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Juggernaut Index, No. 19: Cincinnati Bengals run it back with familiar crew

Cincinnati Bengals fans will have a familiar cast of skill players to cheer for this season. It’s tough to expect different results. (AP Photo/David Richard)

Cincinnati’s offense did nothing well last season. This team ranked dead-last in total yards, next-to-last in rushing, No. 27 in passing and No. 26 in scoring. The Bengals failed to score a touchdown in back-to-back home losses to open the season, which led to the firing of offensive coordinator Ken Zampese. The offensive line was a mess, allowing 41 sacks and opening few running lanes. It was, in a nutshell, a miserable year.

In 2018, Cincinnati is running it back with mostly the same offensive personnel. Bill Lazor, the man who replaced Zampese last season, was signed to a new deal to remain the OC. Marvin Lewis was of course retained as head coach.

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The team has made various changes to the coaching staff and attempted to plug holes on the O-line, but Cincy has opted for continuity among the offensive skill players. So we’ll see how that goes. The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since the Sam Wyche/Boomer Esiason era, nearly 30 years ago. We should probably expect that drought to persist for another season.

A.J. Green deserves better

Green turns 30 at the end of July, and he remains a nightmarish matchup for opposing defenses. It’s a genuine shame that he’s never made a deep postseason run or been paired with an upper-tier quarterback. Green produced a heroic season in 2017 considering the team’s dreadful offense. He caught 75 balls last year for 1078 yards and eight scores, finishing as the seventh highest-scoring receiver in standard formats. Cincinnati only passed for 3386 total yards for the season, so the burden on Green was enormous. A hamstring injury limited him to 10 games in 2016, but he played all 16 last year. He’s great, a player who deserves his second-round ADP (20.5).

A.J. Green, still an upper-tier fantasy asset. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Beyond Green, the names in this receiving corps read like a list of your worst fantasy decisions. These guys are not draftable in shallow fantasy formats — no need to mess around with Brandon LaFell or Tyler Boyd, because a 55-550-3 stat line won’t help you win a 10-team league. John Ross is somewhat more interesting, but only for those of you looking for lottery tickets in deeper formats. Ross was the ninth overall pick in the 2017 draft, but knee and shoulder issues limited him to 17 snaps, two targets and zero catches. It would be fair to say he was a monumental first-year bust. Let’s just remember that Ross has rare speed (4.22) and he was a monster in his final collegiate season at Washington (81-1150-17). Everyone around the Bengals seems pleased with his offseason

“[Ross] looks good. Completely different than he did last year,” Andy Dalton said. “You can tell he worked hard. It looks like he’s getting back to where he was. He looks smooth. Everyone knew he was fast, but he’s not just a straight-line guy. He can stop and go. He’s got some shiftiness to him.”

If Ross can simply establish himself as a credible vertical threat, worthy of defensive attention, it’s a huge win for Cincinnati’s offense. There’s a wide range of possible outcomes for the second-year receiver, but we can reasonably hope for him to emerge as a big-play specialist.

Tight end Tyler Eifert signed a one-year deal during the spring, but he was only a limited participant in OTAs. Eifert has undergone multiple back surgeries and he’s hardly a lock to be a full-go in camp. He’s appeared in just 24 games over the past four seasons. At his best, he was obviously a terrific red-zone weapon (13 TDs in 2015), but he clearly isn’t a bankable fantasy asset. Tyler Kroft produced a seven-TD season in Eifert’s absence last year; he could emerge as a deep league option if/when Eifert is sidelined in 2018.

Does the Red Rifle really deserve his own subhead? It’s debatable

In case you’d forgotten that Andy Dalton was very much in the MVP conversation deep into the 2015 season … well, he was. He broke his thumb late in the year, in a loss to Pittsburgh, but not before leading the Bengals to a 10-3 record and averaging a career-best 8.4 Y/A. Dalton has definitely had his moments.

Last season, however, was largely a mess. Dalton produced only one 300-yard performance and he passed for fewer than 200 yards in six different games. Dalton has simply never approached his 2015 level of production in any other year. He’s been sacked 80 times over the past two seasons; the big enhancements to his O-line so far have been a rookie center and a veteran tackle who’s missed 15 games over the past two years.

It would certainly help Dalton’s cause if the protection improves and Ross can have a breakout season. But at a position as deep as QB, fantasy owners shouldn’t need to consider Dalton at any point in a draft, except in super-flex leagues. He isn’t likely to challenge for a top-12 positional finish.

Joe Mixon figures to receive plenty of work in the season ahead. At least one Yahoo expert adores him. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Brad Evans believes Joe Mixon is worth at least $28

Friends, I’m here to tell you that Evans loves Joe Mixon. Legit love, of the truest sort.

Brad tossed out Mixon’s name at last weekend’s Stopa auction in Las Vegas, after muttering something about getting other people’s money off the table. He then bid as aggressively and loudly as he’s ever bid on anything. The room chased Mixon to $28, but no one dared go higher on a player who averaged only 3.5 YPC last season. We really have no idea how high Brad was prepared to go. $30? Surely. $35? It’s possible. $40? If you’d seen Brad’s desperate eyes — that zealot’s longing — you wouldn’t rule it out.

So please, never forget that Evans unconditionally loves Mixon. If he later tries to sell you on the idea that Cincy’s featured runner is a bust candidate, just remember what happened in Vegas. Brad got like two drinks in him, then shouted “JOE MIXON!” and fell into a bid frenzy.

My own feelings on Mixon are somewhat more restrained. I have not yet bid for his rushing services. Mixon was more down than up last year, though he finished with a 96-yard effort at Baltimore. He’s reportedly dropped weight in the offseason, toward the goal of playing at a lighter-yet-still-sturdy 220 pounds. An improved, healthy O-line would mean a lot, but that’s not guaranteed. Mixon is going to see a significant workload, but Giovani Bernard is still in the team picture. Bernard is a good bet for 150-180 touches, assuming good health and a rotational backfield role.

Mixon delivered 913 scrimmage yards and four TDs last season on 208 touches, and it’s reasonable to expect an uptick in every category that matters to fantasy managers. If he plays all 16 games, he can approach 1150-1200 total yards with, say, 6-8 scores. But that’s as bullish as I’m willing to get. Mixon could also cough up a near-repeat of 2017 on a slightly greater workload. Again, this offense was brutal last season (see below) and surprisingly little has changed.

2017 Offensive Stats & Ranks

Points per game – 18.1 (26th in NFL)
Pass YPG – 195.1 (27)
Rush YPG – 85.4 (31)
Yards per play – 4.8 (27)
Plays per game – 57.9 (32)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Buffalo, 31) Miami, 30) NY Jets, 29) Baltimore, 28) Oakland, 27) Cleveland, 26) Indianapolis, 25) Washington, 24) Chicago, 23) Tennessee, 22) Jacksonville, 21) Dallas, 20) Tampa Bay, 19) Cincinnati

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