalton and the tight ends might make a bigger dent in 2014. Jones' speed is nice but with his numbers not likely to take a huge jump, he's not even worth No. 3 receiver consideration in Fantasy.

Long-term target ... Jeremy Hill

2013 Touches Leaders
845 total touches
Giovani Bernard 226 (170 car., 56 rec.) 26.8%
BenJarvus Green-Ellis 224 (220 car., 4 rec.) 26.5%
A.J. Green 98 rec. 11.6%
Marvin Jones 59 (51 rec., 8 car.) 7.0%
Mohamed Sanu 51 (47 rec., 4 car.) 6.0%
All others 186 22.0%

Running back wasn't a position of need for the Bengals in the draft, but that didn't stop them from selecting Hill in Round 2. Thinking back to them doing the same thing with Giovani Bernard a year earlier, Hill figures to compete for playing time right away, potentially knocking BenJarvus Green-Ellis into a very, very backup role. This would give Hill some value in Fantasy play as soon as this season, but he needs to earn the power-rushing role first. That could be tough, as Bernard is capable of being the primary back for the Bengals, so Hill might not see a ton of work even if he is right behind Bernard on the depth chart.

That's why the long-term outlook for Hill is fancier than the one for 2014. You want to take him with a middle-to-late pick this year? Go for it. But those owners who can keep players for several years should be ready to claim Hill with a mid-round pick. The guy should score a bunch of touchdowns from up close for years to come.

Schedule analysis

The easier the matchup, the more likable Cincinnati's offensive players are. The Bengals start with two nice matchups in their first three games before a Week 4 bye. Back-to-back games against the Patriots and Panthers after that will be particularly tough, but then they have a seven-week stretch that includes three home games in a row followed by three straight on the road. Things get a little dicey at the end of the year when they play the Steelers in Weeks 14 and 17 with a matchup at home against the Broncos in Week 16. If defenses like the Steelers, Ravens, Broncos and Texans improve, then the Bengals offense is sure to sputter.

Training camp battles

Who's the back behind Giovani Bernard? We better see Bernard as the Bengals' top running back -- they're wasting him otherwise. It's a matter of time before Hill usurps Green-Ellis in the part-time physical back role that should include a lot of short-yardage and goal-line opportunities. If it happens soonerrather than later, the Bengals will be better off for it because Hill is a more explosive player than Green-Ellis. Fantasy owners would have a bye-week replacement running back that way, whereas no one would trust Green-Ellis.

How will the tight ends shake out? Tyler Eifert was a big sleeper of mine last year. Didn't happen. Jermaine Gresham played more than expected, but his stats went south. Neither guy was any good. Will it be more of the same in 2014, or can Eifert finally knock Gresham off the field and get more playing time to be the versatile asset we thought he'd be?

Bold prediction

We could go on and on about how the Bengals defense will struggle this season, partially because of their schedule, partially because of the talent they've either lost (and that includes coordinator Mike Zimmer) or are getting back from serious injury. But you guys want sizzle you can take to your drafts, so let's really focus on Giovani Bernard.

We believe Bernard will finish as a Top 12 Fantasy running back this season, even with BenJeremy Green-Hill (or JerJarvus Hill-Ellis if you prefer) swiping touches. We took a long look at the history of new offensive coordinator Hue Jackson and the reality is that he loves his running backs. His rushers averaged anywhere from 22.2 to 26.4 carries per game and represented anywhere from 21.1 pct. to 33.3 pct. of the passing game. These are good numbers, particularly the passing game stats, for Bernard's prospects.

Jackson has spoken highly of the second-year speedster and is sure to involve him. Count on well over 300 touches from Bernard and at least matching the eight touchdowns he had last year with more than 1,400 total yards. He will finish inside the Top 12 of running backs.

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Player News
Cowboys experiment with Jeremy Mincey at defensive tackle
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(11:53 am ET) The Cowboys can experiment with their defensive line because they have such an abundance of talent.

On Wednesday, the team tweaked defensive end Jeremy Mincey's role when they moved him in to play defensive tackle, per The Dallas Morning News.

The Cowboys added Greg Hardy and drafted Randy Gregory to bolster the defensive line this offseason. With the newly-added depth, the team is trying out new looks to determine what works best.

“We were working a bunch of different combinations [Wednesday], which was great,” Mincey said. “Randy Gregory is coming along. Really solid pass rusher. They had me and Mr. Kraken (Hardy) here working together. You know what I mean? A lot of good, man. We’ve got a lot of depth, a lot of players you can trust. I think we’ll make some impactful plays for the Cowboys.”

Mincey led the team with six sacks last year.


Report: Ravens to sign veteran CB Cassius Vaughn
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(11:41 am ET) The Ravens have agreed to terms on a contract with cornerback Cassius Vaughn , according to The Baltimore Sun

Vaughn is being signed to a veteran minimum deal. 

This appears to be a move to add depth to a position that was depleted with injuries a year ago. The Ravens recently signed Kyle Arrington to the secondary as well. 

With the Lions in 2014, Vaughn started five of the 13 games he appeared in and intercepted two passes. 


Bucs sign K Brandon Bogotay, waive C Ben Gottschalk
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(11:38 am ET) The Buccaneers were busy during the third day of organized team activities.

The team announced it has signed kicker Brandon Bogotay and waived center Ben Gottschalk.

Bogotay was a tryout player at rookie minicamp and previously a member of the Browns' practice squad. Gottschalk was with the Chiefs' practice squad last season.


Lions DT Haloti Ngata wants to fill void left by Suh, Fairley
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(11:28 am ET) There isn't much Haloti Ngata has to prove on the football field. He's a five-time Pro Bowler and is widely considered one of the best defensive players in the game.

The 31-year-old, though, wants to prove he can fill the void left by the departure of former Lions players Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, per The Detroit Free Press.

"You definitely miss (Ndamukong) Suh and (Nick) Fairley, but I'm here to try to ease that a little bit," he said. "The guys that have been here are kind of showing the younger guys what it's been about here. I think they're doing a great job and hopefully once I catch on I can continue to push the younger guys along and get some wins."

Ngata, who is in the last year of his current contract, is embracing the different schemes he's been involved in. He's being asked to do a number of different things he didn't do for the last nine seasons as a member of the Ravens.

"I love it," Ngata said. "Just the defense that (Teryl Austin is) running here, it's awesome. It's a change for me. A lot of the attack, penetrate, aggressive defense, it's awesome. I still got to get used to it, but so far I'm loving it."

Ngata recorded 31 tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and two interceptions in 12 games last season.


Falcons' Robert Alford ready to expand his game
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(11:06 am ET) Falcons cornerback Robert Alford knows that in order to continue to play at a high level he has to keep expanding his game, per ESPN.com.

Alford wants to be ready if his coaches approach him and ask for the 26-year-old to move down to the slot and play more in a nickleback role.

"I'd love to play outside and nickel," Alford said. "I told the coaches I'd love to play both. Wherever they need me, I'm willing to play. As long as I'm on the field being able to compete and show my talent, I feel good."

Alford recorded 31 tackles and three interceptions in 10 games last season.


Chargers' Franklin: Rivers more 'approachable' than Manning
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(10:47 am ET) Chargers offensive lineman Orlando Franklin, in an appearance on NBC Sports Network's Pro Football Talk Live, said Philip Rivers is a more "approachable" quarterback than Peyton Manning

Franklin spent the past four years with the Broncos and has played with Manning the past three seasons. He joined the Chargers this offseason as a free agent. 

“[O]ne thing I noticed immediately when I got here is that Philip Rivers is definitely more approachable than Peyton,” Franklin said. “I don’t know if it was because I was a lot younger being that I met Peyton in my second season and now meeting Phillip going into my fifth season but definitely I will say Phillip is more approachable than Peyton.”


Lions DT Caraun Reid taking strides during early OTA's
by Ruben Palacios | Staff Writer
(10:28 am ET) With Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley gone, there will be a lot of opportunities for defensive tackle Caraun Reid to contribute for the Lions, per mlive.com.

Though it's still early during organized team activities, Reid has impressed coach Jim Caldwell thus far. 

"I think he's done a tremendous job just in terms of his approach to it," Caldwell said. "He looks good, increased his strength, his lean muscle has gone up, I mean, the whole gamut. So, hopefully we'll see that translate when we get an opportunity to go out there and go after it."

Reid, a fifth-round pick out of Princeton in 2014, has gotten a majority of the first-team reps during OTA's, which defensive coordinator Teryl Austin says ties back to the hard work he put in during the offseason.

"He's trained really hard, he's in really good shape," Austin said. "He looks good right now. Obviously, we'll have to wait and see once we get to pads where we are, but I like what he's done so far."

Reid appeared in 12 games last season and recorded just two tackles.


Colts Bjoern Werner: 'I can be a baller' when healthy
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(10:26 am ET) Since he was selected in the first-round of the 2013 draft, Colts defensive end Bjoern Werner has been banged up and bruised with various injuries. 

For Werner, playing through these ailments has frustrated him through the first two years of his career. He's totaled 68 tackles and 6 1/2 sacks through 28 regular-season games int wo seasons. 

"I don't want to sound cocky, but personally, I feel like when I'm out there and healthy, I can be a baller," Werner said, via the Indianapolis Star. "I can do it all. You always have to get that mojo going of course. But I'm telling you, I'm confident I can be an NFL player and a starter in this league."


Jets' Bowles: Leonard Williams 'more mature than the average rookie'
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(10:20 am ET) Jets coach Todd Bowles has been impressed with rookie defensive end Leonard Williams' maturity since bringing him on board. 

"He's more mature than the average rookie," Bowles said, via NJ.com. "He's grasping the system quickly and he's moving around well out of pads, but to really judge him, you have to see him in pads for the linemen."

Williams was taken by the Jets with the sixth-overall pick, even though the organization has plenty of defensive line talent on the roster. Bowles said that Williams doesn't look the part of someone coming out of college when it comes to the way he presents himself on and off the field. 

"Just the way he carries himself," Bowles said. "He doesn't carry himself like a young 20-year-old. He's got years beyond his age and the way he comes in and walks into it, treating it professionally."


Jaguars DE Dante Fowler has surgery to repair torn ACL
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(10:14 am ET) Jaguars rookie defensive end Dante Fowler underwent surgery to repair a torn ACL sustained in rookie minicamp, according to the Florida Times-Union

Dr. James Andrews performed the surgery. 

Fowler will miss his rookie season as a result. He was the team's first-round selection and the draft's third-overall selection. 


 
 
 
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