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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
Redskins CB DeAngelo Hall not sure if he'll be ready for camp
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(7/7/2015) Redskins veteran cornerback DeAngelo Hall hopes he has recovered enough from a torn Achilles tendon to be 100 percent for the starting of training camp. But he's making no guarantees.

"I know they're going to monitor me," he told 106.7 The Fan. "I know they are not going to just throw me out there and [have me] take all the reps with the [first team].

"I'm just going to get out there and see how the body feels ... I'm at the mercy of the trainers and coaching staff. They're going to kind of wean me back in slowly."

Hall, who lost all but three games last season to the injury, also missed OTAs and minicamp, but has recently begun ramping up his workouts.


Saints WR Nick Toon seeks to seize best opportunity of career
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(7/7/2015) The path is clear for Saints wide receiver Nick Toon to earn more playing time than ever. But he realizes that he must get on that path and stay on it through superior performance.

The offseason losses of Kenny Stills, Jimmy Graham and Robert Meacham should result in more reps for Toon, who is entering the final year of his rookie contract. He has been buried on the depth chart, though he did catch a career-high 17 passes last year.

He believes that now is the time for him to step up and break out.

"Pressure is not something that I've every worried about or thought about," he told the New Orleans Advocate. "I just try to be consistent. Anything outside of that is out of my control, so do what you've got to do to put yourself in the best position for things to work out."

Toon has a shot at the third receiver role behind Brandin Cooks and Marques Colston.


Giants WR Victor Cruz believes he'll be back in action for camp
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(7/7/2015) Giants standout receiver Victor Cruz believes he can avoid starting the season on the PUP list despite continuing to deal with his recovery from a patellar tendon tear.

"The plan is to be ready for training camp and I feel good," he told SiriusXM NFL Radio.

Placing Cruz on the PUP list would give the Giants roster flexibility if he is not ready by training camp. If he lands on the regular-season PUP list, he would be forced to miss the first six games.

Cruz has experienced weakened production every year since his breakout season of 2011. But he was limited to just six games in 2014.


Report: Packers have no plan to release TE Andrew Quarless
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(7/7/2015) The Packers have no intention of releasing tight end Andrew Quarless despite his arrest on July 4 for allegedly shooting off his gun in public, sources have told ESPN.

Quarless was charged with a misdemeanor after firing two shots into the air outside a parking garage in Miami Beach, per police reports. He was seen arguing with two women before the incident.


Report: Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul can forget long-term deal
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(7/7/2015) The Giants will not take back their one-year franchise tag offer of $14.813 million to defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul in the wake of a fireworks accident that resulted in a hand injury and hospitalization, a source has told the New York Daily News.

But the source added that there is "no chance" the Giants will now work on a long-term contract for Pierre-Paul. 

Giants officials made the trek to South Florida on Tuesday to see how he is recovering, sources have told ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter.

Pierre-Paul is coming off his best season since 2011. He contributed to 77 tackles and racked up 12 1/2 sacks.


Eagles LB Brandon Graham could be on verge of breakout year
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(7/7/2015) Eagles linebacker Brandon Graham feels the optimism of a guy coming off his best season.

"I'm feeling the best I've ever felt," he told the team website.

It's no wonder. He recorded career-highs in tackles (36), tackles for losses (13 1/2), assists (11) and sacks (5.5) in 2014. He earned significant playing time in a rotation at that position. And with Trent Cole off to Indianapolis, those reps could increase this year.

Graham has toiled feverishly to improve his game and adapt to a new defensive system. The result was a new four-year contract with the team.

"I understand the game and the league and what it takes to get it done here," he said. "I think I've grown up. I'm serious about being a great player. I want to be the best."


Giants pulling long-term contract offer to Jason Pierre-Paul
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(7/6/2015) In the wake of a Fourth of July fireworks mishap, the Giants on Monday pulled their long-term contract offer to defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, who remains hospitalized in Miami, per NFL.com insider Ian Rapaport. 

The Giants had applied the franchise tag to Pierre-Paul this offseason, but the player has not yet signed it, technically leaving him not under contract with the team. The Giants move to yank the longer deal is a bit of gamesmanship, since according to Rapoport, Pierre-Paul was not going to sign the $60 million deal anyway. 


Bills sign veteran tackle Wayne Hunter
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(7/6/2015) The Bills took another step to shore up their offensive line, signing veteran tackle Wayne Hunter to a one-year deal Monday, per the National Football Post. 

Hunter, who has not played in the NFL since 2012, did spend three years with the Jets under new Bills coach Rex Ryan from 2009-2011. 

Hunter's deal is reportedly worth $870,000.


RB Khiry Robinson could be odd man out in Saints backfield
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(7/6/2015) Running back Khiry Robinson is a fan favorite with the Saints, but the third-year pro, who once was viewed as a breakout candidate for the team, may find his role squeezed by the presence of Mark Ingram and C.J. Spiller, per ESPN.com. 

Robinson dealt with a broken arm last season, which limited him to 12 carries and 32 yards over the final 10 weeks of the year. The Saints then re-upped with Ingram and brought in Spiller to replace Pierre Thomas, meaning Robinson will have to fight hard in training camp to establish a role. 

"I just gotta keep working," Robinson said. "It's all love in the backfield. We all work together, try to help each other. So I think it's a good thing we've got a full backfield again. So if anybody goes down, we've got another player right up there to do the same thing."


Report: Giants Jason Pierre-Paul hurt in fireworks accident
by Elliott Smith | Staff Writer
(7/5/2015) Giants defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul reportedly hurt his hand in a Fourth of July fireworks accident in Miami, according to the Daily News

The paper reports that the injury is not considered career-threatening, but that varying accounts of what happened have been reported. The Giants have not confirmed nor denied the incident. 

The Giants applied the franchise tag to Pierre-Paul this offseason, but the 26-year-old has not yet signed it as he seeks a long-term deal, meaning that he technically is not under contract. 

Pierre-Paul had 53 tackles and 12 1/2 sacks last year for New York. 


 
 
 
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