As we continue our draft kit to help get us ready for Fantasy Football, today we visit with Bengals blogger Jason Marcum of Stripe Hype on the FanSided network. Here’s what he had to say about the state of the Bengals.
Zach Thompson, Fantasy CPR: Hey Jason, thanks for taking the time to fill us in on what’s going on with one of the exciting young teams in the NFL. First of all, was last year playoff-run a surprise given the amount of rookies that ended up in key roles?
Jason Marcum-Stripe Hype: It was by far one of the biggest surprises in the entire NFL last season. There were more “experts” predicting them to have the worst record and be drafting Andrew Luck #1 overall, but the rookies came in and matured quickly and played with a poise not seen in teams consummated of so much youth. Of all of their Pro Bowlers, Geno Atkins, Jermaine Gresham, And Dalton, and A.J. Green all had less than two full seasons in the NFL. Its very rare to see a team with so much youth win enough games to go to the playoffs, but the Bengals proved everyone wrong.
Z: How can your dynamic duo of A.J. Green and Andy Dalton take a step forward this year?
Jason Marcum: Giving their work ethic, I have no doubt they’ve improved significantly over the offseason. The question is will the players around them allow them to be successful? They lost their #2 and #3 wide receivers, and their replacements are unknown to this point. Rookie receiver Mohamed Sanu is likely to occupy one of those spots, but can he be consistent enough to keep other teams from double-teaming Green on a regular basis? The Bengals also have two new starters in Travelle Wharton and rookie Kevin Zeitler on the offensive line. Can they be more consistent this year and protect Dalton better? Last year Jay Gruden ran a lot of plays that were 3-5 step drops and got the ball out quickly in order to protect Dalton and not overload him with too much. Gruden will undoubtedly open up the playbook more this year. Can Dalton handle the added responsibilities?
I believe given all of the above, Dalton will post similar stats as what we saw last season, while slightly cutting down on his interceptions. In fantasy terms, he’ll be a great QB2 option, but he won’t be someone you want as your primary starter.
I believe Green will have more receiving yards this season, with close to the same amount of TDs. I think with the field is longer and wider, Gruden will find ways to get him the ball in space, but he’ll be a primary focus by opposing defenses when the Bengals are in the redzone, which will limit his scores.
Z: While Green and Dalton are back to anchor the offense, some other key positions are in transition. Cedric Benson who served as the feature-back last year is gone. Who will be the back behind the Red Rifle this season or will it be a rotation?
Jason Marcum: Jay Gruden has stressed he wants a running back-by committee approach this year, and based on the backs they have, that’s how its likely to play out. BenJarvus Green-Ellis is a great short-yardage back and will pound out 4-5 yard chunk runs as long as his line is blocking well. He’s not going to break off 20+ yard runs, but he’s money in the redzone, as he’s scored 24 TDs in the past two seasons, most of which were when the Patriots were in the redzone. Of all RBs who carried the ball 150 times or more last season, Ellis was one of the worst-ranked backs in terms of passes caught, so Ellis should be avoided as a primary back in fantasy leagues that score highly based on receptions.
Bernard Scott is also slated to get plenty of carries this year after serving as Benson’s backup the past three years. Scott is more of a scat-back, as he does have the sped to break off big runs, but has had durability issues in his three years in the NFL. He has a career ypc of 4.0, and had a career high 4.9 in 2010 when his o-line was a actually adequate in run blocking. He’s not much of a pass-catcher either, as he only has 29 career receptions.
Overall, Benson and Scott are projected to get the majority of carries. It will likely be along the lines of Ellis getting 50%, Scott 35-40%, and the other 10-15% to 3rd-stringer Brian Leonard and either Dan Herron or Cedric Peerman.
Z: Another key departure was WR Jerome Simpson. Who do you see filling in and becoming a red-zone threat for the Bengals passing game?
Jason Marcum, Stripe Hype: Mohamed Sanu is favored to be the #2 receiver once he gets a full training camp and preseason under his belt. He may not be the starting #2 on opening day, as Brandon Tate and Armon Binns have made a lot of noise in offseason minicamps and OTAs and earned the praises of the coaching staff to the point both were mentioned as potential opening day starters. I think the top-4 receiver rotation will feature those three along with A.J. Green being the only lock.
Z: Where do you see Mohamed Sanu fit into the Bengals offense this year?
Jason Marcum, Stripe Hype: Given his versatility from playing as both wide receiver and wildcat quarterback at Rutgers, Sanu will undoubtedly get onto the field and contribute in a variety of ways for the Bengals this season. Jay Gruden is an offensive mastermind, and whatever Sanu’s strengths in his offense are, Jay will be certain to utilize them to the fullest extent. I believe that Sanu will be the #2 or 3 receiver by the BYE week. His upside and potential is just to great and from all indications this offseason, he’s picking up the NFL game at a good pace and will be ready to contribute opening day.
Z: Can A.J. Green be a top 10 receiver in fantasy football?
Jason Marcum, Stripe Hype: No doubt. He’s got all of the tools to be an elite NFL receiver and a top 10, or even 5 receiver in fantasy. The only question is can Dalton continue to improve, especially on his downfield throws.
Z: Cincinnati’s defense showed big-time improvement last year as they matured into one of the top units in the NFL. Did they get better or worse this offseason?
Jason Marcum: Hard to say right now. They are definitely better than the defense we saw in the second-half of last season after CB Leon Hall went down with an achilles tear and missed the rest of the season, forcing the Bengals to drastically alter their coverage schemes and how often they pressured the opposing QB.
With Hall healthy and every starter from last year returning sans safety Chris Crocker, who was replaced with a younger and more talented Taylor Mays, this defense should be the best since the top-5 unit the club had in 2009.
Z: Last one, give me your realistic expectation for the Bengals this season. What needs to happen for them to get back to the playoffs? How far can they get this year despite playing in a tough AFC North?
Jason Marcum: Andy Dalton can’t regress. He played well enough last year to lead the Bengals to the playoffs. If he can maintain that level of production, as well as the Bengals defense playing at a top-10 level, they’ll be competitors in the AFC North and primed for a wild-card berth. If they can establish a running-game that resembles the 2009 squads’ top-10 rushing unit, then this team can ascend to the top of the AFC North, and a true playoff threat.