The Bengals come off their fourth straight wild card loss and lost 26-10 in Indianapolis. In an attempt to get over that seemingly insurmountable hurdle, the Bengals promoted up Hue Jackson from being the RB coach with an intention of installing a new focus on a power running game. Mission accomplished. What had been a muddled backfield with BenJarvus Green-Ellis and Giovani Bernard turned into a beast in the second half of the 2015 NFL season. Jeremy Hill instantly became an elite runner when he broke out in week nine against the Jaguars (24-152-2). He would go on to finish the regular season with three straight 100+ yard games. The Bengals ended 2014 ranked 4th in running back yardage (1874 yards) – they ranked just 15th in 2013 (1468 yards).
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The spike in rushing success came at a price. The Bengals would throw 43 fewer passes and ended with just 320 completions for 3472 yards that ranked 26th in the league. 19 passing scores were only 26th best. But it was not all about a renewed effort to run. Marvin Jones came off a promising 2013 (51-712-10) but injured his left ankle and later broke his right foot trying to compensate. He never played a down but is ready for 2015. He’ll have to win back his job from Mohamed Sanu who posted a 56-790-5 stat line as his replacement. Even more exciting is the return of tight end Tyler Eifert who was the first round pick from 2013 who also saw his 2014 season lost due to an elbow injury. Eifert was the first tight end drafted in 2013 and expectations are high. Just to round out the rough 2014 season, A.J. Green suffered a concussion and was hampered by a toe injury that forced him to miss three games and bothered him most of the year.
In fantasy terms, this is an exciting season for the Bengals. Jeremy Hill has already proved to belong in the group of elite NFL running backs. Andy Dalton won’t be pressured to do too much in the passing game but when he does, he’ll have a healthy A.J. Green, a healthy Tyler Eifert and a healthy Marvin Jones. And realistic hope that the wild card round will not be a barrier again this year.
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Andy Dalton, Quarterback
Dalton has little difference from last season. All the same main skill players return and the Hue Jackson offense enters its second year.As was expected, passing numbers fell last year with a return to a power rushing scheme and Dalton went from 363-4296-33 in 2013 to only 309-3398-19 last year. Considering how well Jeremy Hill runs, there is no reason to expect any meaningful uptick in Dalton’s stats.
Jeremy Hill, Running Back
The rookie with only 195 rushing yards over the first seven games of 2014 exploded down the stretch for more yardage than any other runner from week nine onward. He broke 100 yards five times while scoring seven touchdowns in the final 10 games that he played. He ended around 10th best overall despite the slow start and helped deliver many fantasy championships with over 100 rush yards in each of weeks 14, 15 and 16 last year. He ended with 222 carries but averaged 19 rushes per game from week nine. Small concern is a tougher schedule that pits the Bengals against the NFC West and AFC West but Hill has already broken out as a rookie and should see the 20+ touches per game. He lacks as a receiver and loses a little ground in reception point leagues but was very solid every week by the end of last year.
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Giovani Bernard, Running Back
Safe to say that Bernard will never be a primary NFL running back at least so long as Jeremy Hill remains on the same team. Now two years into his career, Bernard posted nearly identical seasons with 170-695-5 and 168-680-5. He dropped a bit as a receiver in the new scheme installed last year when he ended with 43-349-2. Bernard remains a solid complement to Hill and will continue to figure in the same as the first two seasons. That falls short of a fantasy starter in most leagues but he does offer some weekly consistency and could see more passes this year if only because the schedule will be tougher.
Rex Burkhead, Running Back
Burkhead’s biggest fantasy angle is being the back-up to Jeremy Hill but with Giovani Bernard there as well, even an injury to Hill won’t necessarily translate into big numbers. The Bengals only had 24 carries last year that were not rushed by either Hill or Bernard.
A.J. Green, Wide Receiver
Green enters a contract year but he comes off the worst season of his four-year career – 69-1041-6. He missed three games due to ligament damage in a toe but bounced back for the final nine games. Not unlike his past, Green turned in five games with over 100 yards but also had five games with fewer than 50 yards. The shift to a more run-heavy offense under Hue Jackson had an effect. Johnson had five or more catches in 12 of 16 games in 2013 (75%) but then only met the mark in 60% of his games last year. His touchdown total took a hit last year and that should continue with Jeremy Hill there to run them in. Green remains an elite wideout and is in a contract year but he’s more limited in catches and especially touchdowns and falls back from his previous production.
Marvin Jones, Wide Receiver
An ankle injury robbed Jones of his 2014 season and that was disappointing following his impressive second year when he caught 51 passes for 712 yards and 10 touchdowns. Mohamed Sanu took over the #2 spot last year and will battle Jones for the job. As good as Jones looked in 2013, it is important to recall that season happened under the offensive coordinator Jay Gruden, Hue Jackson took over last year with a greater emphasis on rushing plus the scoring now tends to go to Jeremy Hill instead of the passing game. Sanu is worth tracking to see if he regains the #2 role but it likely won’t be as productive as it was in 2013.
Mohamed Sanu, Wide Receiver
Sanu gained the #2 role in 2014 when Marvin Jones was lost for the season with an ankle injury. He stepped up to gain 56-790-5 but only had two games over 100 yards and really faded down the stretch with the final five games of the season producing fewer than 20 yards each. He’ll remain involved even if Jones retakes the #2 role but he’ll have marginal fantasy value regardless.
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Denarius Moore, Wide Receiver
Moore reunites with Hue Jackson who was with the Raiders during Moore’s rookie season when he had a 18.7 YPC on 33 catches along with five TDs. Moore never met his potential in Oakland and completely fell from favor by last year. He gets a second chance for his career under favorable circumstances but the best he can hope for is a #3 role and that won’t be enough to merit fantasy consideration. Worth a watch just in case a change in scenery helps, but unlikely to become a fantasy starter.
Tyler Eifert, Tight End
Eifert may be easy to forget about since a shoulder separation and dislocated elbow in week one last year landed him on injured reserve. But this was the 1.21 pick of 2013 who was the first tight end drafted that year. His rookie season ended with 39-445-2 while Jermaine Gresham was the primary TE. Now Gresham is gone, Eifert is healthy and looking great in practices. The new offense installed last year completed 80 passes to TEs and Gresham ended with 62- 460-5. The Bengals are banking on Eifert to show why he was the best tight end of the 2013 draft and he’ll be an every down starter.