The Bengals hit rock bottom on Sunday. Not only did they lose another game (3-6-1) to fall behind in the AFC North division race (Ravens and Steelers both 5-5), going three games under .500 for the first time in the Andy Dalton–AJ Green era (since 2010) and essentially end playoff hopes; they also lost their two biggest weapons on offense in Green and versatile running back Giovani Bernard.
I think everybody knew it was bad for Green as soon as they saw the video of his injury. The NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport initially said he has a tear in his hamstring, and later reported the ‘good news’ that Green would miss a few weeks and it was a only strain (small tear) that won’t require surgery. However, with dynasty playoffs looming, he may not be usable in fantasy football for the remainder of this season. Bernard has officially torn his ACL, and will require surgery and miss the rest of the year.
Let’s take a look at the dynasty impact of the injuries.
AJ Green, WR
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Green is a machine. With five straight seasons of 1000+ yards to start his career, he was on 964 heading into Sunday’s matchup with the Bills and on pace to hit 1000 for the sixth time, in just ten games. But on his first target, he ended up writhing in pain. He was having such an outstanding season, second only to Julio Jones in receiving yards, and looked in prime condition to lead dynasty owners to their playoffs. This is such a shame for him, the Bengals and all of us who owned him. Having been suffered a significant hamstring tear in the past, I can safely say 1. it really hurts and 2. it can linger and hold someone back from ‘full speed’ for a quite a while with a chance of recurrence (please note I do not have Green’s body and/or methods of recovery. In fact, one snap in the NFL would most likely end my career). My point is, even if there’s a chance Green can return this year which is being reported, the Bengals should not risk it unless they are still in the playoff hunt and 100% sure he has fully recovered.
The big question is that of Green’s dynasty value. Although this injury is not generally one we associate with a huge drop off in production, and we can assume he comes back to full health; I would not be surprised to see a drop in dynasty value. While Green is a transcendent talent, he is 28 years old and in this day and age of wide receivers, that is certainly not considered ‘young’. In Ryan McDowell’s November ADP report, Green was slotted in the first round at seventh overall (WR6). He is an elite receiver, and could be interchanged with anyone else in the top tier. However, the rest of that top tier (and the tier slightly below) consists of Allen Robinson (23 years old), DeAndre Hopkins (24), Brandin Cooks (23), TY Hilton (27), Sammy Watkins (23) and Jarvis Landry (23). While Green is most talented of all of them, he also doesn’t have the long career ahead of him that many dynasty owners desire.
What are you looking for in your team? Do you need to build value with ascending assets? Or are you collecting players who will score now but you are willing to hold as they decline in dynasty value? While we all want to win, sometimes the only way to build a team to do that is by first collating valuable assets. The truth is, there’s a chance Green might now be a declining one. But this doesn’t change much for me. I believe Green will be one of the most undervalued assets come the beginning of next season after another influx of talented youngsters, and I’m sure he will be an off-season target for me. However, I have no problem with those who want to turn him into depth or younger talents. Just know he still has plenty of years of production left.
Giovani Bernard, RB
337 rushing yards. 336 receiving yards. Those statistics (this year’s numbers) just about say it all about when it comes to Bernard’s versatility and usage in the Cincinnati offense. While Green is clearly the top option in Cincinnati, Bernard was second on the team in receptions. Bernard is arguably a great asset for PPR players (which will be most of us), but I really have an issue with his capped upside. He’s a fantastic pass-catcher, but won’t ever see the bulk of the carries (or at least, it won’t be part of the plan). His backfield partner, however, does have the upside. In the November ADP data, Bernard and Jeremy Hill were twins, at 71 and 72 respectively.
Bernard is part of a huge group of players who we know has a defined role – we know who he is. He’s capable of good spells, and also could disappear at times. In the case of every player like that, I say “they are only valuable when they aren’t”. Meaning, if this means Bernard’s dynasty value drops significantly, he’s worth investing in. While he’s still valued correctly, I’ll leave him for someone else. This injury may result in the drop, so keep a close eye over the summer.
Jeremy Hill, RB
Hill was once a highly sought-after dynasty asset. Considering the number of players who have ended up in the top five-ten dynasty backs in the past few years, it’s no surprise. He was young and productive in his 1000-yard, nine-touchdown rookie campaign. Expectations were too high heading into year two with Bernard still clearly in the picture, but now is Hill’s chance to recoup both some value and production.
I expect him to see volume (and we love running back volume), so his owners can be excited for the season-ending stretch. However, remember we play a game with ever-changing values. If he does see a large dynasty jump, or someone comes calling with a great offer to take him off your hands for the rest of the year, please take advantage.
Rex Burkhead, RB
Burkhead could quite possibly step directly into Bernard’s role as the running back on obvious passing downs, as Hill has not really been a factor in the passing game (nine catches). Although Bernard’s injury came with less than a minute to go in the game, Burkhead came into the game and immediately caught a Bernard-esque check down from Dalton. He’s worth an add to the end of your roster if desperate at running back, but don’t play him yet.
Tyler Boyd, WR
It’s finally Boyd’s time to shine. It took him ten weeks, but he finally found the end zone on a one-yard reception. He was lined up in the slot, and a Bills’ defensive switch allowed him to find a free yard in the corner of the end zone and haul in a great throw from Dalton. Boyd added that touchdown to 33 receptions and 349 yards (good for fifth and seventh among rookies) so far this season.
Boyd was a very interesting prospect coming out of Pitt, and I researched and wrote about this off-season. To give you a snapshot of his playing style, the most comparable names that came up were Keenan Allen, Jarvis Landry and Jason Avant. Obviously, there’s a large gap between Allen and Avant, so let this tell you more about how he was and will be used than a judge of talent.
So what does those comparisons mean? He does the things that can allow you to win and stick around in this league – he understands the game, runs precise routes and fights for the ball. I argued he had a more natural feel for the game than other, more ‘talented’ receivers in the class. My qualm was with his lack of top-level athleticism, which could prevent him from developing into what we’d call a ‘WR1’. However, while I feel he would and will thrive as a second or third option behind a clear top threat (in Green), he will now be thrusted into a top role and we will find out what he can do. He was one of the most productive receivers in college history (school records of 254 receptions and 3361 receiving yards), and he’ll have the chance to prove it for the rest of the season.
Brandon LaFell, WR
While Boyd will be the go-to dynasty buy after Green’s injury and the subject of most of the interest, the 30-year-old LaFell could be a beneficiary for the remainder of 2016. He’s matched Boyd in catches (33) on five more targets (55), but has turned that into better fantasy production with more yards (419) and touchdowns (4). I wouldn’t recommend buying him, but if he’s available or sitting on your bench, he could be worth a pickup and a flex start in a very deep league as we work out how the Bengals offense will look. With Green’s absence on Sunday, he led the team with nine targets.
Tyler Eifert, TE
In the passing game, Eifert is the man I’d expect to see the bulk of the attention. Both from his quarterback, and from opposing defenses. The Bills held him out of the game (three catches for 37 yards) and that might be a sign of things to come if teams decide he is the top target to shut down. However, as he is the new best weapon in a weaker bunch, Cincinnati will look to get him involved. This should not move him from his tier two tight end dynasty ranking (the tier behind Rob Gronkowski).
Andy Dalton, QB
It’s not easy being really good, but not great. Dalton has long been in that group. This year, he is actually playing at a slightly higher statistical level in most categories than his career average (completion percentage, yards per attempt and quarterback rating). However, now he is without his two favorite targets and faces two top-ten passing defenses in Baltimore and Philadelphia before Cleveland, Pittsburgh and finally Houston (top-five) in week 16 for your fantasy playoffs. I wouldn’t be confident rolling him out in many of those games, but he doesn’t lose much dynasty value from this. He shouldn’t be ranked very highly, and will have Green back by the start of next year.
James Wright, Alex Erickson and Cody Core, WRs
There isn’t much to see here. Wright actually saw more snaps on offense than Boyd on Sunday, but his two catches were the most for him all year. Erickson looks like an electric returner, but will struggle to make any fantasy impact. Core was drafted in the sixth round this year, but hasn’t recorded a statistic yet.
Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah, TEs
In Eifert’s early-season absence, Uzomah had a couple of ‘okay’ performances, while Kroft simply hasn’t had any fantasy production. Neither are worth owning.
As well as editing for DLF, James writes for Sky Sports and can be found on Twitter at @JS_Football