After 16 years — didn’t it seem much longer?! — the Marvin Lewis era finally came to an end. The Cincinnati Bengals waited out the Los Angeles Rams’ Super Bowl run to hire LA’s quarterbacks coach, Zac Taylor, as their newest head man.
Taylor, 35, spent the 2018 season with Los Angeles and played a notable role in the further development of quarterback Jared Goff.
In 2012, Taylor, a two-year starting signal-caller at Nebraska, joined Joe Philbin’s staff in Miami as an assistant quarterbacks coach. Taylor’s father-in-law, Mike Sherman, gave him his first shot as a graduate assistant at Texas A&M from 2008-11. After a promotion to the full-time quarterbacks coach in 2013, Taylor was an interim offensive coordinator for the Miami Dolphins over the final five games of the 2015 season, replacing — oddly enough — Bill Lazor as the OC. Lazor also happens to be the man Taylor once again replaces in Cincy. Taylor would spend the 2016 season in the collegiate ranks at Cincinnati and then join the Rams in 2017 as their assistant wide receivers coach.
Oakland Raiders quarterbacks coach Brian Callahan, son of former Raiders head honcho and current Washington Redskins offensive line coach, Bill Callahan, will be the offensive coordinator. He is expected to serve in more of a game-planning role and have a hand in player development with Taylor calling the offensive plays. In 2016, Callahan held the same position with Jim Caldwell’s Detroit Lions, ultimately leaving after Caldwell was relieved of his duties following the 2017 campaign.
Taylor’s defensive coordinator is unknown at this time, and he declined to comment at his introductory press conference on any specific styles of defensive schemes he had in mind when looking for a coordinator. The offensive play-calling style will be unique to Taylor, although it is bound to have flavorings from Sean McVay and the West Coast offense he learned under both Sherman and Philbin. Expect more work for tight ends than McVay incorporates into his offense, and look for considerable short-area passing to take advantage of the receiving skills possessed by running backs Joe Mixon and Giovani Bernard. This system should heavily rely on play-action passing.
Impending free agents include tight ends C.J. Uzomah, Tyler Kroft and Tyler Eifert, defensive end Michael Johnson, offensive tackles Andre Smith, Cedric Ogbuehi, Jake Fisher and Bobby Hart and cornerback Darqueze Dennard. Linebackers Vincent Rey and Preston Brown are also set to hit the open market.
Regardless of the comings and goings, tight end must be addressed. Offensive line upgrades and re-signings will be of high priority. While this line gave up the 12th-fewest sacks (37, tied) in 2018, it was just mediocre in most of Football Outsiders’ rankings for run blocking. Otherwise, we’re looking at added pass rush and secondary help being key needs.
Fantasy football takeaway
Andy Dalton missed the final five games due to a thumb injury. He has yet to “wow” in fantasy and, at 31, Dalton has shown a good view of what we’ll ever get out of him. Taylor’s offense shouldn’t be too hard to digest for the veteran, and Dalton’s game mostly fits into the general offensive designs. Some of his lack of athleticism will limit a few conceptual options, but having a contractual out after 2019 allows Cincy to evaluate its positional needs for 2020 and beyond. He won’t be terrible, and maybe he even has a big game here or there, but no fantasy team should count on Dalton. He’s an uninspiring QB2 with matchup utility.
The strength of the personnel can be found in the backfield with Mixon and Bernard. Both backs bring versatility and three-down ability to the table. Bernard suffered a sprained medial collateral ligament in Week 4 and wasn’t the same back the rest of the way upon his Week 10 return. He missed from Week 12 on in 2016 with a torn ACL and was eased back into the rotation in 2017. If healthy, he can be an effective change-up for Mixon but doesn’t offer much in the way of independent fantasy value. Mixon, however, has the skill set to be a top-five fantasy back. The offense should run through him in 2019. If there is one thing Taylor hopefully learned from McVay, it’s play-action passing depends on a strong running attack. No team threw more play-action passes than LA in 2018.
Standout receiver A.J. Green played in nine games this past year and required season-ending toe surgery in early December. He should be back on the field for organized team activities. Gamers have to go back to the 2015 season to find the last time Green scored more than eight times or caught north of 75 balls in a season. He has been limited to 10 or fewer games in two of the last three years and has missed at least four contests in three of the past five seasons. Green enters his age-31 season and is quickly becoming a major liability it fantasy. Depending on how his recovery plays out, Green’s draft stock is somewhere in the neighborhood of WR2. It isn’t too often wideouts have resurgent campaigns into their 30s, so keep your expectations in check.
We saw John Ross, a 2017 first-round pick, emerge as a scoring asset in the red zone this past season. Known for his blazing 4.22 speed, look for the new coaching staff to find creative ways to let the blazing wideout get behind defenders in 2019. He has considerable upside and is also a risk to outright disappear from the game plan one week to the next.
In 2018, Tyler Boyd came on strong to open the year but somewhat faded with the pressure of being the de facto WR1 after the Green injury. The lack of Dalton under center certainly hurt, as well. Boyd still finished with two touchdowns after Green went down, although he didn’t break the 100-yard mark in any of those Green-less outings. Boyd’s raw stats look strong for a WR2 breakout: 76 receptions, 1,028 yards and seven TDs in 14 games after a mild MCL sprain of his own ended Boyd’s year prematurely. In an ideal world, he would fill the Cooper Kupp role for this offense, but much of his success is pinned to the health of Green. Think flex as the floor with a strong WR2 ceiling.
Tight end, as mentioned, is a disaster. Eifert is unable to stay healthy, and all three of the top tight ends are set to become unrestricted free agents in March. While at least one could return, none of them are game-changing players at the position. The free-agent market is thing, and it takes time for rookie tight ends to develop, more often than not. The best guess right now is Eifert comes back at a reduced price on a one-year deal.
There is tremendous pressure to win right away — or at least not look like a total failure — as a young, first-time head coach with the recent success of the McVays of the world. That stress is even greater when you come from McVay’s tree and enter a franchise that is closer to winning than not, albeit in what could be a brutally tough division. All told, this coaching change should come with flashes of good and stretches of underwhelming fantasy returns.