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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
Titans' Lewan says QB Mettenberger still views himself as starter
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(5/4/2015) Even though the Titans drafted quarterback Marcus Mariota with the second-overall pick, tackle Taylor Lewan said that QB Zach Mettenberger, who started six games last season as a rookie, still regards himself as the starter, reports the Tennessean.com.

"That is the mentality that Zach has. He thinks of himself as a starter, and the guys in the locker room do also," Lewan said. "I don't think he is going to give it up easily,"
Lewan was the Titans' first-round pick in last year's draft.

Browns' Pettine: Josh McCown favorite to enter camp as starter
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/4/2015) Browns coach Mike Pettine said in a radio interview Monday that it's "fair to say" that Josh McCown will enter camp as the team's starting quarterback, the Northeast Ohio Media Group reports.

Pettine had said in April that he wasn't ready to name McCown the likely starter for anything, but after the Browns came out of draft weekend without a new quarterback on the roster, it appears the former Buccaneers starter is in line to open camp atop the depth chart at the position.

McCown started 11 games with the Buccaneers last season, completing 56.3 percent of his passes while throwing 11 touchdowns and 14 interceptions.


Bengals' Tyler Eifert (shoulder) on track for start of camp
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/4/2015) Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert is on target to participate from the start of training camp, Bengals.com reports.

Eifert tore his labrum last offseason and dislocated his elbow in the first quarter of his first regular-season game. Rather than return late in the year, he and the team opted for season-ending shoulder surgery. The tight end said that his elbow has been cleared and he's waiting to receive clearance on his shoulder in a few weeks.

"I tried to play through the year. Once I had elbow surgery and I wasn’t going to come back, then I just got the shoulder done," Eifert said. "That’s why I’m excited now because I’m feeling strong, feeling upbeat. I’m not in any pain. It feels good."


49ers' Justin Smith to announce retirement decision in May
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/4/2015) 49ers defensive end Justin Smith plans to sit down with team officials in May and decide whether he'll return for one more season, the Sacramento Bee reports.

"You'll know in about three weeks or so," Smith said Monday.

Smith wouldn't say which way he was leaning. He indicated that the the team's decision to draft a defensive lineman in the first round of the draft did not signal his impending retirement.

"We gave Justin liberty to make his own decision on his time frame," Baalke said after selecting Arik Armstead Thursday. "We went into the draft not thinking about what decision Justin’s going to make or not going to make. We just went in to find the best football player, the best system fit that we could."


Texans agree to four-year extension with LB Whitney Mercilus
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(5/4/2015) The Texans have agreed to a four-year contract extension with linebacker Whitney Mercilus, the Houston Chronicle reports.

Mercilus will receive $26 million under the terms of the deal, which will keep in Houston until 2019, ESPN reports. He has missed just one game in his first three years with the Texans, racking up 122 total tackles and 18 sacks while forcing four fumbles.


Titans tailoring offense to Marcus Mariota's strengths
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/4/2015) Titans general manager Ruston Webster reiterated Monday that coach Ken Whisenhunt and his staff have begun tailoring the offense to fit the strengths of rookie quarterback Marcus Mariota, NFL.com reports.

"Our coaches have been working on a plan for quite some time now for Marcus," Webster said. "Really to adapting our offense to his skill set -- he has a special skill set. There's really not much he can't do from physical standpoint and he's very bright. That combination is going to allow him to do his own adapting to the NFL game but our coaches have worked very hard on coming up with a system within our system for Marcus. I think it will work well."

The Titans believe that Mariota will work fine under center and reading defenses despite not being asked to do so while playing at Oregon.


Cardinals' Carson Palmer (knee) participates in drills Monday
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/4/2015) Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer (knee) worked out Monday, participating with the first-team offense in all drills, NFL.com reports.

Though the action wasn't close to replicating game-like conditions, the quarterback said he received a big mental boost by joining his team after missing the last eight games of the season due to a torn ACL.

"You want all your guys out there," Palmer said. "I know I want my five starting linemen and my two starting receivers. You don’t ever want to see guys on the sidelines. Unfortunately I’m not going to be able to do everything once OTAs start, but I’ll be able to do just about everything. It’s important (to participate) because I enjoy it. I can’t wait for tomorrow and I can’t wait for every day."

Palmer said the injury forces him to "start over from scratch" mechanically, as he works to regain the footwork and balance needed to be successful in the pocket.

“All those little things that still go through my head every couple reps, I’m fighting to get to the point where you just don’t think about that anymore,” Palmer said. “It just becomes natural. Just ingraining all those small mechanical movements is something that takes repetition after repetition.”


49ers GM says LB Aldon Smith developing as leader for team
by Ted Leshinski | Staff Writer
(5/4/2015) 49ers general manager Trent Baalke said that linebacker Aldon Smith has started to develop as a leader on the field and that he has a “a great look in his eye,” the team has reported.

"It’s a role I’m comfortable with,” Smith said. “I’m kind of one of the older guys on the team now. I’m one of the guys who has been here for a while, so I’m helping out people who need help with anything, whether that’s knowing where to go down here or football questions.”

Smith served a nine-game suspension during the 2014 season for violating the league's policies on personal conduct and substance abuse.

49ers place Chris Borland on reserve/retired list
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5/4/2015) The 49ers placed linebacker Chris Borland on the reserve/retired list Monday, CSNBayArea.com reports.

The move is a formality, as Borland announced his decision to retire in mid-March. The move clears $109.359 in immediate cap space. The 49ers didn't address the inside-linebacker position in this year's draft despite the retirements of Borland and Patrick Willis.


49ers waive/injured Chase Thomas
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(5/4/2015) The 49ers have waived/injured linebacker Chase Thomas, the team announced Monday.

Thomas made two special-teams tackles in five games played with the 49ers last season. He tore an ACL while working out earlier in the offseason and will presumably miss the entire 2015 season.


 
 
 
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