Fantasy Football 2014 draft prep: Cincinnati Bengals
QB Jason Campbell, OT Marshall Newhouse, S Danieal Manning.
Early Draft Picks:
CB Darqueze Dennard, RB Jeremy Hill, DE Will Clarke, C Russell Bodine, QB A.J. McCarron. Bengals Rookie Forecast
QB Josh Johnson, WR Andrew Hawkins, OT Anthony Collins, C Kyle Cook, DE Michael Johnson, OLB James Harrison, CB Brandon Ghee.
2014 Cincinnati Bengals Offense:
The Bengals will have a tough choice to make soon. Andy Dalton will be a free agent after this season. Do they re-sign him? On one hand, Dalton has gotten the team to the playoffs in each of his three NFL campaigns. He has thrown 80 touchdowns compared to just 49 interceptions. He has provided some much-needed stability for the organization.
On the other hand, Dalton has been responsible for his team’s three one-and-dones in the playoffs. He has been atrocious in all three first-round exits. He doesn’t have much arm strength; in fact, it can’t even be classified as “very good,” and that limitation is hurting him and his team.
If Dalton disappoints in January again, he’ll have to shoulder all of the blame because the front office has given him a tremendous supporting cast. A.J. Green, of course, is one of the top receivers in the NFL, as he’s coming off a 1,426-yard, 11-touchdown season. Someone needed to step up across from Green, and Marvin Jones became that player. He broke out with a four-touchdown outing against the Jets at the end of October, and finished the season with a 16-catch stretch spanning the final three weeks. Jones just turned 24, so he figures to improve upon his 2013 campaign.
Tyler Eifert should also better himself. The Bengals used a first-rounder on him in 2013, so he has lots of potential. Jermaine Gresham is blocking him from emerging statistically, but Dalton will likely lean on Eifert heavily this upcoming season.
Dalton will have a better ground attack supporting him as well. The Bengals used BenJarvus Green-Ellis far too often in 2013 when they should have been feeding the ball to Giovani Bernard. The second-round rookie was much more impressive than the plodding Green-Ellis, catching 56 passes out of the backfield. Bernard handled the first-team reps at OTAs, which is significant because he didn’t start any games in 2013. Surprisingly, the second-team reps were given to Jeremy Hill, who was chosen in the second round in May. New offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has no allegiance to Green-Ellis, so he may opt to use the more-athletic Hill when Bernard needs a breather.
Excluding Bernard, the Bengals only have one new starter on offense this season. That would be center Trevor Robinson, who is replacing Kyle Cook, the weakest link of the offensive line. Left tackle Anthony Collins is also gone, but Collins didn’t enter the lineup until left guard Clint Boling suffered an injury. Boling is an inconsistent blocker, and he’s nowhere as good as right guard Kevin Zeitler, the team’s first-round selection in 2012.
With Collins gone, Andrew Whitworth will move from left guard – he started there when Boling went down – and reprise his role as the left tackle. Whitworth, who surrendered just four sacks in the regular season, should still be effective there even though he’s turning 33 in December. Andre Smith, who was dominant to close out the 2013 season, will continue to man the right tackle spot.
2014 Cincinnati Bengals Defense:
The Bengals lost one real starter and one pseudo starter on offense. The same can be said for the defense, which will return intact, save for Michael Johnson, who signed with the Buccaneers, and James Harrison, who was released.
The Johnson loss will be painful. He was tremendous against the run and also got to the quarterback frequently. The 3.5 sacks he mustered in 2013 wasn’t indicative of how well he rushed opposing passers. With him gone, one of Wallace Gilberry, Margus Hunt or Will Clarke will have to step in. Gilberry is a mediocre talent, while Hunt was a second-round choice in 2013. Clarke is a third-round rookie.
Whoever wins the gig will be stepping into a good situation, as the opposition will be too preoccupied with the other three players on the front, particularly Geno Atkins, one of the elite defensive tackles in the NFL. Atkins tore his ACL on Halloween, but he’s expected to be back in the lineup for the opener. He may not be at 100 percent this year, but three-quarters of that is better than what most teams have at the position. Atkins will start next to Domata Peko and Carlos Dunlap, who tallied 7.5 sacks in 2013. Dunlap will be moved to right end this season, while Peko needs to improve upon an uncharacteristically sluggish season.
Harrison, the “pseudo starter” who was released, can say that he’s opening up a spot for Vincent Rey, a former undrafted free agent from 2010, who came out of nowhere when Rey Maualuga was injured. Rey proved to be a major upgrade over the perennially disappointing Maualuga, so it was in Cincinnati’s best interest to somehow get him into the lineup. Rey figures to start with Maualuga and Vontaze Burfict, whose outstanding play has made it very puzzling as to why he was undrafted two years ago.
The entire secondary will return, but it will welcome a new member in Darqueze Dennard. Chosen with the 24th pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, Dennard slipped a bit because of sub-par Combine numbers, but he projects as a big upgrade over what the Bengals had at the cornerback position last year. Pacman Jones and Terence Newman did a fine job for Cincinnati, but they were being coached up by defensive guru Mike Zimmer. Unfortunately for the Bengals, Zimmer is now the head coach of the Vikings, so they needed to find an upgrade the position, particularly for Newman, who turns 36 in September. Leon Hall could also be back from a torn Achilles, but he may not be very effective.
The Bengals figure to be solid at safety. Reggie Nelson and George Ikoka started there this past season, and both thrived. Nelson has been a quality player for some time, while Iloka is an improving defensive back; he was a fifth-round pick in 2012, but found his way into the starting lineup this past year and took advantage of the opportunity.
2014 Cincinnati Bengals Schedule and Intangibles:
Cincinnati has never maintained a great homefield advantage historically, but the team somehow went 8-0 as hosts during the regular season. Unfortunately, it lost at home when it counted, as San Diego marched into Cincinnati and came away victorious in the playoffs.
Mike Nugent has been an average kicker for Cincinnati. He hit 18-of-22 attempts in 2013, good for just 81.8 percent. However, he went 3-of-4 from 50-plus.
Punter Kevin Huber ranked eighth in net punting and was in the middle of the pack when it came to placing attempts inside the 20.
The Bengals outgained their opponents on kickoff returns, but struggled to defend punts. They surrendered a touchdown and failed to score one of their own.
The good news for Cincinnati is that it gets to take on the pitiful AFC South. The bad news is that the NFC South is also on the docket. Matchups against the Patriots and Broncos also loom.
2014 Cincinnati Bengals Analysis: The Bengals may not have to worry about how Andy Dalton performs in the playoffs this year because they may not even make it there. On top of a tough schedule, they have to deal with both of their coordinators being gone. Jay Gruden and Mike Zimmer were both excellent, so their departures could keep Cincinnati out of the postseason this time around.
Projection: 8-8 (3rd in AFC North)