With ESPN and Yahoo NFL Fantasy Football leagues starting shortly, and Best Ball leagues already going, our goal is to get you prepped early for your upcoming NFL fantasy drafts with our team previews that feature a look into key positional additions and departures, breakdowns, and possible sleepers.
We’ll be releasing four team previews per week, starting June 25 and going through August 16, beginning with the AFC East.
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Last day’s preview:
- Key Fantasy Departures: Targets
- Offensive additions
- Best Ball ADP
- Positional breakdowns: QB, WR, RB, TE, O-line
- Preseason players to watch
- Betting guide
- NFL Fantasy players to target
- Biggest question mark
- Fantasy football sleepers
- Awesemo’s fantasy football rankings
- News and updates: check back throughout the next two months
- Final thoughts
The Cincinnati Bengals
Gone is the second longest tenured coach in the NFL, Marvin Lewis, and in his stead, a young up-and-comer with little experience and even less success to speak of was hired. It’s not often we see QB coaches with no head coaching experience rise the ranks so quickly, but that’s exactly what happened to Zac Taylor when the Bengals hired him this offseason from the LA Rams.
Who is Zac Taylor? Well, in 2016, he was the offensive coordinator for the University of Cincinnati, where he led the 123rd ranked offense in college football. More recently, he had a cup of coffee with the Rams, which is apparently all you need to get hired as a head coach these days. Taylor brings two first-year coordinators with him in former Raiders QB coach Brian Callahan and Giants DB coach Lou Anarumo so they’ll likely be some growing pains.
Offensively, we can expect the Bengals to continue to run mainly in 3WR sets (11 personnel), given that they did so last year (5th highest), and Taylor is from the McVay coaching tree (1st). That will mean plenty of snaps for AJ Green, Tyler Boyd, and whoever clamps down the WR3 spot, assuming everyone stays healthy. Where it gets tough for Taylor is a downgrade from the best run-blocking unit in the NFL to the 26th ranked unit. Offensive scheming might be able to improve their standing, but Rob Havenstein and Andrew Whitworth aren’t walking through that door.
With the return of half their starting skill position players from injury and the implementation of a modern NFL offense, this team could surprise this year. Cincinnati also brings back most of the NFL’s 32nd ranked passing defense and 29th ranked run defense, so this team will find itself in some shootouts, which provides intrigue from a fantasy football perspective.
Key Fantasy Departures: Targets
From a skill position standpoint, the Bengals are bringing back their entire offense from a year ago. Each of their top-10 target leaders from 2018 remain with the team.
Key targets up for grabs: none
- Jonah Williams: The first offensive lineman off the board during the 2019 NFL draft is already out for the season with a foot injury.
- John Miller: Another solid pass-blocking, mediocre run-blocking guard, signed in free agency from the Buffalo Bills.
- Drew Sample: The second round TE out of Washington was a reach and likely won’t contribute any time soon, especially with Eifert and C.J. Uzomah ahead of him on the depth chart.
Best Ball ADP
- 11) Joe Mixon
- 35) AJ Green
- 66) Tyler Boyd
- 152) Andy Dalton
- 187) Tyler Eifert
- 191) Gio Bernard
- 243) John Ross
Andy Dalton returns for what feels like his 25th year at the helm of the Bengals offense and is only viable in deep or 2QB leagues, or as weak second QB in Best Ball drafts. The Red Rifle was on pace for another 30 TD, 3,500 yard season in 2018, but missed the final five games of the season.
In a vacuum, Dalton’s fantasy numbers were impressive, however he benefited from the fifth easiest schedule in points allowed to QBs over that time frame. That will not be the case this season. Warren Sharp of Sharp Football notes the Bengals will face the toughest set of pass defences in the NFL this year, so negative regression is a good bet.
Fantasy footballers are down on the aging AJ Green this year, after hitting 30-years-old and missing the final eight games of the 2018 season due to injury. Green’s best days are behind him, but he was still the 6th highest scorer in fantasy football over his first eight games last year and with an 84.9 PFF receiving grade, there’s reason to think he has plenty left in the tank.
Some might chalk up Tyler Boyd’s emergence to the absence of AJ Green last season, but Boyd was actually better when Green was healthy. In weeks 1-to-8, Boyd totaled 49-620-5 on 60 targets, good enough for WR12. He finished the year as the WR17 but is currently going as the WR 26 in Best Ball drafts.
Word out of OTAs is that former Washington Huskies burner John Ross will have to compete for the WR3 spot. Ross caught just 21 of 58 balls last season, but upon closer inspection, only 50% of his targets were catchable balls. On catchable balls his percentage improved to 78%. If you’re in deeper leagues or Best Balls, Ross makes for a decent flier, but watch those camp battles. Both Alex Erickson and Cody Core could push for playing time. Erickson is seen as more of a slot presence but does have elite speed.
Joe Mixon quietly led the AFC in rushing last season with 1,171 yards and eight TDs on 236 attempts. He was 18th in PFF’s Run Elusive rating, which aims to capture a runner’s effectiveness, independently of the blocking in front of him.
Mixon is going in the late first, early second rounds of drafts, but taking him that early comes with risk, most notably because of the far safer plays you’re passing up to get him. If you’re drafting him that high, you’re hoping for a more efficient offense and an increased role in the passing game, because with this Bengals defense, they’re going to be coming from behind a lot and the game scripts might not be pretty.
Injury prone Tyler Eifert returns, but for how long? The Notre Dame alum has only played more than eight games in a season once since his rookie year. With CJ Uzomah emerging as a decent starter in his own right last year, and Drew Sample in the fold, the Bengals may try to limit Eifert’s usage to keep him healthy throughout the season. That would certainly be in line with McVay’s history of splitting targets between two TEs.
Run blocking: 26th
Pass blocking: 9th
Not a lot to get excited about here, especially with the injury to first round pick Jonah Williams. The Bengals signed former Bills guard John Miller, who’ll provide an upgrade in pass blocking, and that’s about it.
Offensive line coach Frank Pollack moved over to the Bills after overseeing a full yard per carry improvement in the run game in Cincinnati. Replacing him is Jim Turner, who comes over from Texas A&M, where he led the Aggies to the 23rd best rushing offense in all of college football.
Preseason players to watch
- John Ross: is he holding down a starting job in 3WR sets?
- Tyler Eifert: is he healthy? Is he in a time share with Ozumah?
- Alex Erickson: extreme deep sleeper, who may carve out a role.
Ben Rasa’s NFL Fantasy Football and Betting Preview
2019 O/U Win Total: 6 (over -130, under EVEN)
The Marvin Lewis era has finally and mercifully ended in Cincinnati and despite some promise at times it amassed a whopping ZERO playoff wins. Clearly a change was needed and now first year coach Zac Taylor takes the reigns with some talent still left on the roster making them an interesting team to evaluate for fantasy this year.
Ben’s Favorite Player to Target
Joe Mixon – RB
Mixon quietly had a big year last year and there is no reason to suggest that the third year RB can’t build on those numbers in 2019. The Bengals RB is a dual threat with the ability to rack up catches, which will be important with a new coach and the prospect of playing from behind in a bunch of games. He saw 55 targets last year and I think that number increases leading to increased production especially in PPR formats. Mixon will be working behind an improved offensive line and if the Bengals have any hope of being competitive this year it will be because he is carrying the load offensively. Mixon is going to come off the board quickly in Best Ball and in Season long leagues, but I personally wouldn’t hesitate to grab him in the late first and certainly early in the 2nd round.
Is this make or break time for Andy Dalton?
The Bengals spent the 104th pick in last years draft on Ryan Finley out of NC State and although he’s not in the immediate plans, the heat is going to turn up quickly on Dalton if the Bengals start slow. The positives are that he is talented and experienced, plus has weapons around him with Tyler Boyd, AJ Green, and Eifert on the outside. Maybe the regime change can jump start this offense and that will obviously put Dalton in position to have a rebound year and solidify his position as the leader of this team.
I think this is a boom or bust spot for Dalton and don’t hate the idea of trying to snag him in the later rounds as a backup or in Best Balls as the upside is going to be there. Alternatively, if Taylor fails to implement some new wrinkles and injuries hit the offense again we could see it go south quickly and Finley start to close the gap between the two signal callers.
NFL Fantasy Football Sleeper
Tyler Eifert – TE
It’s a pretty simple scenario with Eifert who is entering his 7th season in the NFL and has played a total of 43 games. If you do the quick math you’ll see that’s less than half a season on average and that isn’t going to get it done for anyone you are looking to draft this year in Fantasy Football. When he is on the field Eifert is a problem for almost anyone whose matching up across from him and he’s a healthy season away from reminding everyone about the talent he possesses. Like most of the Bengals he’s a boom bust roster spot and oddly enough for a bad team they have plenty of options so volume could be an issue even though him staying healthy is priority number one.
Awesemo’s NFL Fantasy Football Rankings
Check back in mid-July for season-long projections and rankings from the #1 Fantasy Sports Player.
Updated throughout preseason and training camp because we all know things can change quickly in the NFL.
I’m actually higher on the Bengals than Vegas is and although the floor is very low I think there’s a reasonable scenario where they finish .500 and are a tough out for teams fighting late in the year. Mixon is going to breakout and with a new coach we might see a whole new offensive scheme, which can highlight the weapons Dalton has to work with on the outside. Don’t be afraid to take some shots with Bengals in your leagues and hope that Zac Taylor is the real deal on the coaching front in what figures to be a new era in Cincinnati.