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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 RB Darren McFadden not concerned with playing time
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(7:38 pm ET) With the Cowboys just beginning their organized team activities this week, running back Darren McFadden said he just wants to concentrate on becoming familiar with the team, reports the team's official website.

"For me, I'm just going out there grinding," he said. "However the coaches put me out there – whether it's first team or second team. When it comes time for them to make a decision, it's totally up to them. I'm just trying to get that playbook down and take advantage of this opportunity."

McFadden is competing with Joseph Randle to be the first-team running back, and he said he just wants to work hard and not worry about how many repetitions he's receiving with the first team.

"Once you've been in a place so long like Oakland, you can get set in your ways," McFadden said Wednesday, after his second OTA practice with the Cowboys. "Coming out here and being around guys that work so hard, it just brings out the best in you. It's something I look forward to."


Chiefs' Mike Catapano on his health: I feel better than ever
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(6:41 pm ET) After missing the entire 2014 season with a gastrointestinal virus, Chiefs defensive end Mike Catapano was able to participate in the team's OTA on Wednesday, reports The Kansas City Star.

"Every time I step on the field now it's with purpose and with extra vigor that I never really had," Catapano said. "It feels great. I feel better than ever."

Catapano played in 15 games during his rookie season in 2013 and he totaled four tackles and one sack. He said he's ready to surpass that in 2015.

"I'm ready to show that I offer a lot to this team. I'm ready to step up in big situations and starting situations," Catapano said. "I just want to keep getting better every day… and play to the best of my abilities."


Broncos' Manning, Sanders keeping up with Thomas during holdout
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(6:05 pm ET) Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas is holding out of offseason workouts while he continues to negotiate a long-term deal with the team, but teammates Emmanuel Sanders and Peyton Manning have been keeping up with the star receiver, the Denver Post reports.

"One thing a lot of people don’t realize is when you’re playing on a one-year deal, there’s a lot of things going through your head," Sanders said. "As much as you guys want to say, ‘Don’t think about it,' of course it’s going to cross your mind because you’re talking about a lot of money at stake. When you’re playing these one-year deals, it’s a lot of stress on you. No matter how much you don’t want it to be, it’s going to happen. We’re all human."

Manning would like to have Thomas in workouts but understands the business aspects of his decision.

"I keep up with Demaryius. He’s my buddy," Manning said. "They got that business side of it to work out, but he’s been a great teammate to me, been a great friend to me since I’ve been here in Denver, so I keep up with him. Obviously want him to get back here as soon as possible, but we want what’s best for him, and he certainly deserves what’s best for him."

Thomas has started 16 games for three straight season, topping 90 receptions, 1,400 yards and 10 touchdowns in each.


Raiders sign Horace Miller, Milton Williams
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:30 pm ET) The Raiders have signed linebacker Horace Miller and wide receiver Milton Williams, the team announced on Wednesday.

Miller was waived by the Panthers earlier this offseason after spending one week on the active roster but seeing no playing time. Williams originally signed with the Raiders earlier this month before being waived a few days later.


Titans project DE DaQuan Jones as starter
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:23 pm ET) Titans defensive end DaQuan Jones started the final game of his rookie season against the Colts and is on track to open the 2015 season in the same role, The Tennessean reports.

"He's a starter at end, it's what we project," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "In the last game against Indianapolis, Jones played really well."

A fourth-round pick out of Penn State, Jones finished his rookie season with 13 tackles and one sack, with the sack and more than half of his tackles coming in his lone start at the end of the year.


Browns waive Nick McDonald
by R.J. White | CBSSports.com
(5:13 pm ET) The Browns waived offensive lineman Nick McDonald with an injury designation (knee), the team announced on Wednesday.

McDonald made seven starts at center last season after spending the first six weeks of the season on the reserve/non-football injury list with a wrist issue.


Titans DT Sammie Lee Hill diagnosed with knee sprain
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(5:08 pm ET) Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt said Wednesday defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill was diagnosed with a knee sprain, reports The Tennessean.

Hill the sustained the injury Tuesday, but he won't require surgery.


Texans LB Brian Cushing on his health: Best I've felt in a while
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(4:53 pm ET) Texans linebacker Brian Cushing participated in Wednesday's OTA and he said he hasn't been this healthy in a long time, reports the Houston Chronicle.

"I'm the best physically I've been in a while," he said.

During the offseason, Cushing had surgery on his broken right wrist as well as arthroscopic procedures on his left knee and left ankle. He was able to play in 14 games in 2014 after only appearing in 13 games during the 2012 and 2013 seasons.


Broncos DE Shane Ray (toe) to miss OTAs this week
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(4:37 pm ET) A toe injury will prevent Broncos defensive end Shane Ray from participating in OTAs this week, reports 9News.com.

Coach Gary Kubiak said Ray will start participating in individual drills next week. The injury also prevented Ray from taking part in the team's rookie minicamp earlier in May. 


Report: Broncos TE Jeff Heuerman undergoes knee surgery
by Sean d'Oliveira | CBSSports.com
(4:30 pm ET) Broncos tight end Jeff Heuerman underwent surgery Wednesday to repair a torn ACL in his left knee, reports 9News.com.

He is expected to miss the entire 2015 season. Heuerman was drafted in the third round during the 2015 draft.


 
 
 
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