Andy Dalton didn’t just march the Bengals starting offense 87-yards downfield to open their preseason game against Washington, he put the league on notice. He started with passes to A. J. Green and Tyler Boyd with a good dose of Jeremy Hill. When they crossed into Washington territory, Dalton introduced the new kids. Joe Mixon ran left and ran right, almost breaking the ankles of Josh Norman. John Ross showed off his speed on an end-around when he wasn’t distracting the safeties with sprints downfield. Then Dalton tossed another pass to Green before Hill finished things off with a 3-yard run to pay dirt 8:51 and 15 plays after it all began.
Washington took the opening kickoff, but the Bengals defense forced a quick three and out, leaving their fans feeling pretty good about things. It didn’t matter that Cincinnati’s starters didn’t score again or that Dalton lost a fumble on the second series. They didn’t even seem bothered that Washington’s second team pulled out the win. The Bengals faithful had seen enough to dream of a return to glory.
What did we learn?
If the third preseason game is supposed to show off your starters, rumors of Jeremy Hill’s demise might be premature. Mixon wound up playing more snaps and led the team in yards, but Hill’s start and Giovani Bernard’s 6.3 yards per carry looked more like the three-headed monster discussed after the draft than a takeover by the rookie Mixon. Throw in an occasional end around by their speedy new receiver, Ross, and I wonder if Dalton will ever have to throw a pass all year.
Of course, with Ross complementing a healthy A. J. Green, Brandon LaFell, and Tyler Boyd, Dalton will throw passes whether he needs to or not because it is so much fun. Dalton is on record as saying the Bengals have the best receiving group in the league and he can’t wait to start the regular season.
Tyler Eifert practiced all week but was held out as a precaution. Throwing him into the receiving mix seems like overkill, but they will do it anyway starting opening night.
Cincinnati’s defense started off strong. After another first three-and-out, Dalton’s fumble put the Redskins on the Cincinnati 31. The defense promptly pushed them back two yards and made them settle for a 51-yard field goal. On the next Redskins possession, Vontaze Burfict picked off Kirk Cousins and rumbled in for a 65-yard touchdown before the defense yielded a 75-yard touchdown drive.
Dalton will have a full arsenal of weapons as he leads this Bengals offense. But, there are two factors that could hold down his fantasy numbers. First is the strong rushing attack. A balanced attack is in the plans going forward, but if the runners put up big numbers, they could limit the yards available to the passing game. The bigger concern is the pass protection. Cincinnati lost the two best players off an offensive line that wasn’t very good in 2016. The Redskins got to Dalton a few times and caused the fumble. Overall, Dalton didn’t seem particularly bothered as he tossed the ball downfield, but the Redskins are far from the best pass rush he will see in 2017.
Dalton has the weapons to be a QB10 or better. I list him as a top sleeper candidate, but I understand why some would stick to the more cautious QB16 ADP he is drafting at to date.
A. J. Green is a top-five wide receiver. Even with the plethora of worthy targets, Green is the guy Dalton looks for first. I have him ahead of Mike Evans as the WR4 on my board. Dalton’s preference for Green makes the other receivers tricky to gauge. Dalton is talking up LaFell and Boyd and loves the speed of Ross. That speed gives the rookie an edge over the other two. We can see Ross involved with the running game, screens and gimmick plays. If he is on the board in the mid-to-later rounds, I would park him on my bench until I see how the offense develops.
Even more confusing is the Bengals’ running game. Mixon, Hill, and Bernard will all see time. Mixon has taken some passing downs and first-downs, so the usage ratios are not really known. Mixon’s versatility gives him a higher ceiling and justifies taking him off draft boards first as a potential top-24. His ADP is currently RB18 (fourth round). I think the Bengals will mix in the other two enough to hold that back, although Mixon’s speed and agility make every handoff or dump pass a potential touchdown. Hill and Bernard are worth taking a late-round flyer on until we see how things shake out in Cincinnati.
Those other fantasy guys
Eifert is already dinged up but will start the season as a top-ten tight end. There is a risk until we see how much volume Dalton’s new toys pull away from the tight end position. His injury woes also make me nervous about picking him as the TE6, where his ADP stands now. But his 8.7 points per game might warrant that risk.
Kicker Randy Bullock is fending off a challenge to his kicking role. But there are at least 12 kickers with better projections. Keep the Cincy PK off your roster.
Cincinnati’s defense looks improved, but not enough to put them back into fantasy relevance, especially if opponents are trying to keep up with their high-octane offense. Look for streaming value later in the year, but don’t draft them.
So… that’s that
Bengals fans are as excited as Andy Dalton is about their new offensive toys. Fantasy fans should be excited about a high-scoring offense, too. But there are many questions about the Bengals’ game plan and player mix. I expect to see lots of Bengals coming off the draft board, but the situation in Cincinnati needs to be watched carefully.
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