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Fantasy football 2014 draft prep: Cincinnati Bengals team preview

A.J. Green caught 98 passes for 1,426 yards and 11 touchdowns last season for the Bengals. Photo:

A.J. Green caught 98 passes for 1,426 yards and 11 touchdowns last season for the Bengals.

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A little success can be a dangerous thing in the NFL.

The Bengals won the AFC North last season, winning 11 games for the first time since 2005 and only the second time since 1988. But after losing in the wild-card round of the playoffs for the third-straight season, the rest of the NFL decided to take a couple stripes off of this wildcat -- offensive coordinator Jay Gruden joined the Redskins as their new head coach and defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer landed as the head coach in Minnesota. Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis -- the second-longest tenured head coach in the NFL behind the Patriots' Bill Belichick -- starts over with Hue Jackson on offense and Paul Guenther taking over the defense.

With all of that change, there are tons of reasons to be optimistic about the fantasy players on this roster -- on both sides of the ball.

Giovani Bernard and A.J. Green are the Bengals' biggest fantasy stars. Both Bernard and Green currently have second-round ADPs, with Bernard as the No. 11 running back and Green as the fourth wide receiver drafted in most leagues. But my question is -- should they (especially Green) be first-round selections instead?

Green either scored a touchdown or posted 100 receiving yards in 11 games last season. He was third in the NFL in targets in 2013, which we should all expect to drop. But remember that he’s one of Cincinnati’s best red-zone threats, especially with tight ends that had half of Green’s (22) red-zone targets combined (11).

The Bengals are reportedly going with more of a ground-oriented offense with Jackson calling the plays, so it’s doubtful we’ll see 33 touchdown passes from Andy Dalton again (third-most in the NFL last season). There’s no telling where those red-zone passes will go this season, but we also know the Bengals are phasing out running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis (30), who was second to Bernard (32) in red-zone looks last season. That’s 30 red-zone looks that will reasonably be spread out between Bernard, Green and rookie running back Jeremy Hill – if the offense stayed the same.

There are actually enough factors to make me consider Green a better second-round pick than a first. Those reasons include the new ball-control offense, the possible emergence of Marvin Jones and Tyler Eifert, and the fact their strength of schedule for wide receivers is the third-toughest in the NFL. But that ball-control offense will hurt Dalton, of course, but Green should get his points no matter what.

Most overvalued player

Jeremy Hill, RB -- I believe in Marvin Jones as a big-game threat every week, so it comes down to Hill, the big, bruising back out of LSU. His current ADP at FantasyFootballCalculator.com is 9.08, which is before the likes of DeAngelo Williams, Devonta Freeman and Christine Michael, the best handcuff in the game.

As The Law Firm gets pushed out to pasture, Hill should take over some of the short yardage touches, which has many looking at him as a goal-line back. Let’s remember, though, that Bernard got six red-zone looks in the first seven weeks of his rookie season, as he was still learning the game. Green-Ellis got 13 red-zone looks in that same span. But in the final three games of the season, Bernard got 11 looks inside the red-zone, with Green-Ellis getting two.

Most undervalued player

Tyler Eifert, TE -- As much as I wanted to put Green here, it doesn’t make sense – especially since he’s already an early second-rounder. The Bengals DST also gets some consideration here, as they should get DT Geno Atkins back from a knee injury.

Instead, I’ll go with Eifert, who was without a doubt, the top pass-catching tight end coming out of college a year ago. It has often been said that sophomore tight ends are big breakout candidates, and while I’m not entirely sold on that, I do think it’s a position that lends itself to slow development. Much like catchers in baseball, the position is one that demands you learn multiple facets, including blocking, route-running and reading defenses. Only the quarterback has to learn as much variation, and tight ends also have the physical aspect, going up against 260-lb. defensive ends and getting tackled by 220-lb. strong safeties.

Eifert isn’t being drafted in most leagues, but know that after the first six or so tight ends, there are several players that could end up with top-12 tight end fantasy points. Under a new, ball-possession offense, Eifert has a shot at being one of those players.

Depth chart

QB: Andy Dalton, Jason Campbell
RB: Giovani Bernard, Jeremy Hill, BenJarvus Green-Ellis
WR: A.J. Green, Marvin Jones, Mohamed Sanu, Dane Sanzenbacher
TE: Jermaine Gresham, Tyler Eifert
K: Mike Nugent

Dalton is in a contract year, but the change in offensive system should dial back his fantasy stats enough to make him more of a bye-week replacement type. He’s still just in his fourth season, so it’s possible we could see him develop into an even better passer, but for now, the Bengals will focus on the ground game. Dalton won’t be on another team next season, and the fact he’s playing for a contract should be cancelled out by the change in philosophy.

Gresham is also in a contract year, but the mere fact the Bengals draft Eifert last season tells us enough we need to know about his future in Bengal stripes.

Jones scored four touchdowns in one game last season, and he has certainly piqued the interest of everyone. But if the ball-possession game is going to work, it’s going to have to cost guys like Jones some targets. He has an ankle injury that has affected him this offseason, but he should be fine for the regular season.

Defensive analysis

  Total vs. Pass vs. Run Points allowed
NFL rank 3 5 5 6
  vs. QB vs. WR vs. RB vs. TE
Fantasy rank 5 10 3 5

Once again, the Bengals look like a solid fantasy defensive unit, with good depth on the defensive line and linebacker positions. Consider that they lost DT Geno Atkins to a knee injury, and were still able to finish as a top-five fantasy unit. They scored five defensive touchdowns -- tied for second-most in the NFL -- and one special teams touchdown in 2013. If Atkins is able to come back from his knee injury at 100 percent, he’ll draw more double-teams, allowing DE Carlos Dunlap to make even more plays. LB Vontaze Burfict led the league with 171 tackles last season. If the ball-control game works for the offense, the Bengals defense will have fewer chances at big plays, but fantasy owners will see even better numbers in yardage and points allowed.

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