Fantasy Riser: A.J. Green Keeps Pulling Us Back In

Bengals receiver A.J. Green still has something left in the tank for fantasy owners in 2020. Even at his current ADP of WR28, SI Fantasy insider Matt De Lima expects that number to continue to climb.
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I’m not ready to move on from Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green.

I remember before the 2011 NFL Draft, a common debate was who was better, Green or Julio Jones? Which receiver would go first, who had the better situation, the better quarterback, the better fantasy career?

I think you give a slight edge to Jones (who went sixth overall, two picks behind Green), but I also have to wonder what kind of career Green would’ve had with Matt Ryan as his quarterback instead of Andy Dalton.

We may get a small taste of that difference in 2020 with the arrival of rookie soon-to-be sensation QB Joe Burrow. Green missed all of 2019 when he tore ligaments in his ankle during the preceding training camp. His 2018 season was also limited with a toe injury suffered in Week 8. By the time we see NFL action, technically, we will have not seen a healthy Green in almost two years.

Head coach Zac Taylor has reassured us many times over the last couple of months that Green is healthy and working out at full strength. What is actually the more immediate concern, particularly for Green on a personal level, is his desire for a contract extension after getting hit with the franchise tag that will pay him $17.9 million in 2020. 

Now is not a great time to seek an extension given there are too many unknowns surrounding the salary cap, which as AllBengals insider James Rapien suggests, could be slashed significantly for the 2021 season as the league grapples with the financial realities of a COVID-19 hindered economy. 

These “big picture” details surrounding Green and the NFL are too zoomed out from where our head needs to be. What matters here, for this argument, is whether or not the 31-year-old can still get it done. I’ll leave the financial forecasts to our buddy Jim Cramer (be sure to check him out over at Bull Market Fantasy, a site powered by SI Fantasy & The Street).

In PPR leagues, Green’s ADP 65 doesn’t scare me; that’s the 28th WR on the board. I’ve seen his ADP as high as the mid-90s. I understand the sixth round feels early but after five picks, you should have two RBs, two WRs, and maybe a QB or TE. Oftentimes, you’ll already have used all five picks on RBs and WRs. Generally speaking, let’s say you’re using this sixth-rounder on your third or fourth WR. If you can’t handle Green as your WR3 or WR4, you need to get your head checked!

The game is about mitigating risk and maximizing reward. Green is one of the GOATs and one of the best pure route-runners and naturally-gifted pass-catchers in NFL history. Until I hear some negative press about Green, I’ll take the risk assuming fantasy fans continue to discount him (even with an ADP slowly trending up for recently) because they’re certainly not discounting Burrow.

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And with the building up of Burrow, the rookie has to throw it to somebody. QB play is the wild card.

Ultimately, I have to bring it back to Dalton. Of course, there is risk in Green’s age, the injuries, a QB change, fresh competition on the Bengals’ WR depth chart. But you can frame an argument against anybody.

How many receivers who average 5.4 receptions, 80 yards (seventh all-time), and 0.6 TDs per game are you going to find at this spot in the draft? And those numbers came exclusively with Dalton, who’s one of the more forgettable, pedestrian QBs to somehow hold down a job for the last eight years. In his career, how many times did Dalton finish in the top 10 for a season in passing yards? Once, in 2013.

FanDuel Sportsbook has Burrow’s over/unders set at 3,800.5 yards and 22.5 TDs. Dalton only passed for more than 22 touchdowns four times and pass for more than 3,800 yards twice. Maybe it feels like I’m exposing a great time to put in some under bets, but I’m going to view the bets as baselines for Burrow’s performance.

With those in mind, I think it’s perfectly reasonable for Green to post 66-880-6 which would give him 190 fantasy points, good for a WR30 finish in 2019. However, my expectations are a touch higher given Green’s track record. I expect that Bengals’ offense to be very efficient with Joe Mixon in the backfield, the addition of Tee Higgins, and the continued growth of Tyler Boyd and Auden Tate. There should be a lot more long drives with no Andy “three-and-out” Dalton under center and the Bengals defense hopefully shows some improvement with the sixth-easiest strength of schedule.

Draft value has to drive the conversation though. If Green falls past pick No. 70 then I’m buying. I don’t want a guy at his ADP; I want him past his ADP. I think once we hear some training camp news and he’s healthy, you will continue to see his ADP move up (as it has been for weeks now).