2022 Cincinnati Bengals Outlook
With high-stakes fantasy football legend Shawn Childs anchoring Sports Illustrated's fantasy coverage, we decided to give our take on Shawn's Team Outlooks. While we won't always agree, Shawn's pedigree speaks for itself. Shawn has been a high-stakes Fantasy Football legend since 2004 when he had success in his first season (three titles and $25,000 in winnings). Childs has competed and won six-figures in all different formats – auctions, draft championships, main events, and high-dollar leagues. We dare you to find an expert who knows the NFL player pool better than Shawn Childs -- it can't be done!
The Cincinnati Bengals are the new offensive darlings in the NFL, thanks to an electric trio of young players – QB Joe Burrow, WR Ja'Marr Chase, and WR Tee Higgins. RB Joe Mixon gives Cinci a fantasy stud at running back, and they have a couple of talented complementary receivers in WR Tyler Boyd and TE Hayden Hurst. The next step in their growth is improving the pass protection for Burrow.
The Bengals ran the ball 44 % of the time last season despite averaging 25.6 carries per game. Their offense graded well in scoring (460 points – 7th), but only 27th in offensive plays. This year, I expect further growth in offensive yards with more explosiveness in the passing game.
The best area of growth for the Bengals' running backs in 2022 came in scoring (19 touchdowns). They only had a slight gain in yards per carry (4.18 – 4.09 in 2020). Overall, their running backs finished with 2,390 combined yards with 85 catches with only eight runs over 20 yards.
Over the past two seasons, with Joe Burrow seeing time at quarterback, the Bengals' wideouts gained over 73 % of their receiving yards. They finished with repeated success in catches (236) while posting a massive improvement in yards per catch (15.1) and touchdowns (28). Cincinnati has the top wide receiving corps in the league.
The tight end position for the Bengals ranks near the bottom of the league, and it won't improve if their wide receiver corps stays healthy. Over 17 games, there will be some games of impact by their tight ends, but they can't be trusted as a week-to-week start in the fantasy market.
Zac Taylor struggled over his first two seasons with the Bengals (6-25-1), putting his job at risk. The magic of Joe Burrow helped Cincinnati (10-7) make their deepest run in the postseason since their Super Bowl loss in 1988. Taylor helped Jared Goff make a step forward as the Rams' quarterbacks coach in 2018. He has 10 seasons of coaching experience in the NFL.
Last year Cincinnati climbed to 13th in the league in offensive yards gained and 7th in points scored (460).
The Bengals brought in Brian Callahan to run the offense in 2019. Over the previous three years, Callahan worked as the quarterback coach for the Raiders and the Lions. He has 12 seasons of experience in the NFL at the age of 37.
Lou Anarumo had been a coach in the NFL since 2012 (10 seasons) while working as a defensive back coach every year except for 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 third year as the defensive coordinator for the Bengals, he moved to 18th in yards allowed and 17th in points allowed (376).
Cincinnati brought three potential upgrades to their offensive line via free agency – G Alex Cappa, G Ted Karras, and T La'el Collins. They parted ways with T Riley Reiff, G Quinton Spain, TE C.J. Uzomah, and CB Darius Phillips. The top offensive player added was TE Hayden Hurst.
The Bengals invested in five players on the defensive side of the ball in this year's draft – S Daxton Hill (1.31), CB Cam Taylor-Britt (2.28), DE Zachary Carter (3.31), S Tycen Anderson (5.23), and DE Jeffrey Gunter (7.31). Their other addition came in the fourth round (G Cordell Volson).
The Bengals ranked 23rd in the NFL in rushing yards (1,742) last season. They gained only 4.0 yards per carry with 16 rushing touchdowns and eight runs over 20 yards.
Cinci jumped to 7th in passing yards (4,806) with 36 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Their receivers finished with the second-most catches (16) of 40 yards or more. The Bengals' offensive line allowed 55 sacks (103 over the last two seasons).
The left side of their offensive line has two young developing players (Jonah Williams and Jackson Carman). Both players still need work to reach their potential. RT La'el Collins should be an excellent upgrade, while their other two adds project to be league average at best.
The Bengals jumped to 7th in rushing yards allowed (1,742), with ball carriers gaining 4.3 yards per rush with eight runs gaining over 20 yards. Cinci gave up 15 rushing touchdowns. Despite the appearance of success, offenses averaged only 23.9 rushes against them.
Their pass defense slipped to 26th in passing yards allowed (4,222) with 26 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Receivers gained over 20 yards on 65 plays. Cincinnati finished with 42 sacks (25 more than 2020).
DE Trey Hendrickson delivered 27.5 sacks over the past two seasons, but he did have risk against the run. LB Logan Wilson led the second level of their defense with 100 tackles and four interceptions. S Vonn Bell, S Jessie Bates, and CB Chidobe Awuzie were the best players in their secondary.
This defense needs multiple players to improve to reach higher in the league rankings. I only see a league average team vs. the run with repeated risk defending the pass. With any regression in their pass rush, the Bengals will get beat at times in the deep passing game despite adding some talented cornerbacks in this year's draft.
QB Joe Burrow, CIN - Solid/Safe Pick
Coming into 2021, the Bengals appeared to be positioned to be a high-volume passing team based on Burrow's 40.4 passing attempts over 10 games in his rookie season. Instead, Cincinnati finished 20th in passing attempts (555 – 32.6 per game) while taking 55 sacks (third-most in the NFL). Burrow overcame his below-par passing opportunity by completing 70.4 % of his passes and gaining 8.9 yards per pass attempt.
Despite playing well over his first eight games (2,258 combined yards with 20 touchdowns), he failed to lead many teams to fantasy playoffs after a dull five-game stretch (282/0, bye, 148/1, 190/1, and 300/1). However, for anyone surviving with Burrow in the fantasy postseason, his play was exceptional in Week 16 (525/4) and Week 17 (446/4). He finished the year (4,729 combined yards and 36 touchdowns) as the eighth-highest scoring quarterback (376.45 fantasy points) in four-point passing touchdown leagues while missing one game.
Fantasy outlook: The Bengals signed three offensive linemen in the offseason to pair with two talented players (Jonah Williams and Jackson Carman) drafted in the first and second rounds in 2019 and 2021. Burrow has an excellent foundation of receivers, leading to him drawing the fourth-ranking at quarterback in the early draft season in the Fantasy Football World Championship. His next step should be 5,200 combined yards with 40+ touchdowns.
Other Options: Brandon Allen, Jake Browning
RB Joe Mixon, CIN - Stud (low risk)
Three times over the past four seasons, Mixon gained over 1,400 combined yards with a floor of 35 catches. He finished 2021 fourth in running back scoring (289.10 fantasy points) in PPR leagues while setting career highs in rushes (292), touches (334), rushing yards (1,205), receiving yards (314), and touchdowns (16). Over his last 38 games, Mixon gained only 4.0 yards per rush, partly due to a below-par run blocking. He gained over 100 rushing yards in three matchups (29/127/1, 30/123/2, and 28/165/2). Despite the appearance of success, Mixon rushed for fewer than 60 yards in six of his final eight starts.
Fantasy outlook: Cincinnati had Mixon on the field for 65.5 % of their plays while sitting out Week 18. This year he comes off the board as the seventh running back with an ADP of 11 in the FFWC. Based on the direction and improvement of the Bengals' offense, Mixon looks poised to be active again in 2022. On a path to gain 1,600 yards with a minimum of 12 touchdowns and about 45 catches.
RB Samaje Perine, CIN - Fantasy Handcuff
After kicking around the NFL for three seasons with minimal chances, Perine played well off the bench for Cincinnati in 2020 and 2021. He gained 809 combined yards with five touchdowns and 38 catches on 156 touches. Last year, his best value came in two games (83 combined yards with one touchdown and four catches and 75 combined yards with one score and a catch).
Fantasy outlook: Perine played well enough to be considered Joe Mixon's top handcuff again this year. His price point should be relatively free this draft season, but he still needs to hold off Chris Evans for touches.
RB Chris Evans, CIN - Dynasty Only
Over four seasons at Michigan, Evans never saw starting snaps. He gained 2,274 combined yards with 15 touchdowns and 49 catches. His best output came in 2017 (842 combined yards with seven touchdowns and 16 catches).
With a missed season (suspension) in 2019 and minimal playing time in 2020, Evans doesn't have the college stats to showcase his overall talents. His vision and pass-catching talent grade well while also having the blocking skills to handle pass protection responsibilities.
In his first year with Cincinnati, he gained 228 combined yards with two touchdowns and 15 catches. His best opportunity for playing time came in Week 18, leading to 59 combined yards with one touchdown and four catches.
Fantasy outlook: His best chance for playing time may come on passing downs. If Joe Mixon has a significant injury, I don't expect the Bengals to feature one back on three downs. Evans is only a summer follow until he moves up a notch on Cincinnati's running back's depth chart.
Other Options: Trayveon Williams, Elijah Holyfield, Shermari Jones
WR Ja'Marr Chase, CIN - Stud (low risk)
In his first season with his former college quarterback, Chase proved to be a real deal. He gained over 20 yards on 27.2 % of his 81 catches, and eight of those receptions reached the 40-yard mark. His explosiveness flashed in three impact games (6/159/1, 8/201/1, and 11/266/3). In addition, Chase was a much better player at home (63/1,061/7) than on the road (38/673/7). Despite his great season (81/1,455/13), the Bengals looked his way six times or fewer in eight matchups. Overall, he averaged 7.5 targets per game with a reasonable catch rate (63.3), considering his length per catch (18.0).
Fantasy outlook: This season, the Bengals need to get Chase more catches over the short areas of the field to increase his fantasy value and opportunity. He finished 17th in wide receiver targets (128) and 5th in wideout scoring (305.80 fantasy points) in PPR leagues. In the early draft season in the high-stakes, Chase is the third wide receiver selected with an ADP of 8. His natural progression should be 100+ catches for 1,700 yards with impact touchdowns. If the Bengals push their passing attempts over 600, his ceiling will be much higher.
WR Tee Higgins, CIN - Solid/Safe Pick
In his second year with Cinci, Higgins set career-highs in catches (74), receiving yards (1,091), and targets (110) despite missing three games. However, his production fell short of expectations over the first 10 contests (37/446/2). He turned in four impact games (6/114/1, 9/138/1, 5/114, and 12/194/2) over the following five weeks. Higgins had surgery last March to repair a labrum issue in his left shoulder. His stats projected over 17 games came to 89 catches for 1,324 yards and seven touchdowns.
His blend of size (6'4" and 215 lbs.), speed, and natural ability put him on par with the best wide receivers in the game. Ja'Marr Chase will push Higgins to get better, and Joe Burrow will find him when he's open. Also, drawing WR2 coverage on more plays should lead to a bump in targets.
Fantasy outlook: Higgins has beast upside while projecting much higher in scoring. His catch rate (64.7) and yards per catch (14.2) grade well and scream more chances. With a healthy season, he looks poised to push his targets inside the top 10 in the league. I expect close to six catches per game, leading to 1,400 yards and double-digit scores.