Every year we give our premium content members a team-by-team, player-by-player look at the NFL season that was. The coverage will be in-depth, but because the Dynasty Capsule series begins immediately after the regular season, we won’t use it to discuss free agency or the draft. Come see us in early May once Mr. Irrelevant is off the board for another 32-article series giving you the same detailed discussion you’ll see below.
Buckle up dynasty fans, because you’re about to be reminded why our motto is, “There is no off-season.”
The Cincinnati Bengals season ended in the worst way imaginable as they basically gave away a playoff game due to poor on-field decisions, along with a lost fumble at the worst time imaginable. While the future of their defense has some question marks, the team’s offense is strong and looks set for the future.
For the first time in his career, Andy Dalton missed time due to injury and it essentially signaled the end of the Bengals’ season. While Dalton finally got some attention for his consistently high level of player prior to his season-ending injury, it wasn’t the first time he’s put up big numbers. Just two years ago, Dalton finished as the fantasy QB3, yet no one seemed to notice. After an average 2014 season, Dalton was back among the dynasty scrap heap entering 2015, but through 13 weeks, he was again a top five quarterback. The latest reports have Dalton on track for a typical off-season, including participation in OTAs and training camp. With his season ending on a poor note due to injury, I expect Dalton to again be an undervalued fantasy asset.
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I mentioned the lack of respect for Dalton last off-season and it even went as far as many in the fantasy community suggesting backup AJ McCarron might be a better option for the Bengals. After Dalton’s injury, the former Alabama quarterback got his chance to prove himself. While he played well considering it was his first action as a professional, he didn’t get the job done. McCarron is signed for two more years and likely did enough to cement his job as Dalton’s top backup.
After a rookie season in which he surprised and overtook incumbent Giovani Bernard, big back Jeremy Hill struggled to gain consistent yardage. While he tied for the league lead in rushing touchdowns with 11, Hill was only eighteenth in rushing yardage, failing to break the 100-yard mark in any game this season. The real concern here is the recent departure of former offensive coordinator Hue Jackson, who is the new head coach of Bengals’ in-state rival Cleveland. Under Jackson, both Hill and Bernard had flourished, although they did basically cancel each other out from a fantasy perspective. Hill is both young enough and talented enough to remain in the RB1 conversation going forward, but that says more about the current state of the position than it does for Hill’s earned dynasty value.
Like Hill, Bernard also flourished in his rookie season back in 2013 and also like Hill, Bernard’s sophomore production dipped, at least partly due to injury. Now in his third season, we likely saw the real Bernard and that was only good enough to score as a mid-range RB2. Bernard had four games with under 20 rushing yards, while only eclipsing 100 yards on the ground a single time. Bernard also was well under his touchdown production from the previous seasons, scoring just two times after a combined 15 touchdowns in his first two years. Overall, I think Bernard is the more talented of the two Cincinnati backs and hopefully the new offensive coordinator finds a way to bring out that talent.
With both Hill and Bernard out of action late in the Bengals’ playoff game last week, it was Rex Burkhead who entered the game and actually gave the team a little spark. Burhead was used sparingly this season, mostly as a receiver out of the backfield. In fact, he easily caught more passes (10) than he had rushing opportunities, only four. Expect Burkhead to be back with the team in 2016, but barring some major injury issues with the pair of big names ahead of him, he’ll have no dynasty value.
Fourth stringer and six year veteran Cedric Peerman failed to record any offensive statistics this season. While he’s under contract for another season, he is owed some roster bonuses which could lead to his eventual release from the team. At 29 years old, he’s never been a fantasy factor.
Lost in the breakout seasons of DeAndre Hopkins and Allen Robinson, the Bengals’ top option, AJ Green, had a nice bounce back season. In 2014, Green dealt with multiple nagging injuries was outside of the top 25 fantasy receivers. With Dalton back in a groove and other pass catches fully healthy to take some of the defensive attention away, Green was back to his true form, racking up nearly 1,300 receiving yards and ten touchdowns. Now it’s the off-season, the time when the number that matters the most in the eyes of some dynasty players is age. Green will turn 28 years old before the 2016 season kicks off and while that is still young and gives Green as much as five or six more quality years in the league, it does hurt his value enough when comparing to other younger receivers, such as the previously mentioned Hopkins and Robinson. Our early dynasty ADP still has Green as a solid first round pick, but I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a bit of an unwarranted off-season slide in the coming months. Green could actually become a player to target in trade.
After missing the entire 2014 season, receiver Marvin Jones was back in action and proved to be a strong weekly contributor for the Bengals. Jones finished second on the team in both receptions and receiving yards, behind Green. Jones set career highs in virtually every receiving statistic, other than touchdowns. Jones now enters free agency though and while his time in Cincinnati has seemingly been a positive experience for all parties, he would be wise to test his value on the open market. This is likely to be Jones’ one shot at a relatively big contract and the overall wide receiver free agent market is somewhat weak. In fact, if the Bears keep Alshon Jeffery from walking away, which they are sure to do, Jones might be the top receiver on the market. Jones bolting from the Bengals would leave them with a massive hole, especially if they are unable to also keep….
The Bengals’ third receiver is Mohamed Sanu and while he has never been able to establish himself as a fantasy starter, he has always maintained enough value to stick at the end of our dynasty rosters. Like Jones, Sanu is also an unrestricted free agent, making him eligible to sign with any other team. While the Bengals may not consider Sanu a priority, he does a little bit of everything for the team and would be a bigger loss from a “real football” perspective than in terms of fantasy production.
There were some fairly high expectations for Brandon Tate as he entered the league out of North Carolina. While he has failed to produce much from a fantasy perspective, he has developed into a special teams dynamo, which the Bengals obviously value. Like Jones and Sanu, Tate will be an unrestricted free agent, but unlike the pair, he is not expected to have many opportunities on the open market. The Bengals should ensure they retain their top kickoff and punt returner.
The rookie from West Virginia, Mario Alford, caught just one pass all season. Considering the rest of the receiver depth chart is in limbo, Alford is likely to get another look in 2016 to see if he can be a contributing member of the team. I also expect the team to add at least one receiver in the draft or through free agency to offset the potential loss of Jones, Sanu and Tate.
While the big numbers posted by Dalton and the impressive bounce back season of Green were very important to the success of the Bengals this season, the biggest story may have been third year tight end Tyler Eifert establishing himself as a go to option for Dalton and moving into that “near elite” tier just behind Rob Gronkowski. Eifert, along with Jordan Reed, Greg Olsen and arguably Travis Kelce all flew past Jimmy Graham into the second tier. Eifert’s value has changed more than any other Bengals’ player in the past twelve months and he’s gained so much value that it would not be a bad idea to at least shop him around a bit this off-season.
While Eifert was a dominant option much of the season, he also missed a few games and during that time, rookie Tyler Kroft played well in his stead. Kroft did not see the high level of targets, nor did he produce like Eifert, but he played well enough during his limited opportunity that he should be firmly on the radar of dynasty players in deep leagues or leagues with enhanced tight end scoring. Even though Kroft is firmly buried behind Eifert, he’s worth stashing in leagues with 25 or more roster spots.
The second year (Ryan Hewitt) and rookie (CJ Uzomah) split the job as third tight end and didn’t see much action behind the pair of Tylers. Both are long shots to ever see significant action, though there were several of draftniks who expected Uzomah to be the better of the two rookie tight ends for the Bengals.