Andy Dalton now has another pass catcher who isn’t A.J. Green. But does he know his name?
Notable Additions: None of note during free agency with a fantasy impact, aside from James Harrison for IDP leaguers
Notable Draft Picks: Tyler Eifert, Giovani Bernard
The Marquee Men (the elitest of the elite)
A.J. Green (ADP: 17.1): Of Andy Dalton’s 528 pass attempts in 2012, 31 percent of them were directed at Green. That already sounds like a lot, and like the kind of deep bro love that only exists elsewhere in the NFL between Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. But looking a little deeper, there’s a way to show the true depth of the on-field companionship between Green and Dalton. Or rather, the lack of anyone else to throw at while directing the ball sort of deep downfield.
In total, Green was targeted 164 times on his way to 1,350 receiving yards in just his second season, with 11 touchdowns (that’s an average of 84.4 yards per game, and it includes a nine-game touchdown streak). The next most targeted pass catcher on the Bengals’ 2012 roster was Jermaine Gresham, who finished with 94 targets. Our math indicates that’s (*consults with monkey*) 70 targets behind Gresham.
That’s an extreme lean in targets of both the long and short variety, but mostly long since Green led the league in +40 yard receptions (seven). An abundance of targets is common among the six elite wide receivers typically coming off the board in the first two rounds of standard leagues. But since being worried about things is a natural state of being for fantasy footballers, it’s worth wondering if Green’s target tap will be given at least one crank in the wrong direction following the addition of Tyler Eifert.
I’ll get into Eifert with a little more depth below. Right now, know that he’s very much crafted in the new breed of tight end, and for him the position is just a name. Although he won’t be the “starter” — a job that still belongs to Gresham — he’ll be used as a wide receiver often in two-TE sets, and could suck back some of the intermediate looks that led to Green’s 10 games with 10 targets or more (highlighted by 18 in Week 16). Eifert could also be a threat to Green’s red-zone targets, cranking down his touchdowns a notch or two as well.
We’re doing some hair splitting here, but that’s a necessary exercise if you’re willing to chase after one of the marquee early-round receivers. If you’re that guy, and you’re deciding between Green and Brandon Marshall (a likely quandary), the slightest edge goes to Marshall.
The Middle Men (middle-to-late round options)
Giovani Bernard (ADP: 50.1): We’ve already indulged some preseason overreaction today, so why stop there. In his 21 preseason touches, Bernard has 103 total yards. That’s 4.9 yards per touch, and he’s also scored twice. Did some of that come against second teamers? Maybe and probably. But so far what we’ve seen from Bernard has been impressive.
Will it be impressive enough to keep BenJarvus Green-Ellis on the bench? If sanity prevails, yes, and Bernard will be on the high end of a platoon, instead of strapped to an even split. When that happens, Bernard will be a fine value buy at his current fourth round draft slot, with the potential to far outperform his purchase price.
We know that on passing downs, Bernard will have the field to himself. Receiving out of the backfield isn’t part of the Law Firm’s game, as he has only 396 total yards through the air over five NFL seasons and 68 games. Bernard far eclipsed that during his final year at North Carolina with 490 yards, which is why he’ll have even more immediate value in PPR leagues.
Remember that while you also remember the piece of Bernard reading I directed you towards yesterday. It was from Denny Carter, who looked back on the tendencies of Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden to note that he’s called an average of 443 rushes per year. A directly even split then would give Bernard 221 carries, putting him well within range of 250 touches, and that’s estimating conservatively. The only area where Bernard will lose is around the goal-line, where Green-Ellis will pound away, or more often the leaping ability of either Eifert, Green, or Mohamad Sanu will be utilized.
Andy Dalton (ADP: 117.5): Dalton is safe, and safe is boring. In a week-to-week game based on week-to-week results, safe doesn’t win fantasy matchups. But it doesn’t lose them either.
With his 239 fantasy points, Dalton ranked 12th at his position last year, which is just shy of middle pack defined. He’ll help you little, but he won’t hurt you much, and he’s therefore Ben Roethlisberger-lite: the guy who you could stumble back on while loading up at every other position (especially in deep leagues), and you’re then able to rely on him for consistently average production.
Dalton averaged 14.9 fantasy points per game last year, and he did that while mixing in his share of sporadic bursts during a friendly matchup (six games with 20 points or more). He’ll throw his picks, but they rarely came in clusters (only four multiple-interception games), and with Eifert aboard now along with a running back who brings some presence in the passing game and accelartion after the catch, there’s reason to believe Dalton can push his ceiling higher and be more than just the coldest lump of fantasy vanilla.
There are far more appealing late-round quarterback options who could easily outproduce Dalton, like Michael Vick or Jay Cutler. But they also comes with much more risk.
Tyler Eifert (ADP: 150.0): Although he won’t start and initially he won’t get as many targets as Gresham, we’ll likely look back on the 2013 season and see Eifert as the more productive tight end of the two.
He often lined up in the slot and out wide at Notre Dame, which is how he’ll primarily be used this year, mostly because of his speed and ball control up the middle, and partly because he’s lacking as a blocker. That position will lead to both chunk yardage, and touchdowns on fade routes in the end zone. You know, the same scores he’ll take away from Sanu and Green.
Both Eifert and Gresham are barely being drafted, and that’s how they should be treated. There’s no need to burn a roster spot on a backup tight end in standard-sized leagues, and with uncertainty around the target distribution, Eifert and Gresham are fine streaming options and bye-week fill-ins, and little more right now.
Jermaine Gresham (ADP: 151.0): Long-term, Eifert will be the Bengals tight end to own. But if you’re drafting either of them at all this year, it’s Gresham. He’ll still start, and for a possible glimpse into the looking glass, consider Gresham-Eifert a clone of what the Panthers had with with their tandem of Greg Olsen and Jeremy Shockey in 2011. Gresham will be Olsen, who led with 45 receptions for 540 yards, but Shockey still had a fine season with 37 catches for 455 yards. That’s the very best case scenario, but it’s within reach.
The Menial Peons (sleepers, flex plays, and matchup plays)
BenJarvus Green-Ellis (ADP: 84.5): Green-Ellis’ 2012 season was a little maddening. For the bulk of it, he was horrible, which led to great pain for those who thought he’d be a serviceable RB2, and drafted him as such. Over the first nine games of the season he averaged only 59.6 rushing yards per game, and his yards per carry fell below 3.5 in five of those games. Puke.
And then there was life. During a five-game stretch between weeks 11 and 15, Green-Ellis averaged 108.6 yards per game while recording carries of 38, 41, and 48 yards. Much of his two-faced play came against weak run defenses, but at that point the opposition mattered little because he was presumed dead.
Now with Bernard added, Green-Ellis will be reduced to the only fantasy role still available: dirty touchdown stealer. He’s scored 30 times over the past three years, and since he’ll still receive a share of plodding carries (he averaged 3.9 YPC last year), he’s begrudgingly worth a flex play in the right matchup.
Mohamad Sanu (ADP: 150.6): Sanu is listed as the No. 2 receiver right now, but that’s just a title. Beyond Green, this wide receiver depth chart has clustered rotation potential, with Sanu, Andrew Hawkins, Brandon Tate, and Marvin Jones all getting a spin. In deep leagues, Sanu is your play out of that group because of his red-zone leaping ability, though some of those targets will be stolen by Eifert now. Remarkably, even though his rookie season was cut short by a fractured heel and he caught only 16 passes, Sanu still scored four times.