The Cincinnati Bengals brought in head coach Zac Taylor to hopefully save the sliding franchise in 2019. In his first season, Cincy continued on their downward path with a 2-14 record. Taylor helped Jared Goff make a step forward as the Rams’ QB coach in 2018. He has seven seasons of coaching experience in the NFL with his highest-ranking job before last year being the offensive coordinator/QB coach for the Dolphins in 2015.
This year Taylor has a shining new toy at quarterback plus an intriguing upside option at wide receivers. The change of direction of this franchise should move quickly in a positive direction over the next couple of seasons.
Last year Cincinnati finished 26th in the league in offensive yards gained and 30th in points scored (279). They regressed offensively by 89 points from 2018 (368 points scored). The Bengals brought in Brian Callahan to run the offense last season. Over the previous three years, Callahan worked as the quarterback coach from the Raiders and the Lions. He has ten seasons of experience in the NFL at the age of 36.
Lou Anarumo had been a coach in the NFL since 2012 (eight seasons) while working as a defensive back coach every year except a few games as the interim defensive coordinator for the Dolphins in 2015. Anarumo spent over 20 years coaching in college, with his highest job coming as the defensive backs coach for Purdue for eight seasons.
In his first year as the defensive coordinator for the Bengals, he fell to 32nd in yards allowed and 25th in points allowed (420). His window will be short if Cincy doesn’t show growth on the defensive side of the ball in 2020.
With Cincinnati addressing their shortfalls on offense via the draft, they tried to upgrade their defense through free agency. The top players added in the offseason were DT D.J. Reader, CB Trae Waynes, S Vonn Bell, CB Mackensie Alexander, and LB Josh Burnes.
Reader signed a four-year $54 million deal. His game is best suited as a run clogger up the middle while showing growth in his pass rush.
Despite owning an edge in speed, Waynes has underperformed his 2015 NFL Draft value (11th pick in the first round). In his five years in the league, he held receivers to low yards per catch, but they’ve caught more of their chances over the past two seasons.
Bell should be an instant upgrade to the Bengals’ run defense. He also adds value in the pass rush when given the green light to blitz. Bell does need some improvement in his game in the pass coverage. His best value comes when attacking the middle of the field and moving forward.
Alexander is another Vikings’ castoff at cornerback. As a rotational player in 2017 and 2018, he held wide receivers to low yards per catch with minimal damage in touchdowns. Alexander has a second-round pedigree (2016) with minimal experience starting with the Vikings owning two top choices to start in his career in Minnesota.
Byrnes should come off the bench to provide help in the run game.
The Bengals parted ways with T Cordy Glenn, DT Andrew Billings, CB Darqueze Dennard, CB Dre Kirkpatrick, LB Nick Virgil, CB B.W. Webb, and S Clayton Fejedelem.
Cincy moved on from TE Tyler Eifert, who signed with the Jaguars.
With the first overall selection in the 2020 NFL Draft, the Bengals took QB Joe Burrow. He brings a deceiving arm to the table while relying more on touch and feel over the short areas of the field. When asked to fire into tight quarters or add gas to his deep passes, his arm plays up. I get more of a Peyton Manning feel to his throws and reads while having the ability to make running plays off run/pass options.
His pre-snap reads gain an edge while showing the ability to look off the deep safety. If a play breaks down, Burrow keeps his head up with the talent to make big plays on the move.
At the next level, his passing window will shorten, and his desire to float balls into a crowded area will have less chance of success. Burrow seemed to speed up his game as the level of his competition improved. His pocket presence graded well.
The Bengals added WR Tee Higgins with the first pick in round two. He’s been a great talent at every level of his career. He glides past defenders with the height (6’4” and 215 lbs.) to win most jump balls against lesser competition. His natural edge at most stops may have restricted some of his development as a route runner.
Cincinnati focused on their defense with three choices (LB Logan Wilson, LB Akeem Davis-Gaither, and LB Khalid Kareem.
Wilson looks the part of a three-down player with his wins coming from instincts and sure tackling. His speed isn’t elite, so he can show his hands at times, which puts him at risk for backside cuts. Wilson will struggle with power if he gets too deep too early in his plan across the middle of the line.
Davis-Gaiter adds quickness and explosiveness to the Bengals’ defense, but he lacks the desired size (6’1” and 225 lbs.) to be a stud at linebacker. His coverage skills show signs of upside, but Davis-Gaiter can get trapped looking in the backfield too long, leading to some missed assignments. He can attack the quarterback on blitz packages with a chance to make plays defending the run.
Kareem has the foundation to be a passing down rusher. His game has all the parts to attack the quarterback except the first step explosion off the snap. He tends to win with power and his feel for the game. Kareem needs to develop his pass-rushing moves, but his game takes a hit when asked to change direction.
Over the final two rounds, Cincy invested G Hakeem Adeniji and LB Markus Bailey.
Adeniji relies on technique for his success, but his movements are slow off the snap and limited in range. A switch to guard may lead to standoff battles in run blocking.
Bailey takes a hit due to a couple of knee injuries. He plays hard with a good feel for play development. His toughness and vision grade well. Bailey lacks impact speed, which puts him out of position at times.
The Bengals ranked 25th in the NFL in rushing yards (1,517) last season. They gained only 3.9 yards per carry with nine rushing TDs and eight runs over 20 yards. Game score led to only 24.1 rush per game. Cincy finished with 3,994 yards passing (20th) with 18 TDs and 13 Ints. Their offensive line allowed 48 sacks and 84 QB hits. The Bengals did rank sixth in passing attempts (616), which could be a good sign for Joe Burrows passing chances in 2020.
LT Jonah Williams
Williams missed all of 2019 after tearing his labrum in his left shoulder in June, which required surgery. He comes to the NFL with an excellent combination of technique, athletic ability, and work ethic. Williams projects to be a winning run blocker with success in pass protection. He needs to prove his worth defending speed/power rushers on the outside. Overall, Williams is an excellent upgrade to this offensive line while expecting to start at left tackle. Cincy drafted him 11th overall in 2019.
LG Michael Jordan
Jordan made nine starts last year while failing to make an impact in any area. He could develop into a second exciting piece to the Bengals’ offensive line. Jordan has the foundation skill set to be a beast in a quick-hitting run game. His first step isn’t where it needs to be a move blocker in space. He has experience at both center and guard. His overall development has plenty of room for growth along with the frame to add more bulk. Jordan does need to get stronger to win more battles in the trenches.
C Trey Hopkins
After a semi-starting role over the two previous seasons, Hopkins emerged as the top option at center for Cincinnati in 2019. His game remains a liability in the run blocking while developing into a slight asset in the passing game. The Bengals signed him to a three-year extension in late December.
RG Xavier Su’a-Filo
The Bengals signed Su’a-Filo to a three-year contract in March. His last starting gig came with the Texans in 2016 and 2017. He’s been a liability in both run and pass blocking for most of his career. His second-round pedigree (2014) is now a distant memory.
RT Bobby Hart
Cincinnati lacks a top option to start at right tackle. Hart won the job last year for 16 starts, but he continues to allow pressure to the quarterback with no present upside in run blocking. His season ended with an uptick in pass protection.
Offensive Line Outlook
This offensive line has more questions than top players, heading into 2020. The left side of the line has a chance to be above the league average with Williams and Jordan's growth. Unless G Billy Price finds his previous draft form (first round in 2018), the right guard and right tackle positions offer more risk than reward.
The data shows the strength of schedule as far as rushing attempts (RATT), rushing yards (YDS), yards per attempt rushing (YA), rushing touchdowns (TDs), completions (COMP), passing attempts (PATT), passing yards (YDS), yards per attempt passing (YA), and passing touchdowns (TDS).
This information is based on 2019, which will work as our starting point for 2020. We’ll look at all the changes on offense on each team in the NFL plus the upgrades and downgrades on each team on the defensive side. We’ll update this table when we finish the research on all 32 teams.
2019 LG Average = the league average of all stats from all 32 teams in 2019.
2019 Results = this is the results for each team in the NFL.
2019 Adjustment is based on the 2019 league average and the 2019 results for each team, this number will show if each team is above or below the league average in each stat category and the basis for the strength of schedule.
The Bengals have close to a league average schedule for their rushing offense. Their best opportunity will come in five games (WAS, JAX, MIA, and CLE X 2). Cincy should struggle on the ground in three contests (PHI and BAL X 2).
Their pass schedule is unfavorable due to seven poor matchups (LAC, PIT X 2, CLE X 2, and BAL X 2). Cincinnati will have the best success in two matchups (NYG and HOU).
This offense would like to be more balanced while still having the ability to have success in the passing game. They threw the ball over 61 percent of the time last year due to game score. The Bengals have talent at wide receiver and a top tier running back while hoping that QB Joe Burrow can tie the whole offensive package together.
Here’s a look at the early projections for Cincinnati, which will be fluid all summer after taking in all injury updates and training camp news:
After struggling to earn a starting job for Ohio State, Burrow made the jump to LSU in 2018. His play that season was below par, which led to a low completion rate (57.8) and only 16 passing TDs over 13 games. He finished with 2,894 yards passing with some value as a runner (128/399/7) while minimizing the damage in his mistakes throwing the ball (five Ints).
His rags to riches story in 2019 ended with a Heisman Trophy and a national title. Last year Burrow lit the college world on fire at the quarterback positions. His completion rate (76.3) was off the charts great, which led to 5,671 passing yards and an astounding 60 passing TDs and only six interceptions. Burrow chipped in 368 yards on the ground on 115 carries (3.2 yards per rush) and five more touchdowns.
The LSU passing game was helped dramatically by the emergence of WR Ja’Marr Chase (84/1780/20) and WR Justin Jefferson (111/1540/18).
Last year the Bengals ranked 19th in passing yards per game (228) with only 18 passing TDs. Burrow has three viable weapons at WR with a talented lead RB. Cincy needs to clean up its offensive line issues (48 sacks in 2019) while adding another receiving option at TE.
I have him hitting the ground running, leading to 4,500-plus combined yards with 26 TDs. Fantasy owners have him priced as the 20th quarterback drafted with an ADP of 111. Upside talent, but his schedule isn’t ideal. He's also already showing good leadership skills.
Other options: Ryan Finley, Jacob Dolegala
Over the last three seasons, the Bengals’ RBs averaged 1,964 combined yards with 75 catches and nine touchdowns. Their backs typically receive over 400 touches on the year.
Mixon buried fantasy teams over his first eight games (430 combined yards with three TDs and 19 catches on 120 touches) while averaging only 3.2 yards per rush. Over his final eight games, he averaged 24.1 touches per week, leading to a massive turn around in his year (994 combined yards with five TDs and 16 catches). His big finish moved him to 13th in RB scoring (14.8 FPPG) in PPR leagues. The addition of Joe Burrow at QB invites some intrigue with the Bengals’ offense in 2020. Cinci has talent at wide receiver, creating a higher scoring environment. Mixon is in the last year of his contract, which may lead to potential holdout this summer. Top ten RB upside while needing a bump in chances in the passing game to rank even higher.
Mixon has an ADP of 10 as the seventh running off the board in the early draft season. I have him projected for 1,586 combined yards with ten TDs and 50 catches.
With Joe Mixon pushing toward a workhorse RB1, Bernard saw his stats come in at a career-low in most categories. He gained only 3.2 yards per rush while averaging 5.2 touches per game. Bernard extended his scoreless streak to 26 games. A veteran back with pass-catching upside, but his only value at the point of his career is a handcuff option to Mixon.
Williams lacks NFL size (5’8” and 206 lbs.), but he does run with power with sufficient speed (4.51 40 yards dash). His short-area quickness isn’t ideal, but he does run with patience and the ability to make defenders miss. Williams works hard in pass protection with value in the passing game. His one lacking trait is vision in tightly-blocked plays. He didn’t have a single touch in his rookie season.
Anderson could work as the goal-line back. His game hinges on his power with a good feel for open space in tight quarters. Rodney doesn’t have a secondary burst while having a history of injuries. More of a “take what’s given to me player” than a difference-maker while lacking the foot quickness to change gears in tight quarters. Anderson missed all of 2019 with a torn ACL in his right knee, which also happened in college in 2018.
Other options: Samaje Perine, Jacques Patrick, Devwah Whaley
The wide position for the Bengals saw plenty of targets (384) last year, which accounted for 69 percent of Cincy’s passing yards while trending up in catches (214). Their shortfall came in touchdowns (9). This year the Bengals should have more explosiveness at wide receiver if A.J. Green can stay healthy.
Green has been a losing investment for fantasy owners in three of his last four years due to 29 missed games. Last year in late July, he tore some ligaments in his left ankle, which led to a regressing timeline for his return. Green went from missing a month to sitting out the whole season. Over his five seasons of action with 13 games or more played, Green gained over 1,000 yards each year with a floor of 65 catches. In his career, he scored 63 TDs on 111 games while averaging 16.9 fantasy points in PPR leagues.
On the downside of his career with an ADP of 81 in the early draft season. It’s all about health here. His initial projects come in at 79 catches for 1,092 yards and six TDs as the 31st wide receiver drafted.
Boyd saw his targets rise by 27 percent while playing with two boring options at QB in 2019. His best output came in four games (10/122, 10/123/1, 5/101/1, and 9/128/2). He finished with four disaster showings (3/33, 3/10, 1/0, and 3/26). The injury to WR A.J. Green helped his success over the last two years. The Bengals get a shiny new toy at QB, plus Green back in the lineup and another talent WRs (Tee Higgins) in the second round of this year’s draft. A developing player with great hands, but his opportunity should drop by about 20 percent in 2020.
His ADP (79) is just ahead of A.J. Green in the early draft season. Boyd has a starting floor of 84 catches for 975 yards and five TDs based on my initial projections.
Based on overall gifts, Higgins ranks among the best in the game, coming into the NFL in 2020. His success at the next level comes down to how much greatness he wants to achieve, which requires hard work. I’d like to see more fire off his release in press coverage with the desire to win every pass pattern out of the break. Without an improvement in the subtle movements of the game within his pass routes, Higgins won’t reach his expected potential (elite WR1).
Over the last two seasons at Clemson, he finished with similar years (59/936/12 and 59/1167/13) while playing for a top college team.
With Cincy lacking a top TE option in the passing game, Higgins has a reasonable chance of being the third-best passing option in his rookie season. I expect over 45 catches for 725-plus yards and five TDs. His late ADP (197) makes Higgins a viable handcuff for A.J. Green. Right kind of flier as a WR6 in fantasy leagues.
Ross busted out of the gates in 2019 with two impact games (7/158/2 and 4/112/1), creating some early season waiver wire buzz. The Bills (2/22) and Steelers (3/36) shut him down over the next two weeks before missing eight games with a right shoulder injury. His season ended with 12 catches for 178 yards on 24 targets over his final four contests. Ross is a former first-round draft pick (2017 – 9th overall), whose game is built on speed. His opportunity will only be a WR4 for Cincy this year while owning injury risk (24 missed games in three seasons).
Other options: Auden Tate, Alex Erickson, Michael Thomas, Stanley Morgan, Damion Willis
The tight end opportunity for the Bengals improved over each of the past two seasons. Last year their TEs gained only 9.4 yards per catch with close to a 20 percent opportunity in targets (111). Cinci doesn’t have an elite TE option and strength at wide receiver, which points to regression in chances.
In 2018, Uzomah set career-highs in catches (43), receiving yards (439), TDs (3), and targets (64). Last year with Tyler Eifert back on the field, he caught 27 passes for 242 yards and two TDs over 40 targets. Over his final two games in 2019, Uzomah had playable fantasy value (4/37/1 and 5/25/1). Low floor and minimal ceiling, which makes him only a waiver-wire option.
In the second round in 2019, Cincy tried to upgrade the TE position by drafting Sample. Early in his career, his best asset will be his blocking skills, which helps improve the run game. Sample needs development in his route running, but he does have a feel for open space in his pass patterns with the wheels to test a defense if given a free run downfield.
Other options: Cethan Carter, Mason Schreck, Jordan Franks, Moritz Bohringer, Mitchell Wilcox
Over the last three years with the Bengals, Bullock made 86.5 percent of his 74 field goals while missing five of his 99 extra points. In his career, he made nine of his 20 kicks from 50 yards or more. Only once in his career has Bullock made 30 field goals or more. Cinci should be improved on offense, but their kicker projects only as a matchup option if their scoring improves.
The Bengals have two bad matchups for the run defense against the Ravens plus three other games (IND, TEN, and DAL) vs. teams that ran the ball well last year. Cincy also has four contests (LAC, WAS, and PIT X 2) against opponents that struggled to run the ball last year.
Cincinnati has a favorable schedule for their pass defense. They have six games (IND, WAS, PIT X 2, and BAL X 2) that ranked poorly in passing yards last year. The Steelers and the Colts will throw the ball better while the Ravens remain dangerous with Lamar Jackson at quarterback. Their only tight contest looks to be against the Cowboys (the Chargers will have regression in passing yards based on the change at quarterback).
The Bengals allowed the most rushing yards (2,382) in 2019, which was created by volume (31.5 rushes per game). Ball-carriers gained 4.7 yards per rush with 22 runs gaining over 20 yards. Cincy gave up 17 rushing TDs for the second straight season.
Their pass defense finished 21st in the NFL in passing yards allowed (3,917) with 25 TDs and 11 Ints. Receivers gained over 20 yards on 70 plays (third-most). Cincy posted only 31 sacks.
DT Geno Atkins
Over the past three years, Atkins averaged 46 tackles. He had 39 sacks over 64 games from 2015 to 2018, but his ability to get the quarterback regressed last year (4.5 sacks). Atkins will hold his own vs. the run, offering more upside with better play around him in the starting lineup. He’ll start 2020 at age 32 while owning a long career of success in the NFL.
DT D.J. Reader
The signing of Reader will hopefully give the Bengals a big push up the standing defending the run. Over four seasons with the Texans, he played in 61 games with minimal value in sacks (6.5). It’s all about slowing down the run game with Reader while expecting him to be on the sidelines on passing downs.
DE Carlos Dunlop
Dunlop is a second long time player on the Bengals’ defensive line. Over his ten seasons in the NFL over 148 games, he has 81.5 sacks while doing an excellent job of knocking down passes (38) over the past four years. In 2019, Dunlop posted 63 tackles with nine sacks. His run defense has been top tier over the last two seasons despite playing for a porous defense on the ground.
DE Sam Hubbard
In his second year in the NFL after getting drafted in the third round in 2018, Hubbard nearly doubled his value in tackles (76) with growth as well in sacks (8.5). He projects as a developing asset against the run while needing to improve his tackling skills. Hubbard is more of a steady part of the puzzle on defense who will control his small piece of real estate on the field. His ability to work hard on every play ups his playable value.
Based on their 2020 draft strategy, the Bengals wanted to improve their linebacking core.
LB Germaine Pratt
Pratt came off the bench in most games in his rookie season. He started the final eight games in 2019 with signs of improvement vs. the run late in the year. Pratt made 76 tackles, but he failed to record a sack or make a play defending the pass. Pratt brings speed and strength to the linebacking position. He should add value in pass coverage plus have the skill set to attack the QB when asked. Pratt will work from sideline to sideline, but he has to improve his hands to defeat bigger bodies in traffic and work on his technique.
The middle linebacker position in 2020 will be made up of Josh Bynes on early downs against the run. He only has 4.5 sacks over 101 games while missing time in each of the past four seasons.
Akeem Davis-Gaiter should be the player that emerges at the middle linebacker. His speed, quickness, and vision give him upside. His lack of size (6’1” and 225 lbs.) may force him into passing down situations where his skill set can help on a wide range of plays.
In his second year in the NFL in 2018, Jordan Evans improved slightly vs. the run, but he remains a liability in coverage. Last year he worked his way to a bench role for all 16 games. Only a backup option in 2020.
LB Logan Wilson
Cincy needs Wilson to seize more of the snaps at the strongside linebacker for them in his rookie season. They need him to fill holes against the run while also holding his own rushing the quarterback and in coverage. Wilson has a good feel for the game with the vision to be at the right place at the right time. His only drawback is his explosiveness in his speed.
CB Trae Waynes
The Bengals had enough confidence in Waynes to sign him to a three-year $42 million contract in March. He brings speed to the cornerback position while doing a good job holding wide receivers to short yards per catch on most plays. Waynes is a former first-round draft pick (2015).
CB William Jackson
In his rookie season in 2017, Jackson had the look of a top cover cornerback after getting drafted 24th overall. He finished a league-average player the next year while seeing a full season of snaps. A mid-October shoulder injury led to a regression in his game last year. Over the past two seasons, he allowed eight touchdowns and one interception.
S Vonn Bell
Bell's most significant concern will come defending the outer parts of the field and his value deep in pass coverage. He’ll grade well in run support when attacking the line of scrimmage. Cincy signed him to a three-year contract in March for $18 million, with three million guaranteed.
S Jessie Bates
In his second season in the NFL, Bates lost value in run support with too many losses in his open-field tackling. Bates finished with 100 combined tackles with three Ints and nine defended passes. He has the speed and short-area quickness to handle his responsibilities in coverage. Bates plays with an attacking style that will perform well when moving toward the line of scrimmage. He can struggle when asked to change direction and make tackles outside his range. His ball skills grade well while owning the vision needed to have success at safety in the NFL.
This defense should be much improved this year. Their secondary has enough talent to grade above the league average in coverage if William Jackson regains his form. The Bengals’ defensive line has two top, aging players, but the sum of all four starting options should rank in the upper half of the league. Cinci’s success defending the run comes from their offseason changes and the development of their young players at linebacker. May surprise as times with a chance to offer matchup value in fantasy leagues.
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