|By Shawn Childs, Monday, July 31, 2023|
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 (2021) since their Super Bowl loss in 1988. Last year, the Bengals started the season with a pair of losses before hitting their stride (12-2), including a 10-game winning streak. Unfortunately, Kansas City Chiefs ended their year in the conference championship (23-20). Taylor helped Jared Goff make a step forward as the Rams' quarterbacks coach in 2018. He has 11 seasons of coaching experience in the NFL. His four-year coaching record now stands at 28-36-1, with five wins in seven tries in the postseason.
The Bengals brought in Brian Callahan to run their offense in 2019. Over his previous three years, Callahan worked as the quarterback coach for the Raiders and the Lions. He has 13 seasons of experience in the NFL at the age of 39. Cincinnati climbed to 8th in the league in offensive yards gained and a repeated ranking in points scored (418 – 7th).
Lou Anarumo had been a coach in the NFL since 2012 (11 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 fourth year as the defensive coordinator for the Bengals, he moved to 16th in yards allowed and 6th in points allowed (322).
LT Orlando Brown was the most important addition in the offseason, who left the mighty Kansas City Chiefs to sign with the Bengals. He is now in charge of protecting Joe Burrow's blindside. Cincinnati also added TE Irv Smith to their offense at the expense of Hayden Hurst (CAR). RB Samaje Perine signed with the Denver Broncos.
On the defensive side of the ball, the Bengals parted ways with S Jessie Bates (ATL), S Vonn Bell (CAR), and CB Eli Apple (FA). Their only addition to their defense via free agency was S Nick Scott. He projects to have a rotational role.
The front of the 2023 NFL Draft for the Bengals focused on upgrading their defense – DE Myles Murphy, DJ Turner, and S Jordan Battles.
Murphy brings an attacking style to the Bengals' defensive line. He gains an early edge after the snaps with a willingness to fight to the whistle on every play. His power grades well while needing to develop his pass-rushing arsenal to create more impact plays. Murphy would rather take an outside path to the quarterback than cross a defender's face to win inside.
Turner has the foundation skill set, speed, and quickness to be a difference-maker in coverage. He doesn't lack height (5'11"), but his frame (178 lbs.) hasn't caught up to his body. Turner will chase and mirror the best wide receivers in the game. His losses come to physical players who can beat him up at the line of scrimmage and outfight him for jump balls.
Battles does have some things that could be improved in run support. He grades well when moving toward the line of scrimmage, but ball carries can defeat him in space when gearing down to make a play. His vision helps his reads in coverage; an area Battles should help the Bengals.
Cincinnati shifted to their offense over the next three rounds (WR Charlie Jones, RB Chase Brown, and WR Andrei Iosivas).
The Bengals added Jones to help their ability to move the chains on quick-hitting plays over the short areas of the field. He has excellent quickness and a feel for getting open after the snap. Jones also has the speed to beat defenders over the top, with the open-field talent to make defenders miss. However, he does need to get stronger to win vs. press coverage. In a way, Cincinnati tried to add a player out of the New England Patriots' playbook (Wes Welker/Julian Edelman). Jones will need some time to develop, but he could return kicks in his rookie season.
The backup running back role for the Bengals is an open competition after Samaje Perine left town. Brown has a chance to help on all three downs while not being ready to be trusted in the big moments of the game in pass protection. He tends to be a North/South runner with an open eye on a developing crease when his acceleration gets him quickly to the second level of a defense. Brown runs with patience and vision with the wiggle and moves to make defenders miss in space. His hands and route running should be plusses while also having sneaky game-breaking speed.
Iosivas checked the speed (4.43 40-yard dash) and strength (19 bench press reps) boxes at the 2023 NFL Combine. His edge in size (6'3" and 205 lbs.) gives the Bengals another vertical threat with the ability to win some 50/50 balls in the end zone. Iosivas can create wins close to the line of scrimmage vs. press coverage that may lead to some quick slant chances in four wide receivers sets. However, he must button up his route running and show his hands can handle the velocity of NFL passes to earn snaps in his rookie season.
Over the final two rounds, Cincinnati invested in P Brad Robbins and CB D.J. Ivey. The Bengals view Ivey as more of a project than a potential rotational player early in his career. His best assets coming into the league appear to be strength and potential in tight-man coverage over a short field. In his rookie season, Ivey may need to earn his stripes on special teams.
The Bengals slipped to 29th in the NFL in rushing yards (1,528) last season. They gained only 3.8 yards per carry with 14 rushing touchdowns and seven runs over 20 yards.
Cincinnati bumped to 6th in passing yards (4,520) with 35 touchdowns and 12 interceptions while playing one fewer game than 30 other franchises. The Bengals' offensive line allowed 44 sacks, compared to 55 in 2021 and 48 in 2020. Their receivers had a decline in catches of 40 yards or more (10 – 16 in 2021).
Johan Williams requested a trade after the Bengals signed LT Orlando Brown in the offseason. Unfortunately, his lack of success and improvement forced Cincinnati's hand. Williams allowed an insane number of sacks and pressures for a team needing a more extended passing for the star quarterback to make plays. On the positive side, a slide to right tackle should allow him to develop and work on becoming a better player.
Over his five seasons in the NFL, Brown has been an asset in pass protection. He limited the damage in sacks last year, helped by the mobility of Patrick Mahomes, but defenses did see weakness in his play. Brown developed into a neutral to positive run blocker over the past three seasons.
LG Cordell Volson made 16 starts after getting drafted in the fourth round in 2022. Despite leading the Bengals in offensive line snaps, his results were subpar across the board. C Ted Karras had similar success in his first season in Cincinnati as his previous three starting seasons with New England and Miami. His run blocking remains below the league average. RG Alex Cappa gave the Bengals a better year than his previous two seasons playing with Tom Brady.
I would love to say this offensive line will be much better this season, but it falls on the improvement of their players and blocking schemes. On the surface, the Bengals' tackles should create more time for Joe Burrow to throw. If so, the rest of the line should follow their lead.
QB Joe Burrow - Stud (low risk)
Coming into 2021, the Bengals appeared 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 fantasy teams to the 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 with 4,729 combined yards and 36 touchdowns or 376.45 fantasy points (8th) in four-point passing touchdown leagues while missing one game.
Burrow ended last season with comparable combined yards (4,732 – 4,729 in 2021) despite having an increase in pass (86) and rush (35) attempts. He became more of a factor in the run game (75/257/5) while missing explosive plays by Ja'Marr Chase. Burrow gains 7.4 yards per pass attempt, with five fewer completions of 40 yards or more. Over his final four starts, he delivered only five passing touchdowns while averaging 234 passing yards. When at his best, Burrow gained more than 300 yards in five matchups (338/2, 300/3, 481/3, 355/4, and 375/3).
Fantasy Outlook: With 76 touchdowns over the past two seasons and a better opportunity on the ground, Burrow looks poised to fight for the top quarterback-scoring slot in the land. He can't match Josh Allen's or Jalen Hurts's running ability, but Cincinnati has two elite wideouts who have yet to play an entire season of games together. Burrow may average more than 300 passing yards with a difference-maker floor in scoring if their offensive line creates a longer passing window. In the early draft season, he ranks fourth at quarterback. I consider him a player to fight for in 2023.
Other Options: Trevor Siemian, Jake Browning
Injury Status: Injured Reserve
RB Joe Mixon - Solid/Safe Pick
After a career season in touches (334), rushing yards (1,205), and touchdowns (16), Mixon missed a pair of games due to a concussion. He still finished 11th in running back scoring (239.50) in PPR formats, but 23.0% of his output came in one monster showing (211 combined yards with five touchdowns and four catches). His only other two games with more than 20.00 fantasy points came in Week 1 (21.50) and the divisional playoffs (20.30).
Over the past four seasons, over 899 carries, Mixon averaged only 4.0 yards per carry, with only 19 of his runs gaining 20 yards or more. He set a career-high in catches (60) and receiving yards (441) in 2022 despite losing snaps (257) to Samaje Perine (225) over his final seven matchups.
Fantasy Outlook: Mixon gained more than 1,250 combined yards in four of the past five seasons. He has 29 scores over 36 starts, with Joe Burrow on the Bengals' roster. Despite being in the NFL for six years, Mixon will start the season at age 27. The Bengals have a rising offense with a gear that hasn't been hit yet. He ranks 21st in the early draft season in the high-stakes market, well below his ranking over the past two seasons (11th and 4th). Any investment in Mixon is a bet on the Bengals' offense.
RB Chase Brown - Fantasy Handcuff
Brown saw action over five seasons in college, leading to 4,079 combined yards with 21 touchdowns and 58 catches. His game progressed in his final two years at Illinois, highlighted by his 2022 season (328/1,643/10 with 27 catches for 240 yards and three touchdowns). Brown started the season with more than 100 rushing in nine matchups while receiving a minimum of 19 carries in all his starts. Over his final seven games, he earned his keep by volume of chances instead of big plays (4.7, 4.4, 4.7, 4.1, 4.3, 4.8, and 3.2 yards per carry).
Fantasy Outlook: A better offensive system and spacing should lead to Brown delivering long runs with the Bengals. He has speed in his back pocket, with various ways to make defenders miss. His potential intrigues me, so following the Cincinnati coach-speak this summer should hint at his 2023 fantasy opportunity. I expect him to win the Bengals' RB2 role on early downs, giving him upside and handcuff value in his rookie season.
RB Chris Evans - Fantasy Handcuff
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 (Covid season – six games), 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 two years with Cinci, he gained 266 combined yards with three touchdowns and 18 catches. His best opportunity for playing time came in Week 18 in 2021, leading to 59 combined yards with one touchdown and four catches. Evans battled a midseason knee issue last season while only receiving 18 snaps all year.
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: Jacob Saylors, Calvin Tyler
RB Trayveon Williams - Deep-league Only
Williams lacks NFL size (5'8" and 206 lbs.), but he does run with power with sufficient speed (4.51 40-yard dash at the 2019 NFL Combine). His short-area quickness isn't ideal, but he does run with patience and the ability to make defenders miss. In addition, Williams works hard in pass protection with value in the passing game. His one lacking trait is vision on tightly blocked plays.
In his three seasons at Texas A&M, Williams flashed impact value in two years. In his freshman season, he gained 6.8 yards per rush leading to 1,148 combined yards with eight touchdowns and 19 catches. In 2017, Williams saw his yards per rush fall to 4.6 with a slide in overall production (990 combined yards with eight touchdowns and 20 catches). However, he regained his explosiveness (6.5 yards per carry) in 2018, leading to 2,048 combined yards with 19 scores and 27 catches on 298 touches.
Williams has been on the Bengals for four years, but he has only gained 302 combined yards with no touchdowns and eight catches on 55 touches.
Fantasy Outlook: His experience in the Bengals' system gives him a chance to win their RB2 job in 2023. Cincinnati only had him on the field for 37 plays last season.
WR Ja'Marr Chase - Stud (low risk)
Chase proved to be a real deal in his first season with his former college quarterback. 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. He averaged 7.5 targets per game with a reasonable catch rate (63.3), considering his length per catch (18.0).
Chase added volume of targets (10.6 per game) to his resume over his first seven starts in 2022 (47/605/6), but he did most of his work closer to the line of scrimmage (12.9 yards per catch). Chase missed four games over five weeks after two sensational showings (7/132/2 and 8/130/2) with a hip injury. He had a floor of seven catches over his final five starts of the regular season (40/441/3) while maintaining his elite opportunity (12.2 targets per game). For the season (including the postseason), Chase caught 107 of his 163 targets (65.6%) for 1,266 yards and 11 touchdowns. He gained more than 100 yards only once (10/119/1) over his final eight matchups.
His decline in yards per catch (12.0 – 18.0 in 2021) came from nine fewer catches of 20 yards or more, and only three catches gaining at least 40 yards (8 in 2021).
Fantasy Outlook: Based on his results over 15 games, Chase was on pace to score 339.5 fantasy points in PPR formats if he played an entire season. Last year, he added the short-area catches to his resume. With a similar opportunity and a few more big plays, Chase looks to be on a path to catch 120 balls for 1,800 yards with impact touchdowns. His early ADP (3) in the high-stakes market sits behind Justin Jefferson and Christian McCaffrey. The Bengals play MIN, @PIT, and @KC from Week 15 to 17, compared to @CIN, DET, and GB for Justin Jefferson.
WR Tee Higgins - Solid/Safe Pick
In his second year with Cincinnati in 2021, 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). Over the following five weeks, he turned in four impact games (6/114/1, 9/138/1, 5/114, and 12/194/2) to save his season. Higgins had surgery in March (2022) 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.
The Bengals gave Higgins almost the same opportunity (74/1,029/7 on 109 targets) last season while playing two more games. His stats were cut short by two early exits in Week 5 (no catches on 10 snaps) and Week 14 (on the field for one play). In addition, Cincinnati struggled to get him the ball in Week 18 (one catch for seven yards on seven targets). Higgins gained more than 100 yards in four contests (7/124/1, 9/148, 7/114/1, and 8/128/1). He finished with double-digit targets (10, 13, and 11) over his 19 starts (including the playoffs).
Fantasy Outlook: Over 46 games in his career, Higgins averaged 4.7 catches for 66 yards and 0.41 touches on 7.1 targets or 13.76 FPPG in PPR formats. Based on these stats, projected over 17 weeks, he would score 233.92 fantasy points, giving a starting point of midtier WR2. Higgins ranked 28th, 23rd, and 19th in wide scoring over the past three seasons. His next step is pushing closer to WR1 status, requiring more consistency and a few more chances. He looks to be on a path for 80 catches for 1,200 yards with a career-high in scoring. Higgins is the 12th wideout off the board in mid-May.
WR Tyler Boyd - Bye Week Fill-in
In his first season playing with Tee Higgins and Ja'Marr Chase, Boyd finished with a four-year low in catches (67), receiving yards (828), and targets (94). Even with the appearance of weakness, he still ranked 31st in fantasy points (184.30) in PPR leagues. Over the first 11 games, Boyd offered playable value in three contests (7/73, 9/118, and 5/69/1). His stock pushed higher from Week 13 to Week 17 (5/85, 4/55, 5/96/1, 3/85/1, and 4/36/1).
Boyd had further regression in his stats (58/762/5) and opportunity (82 targets) in 2022. He gained over 100 yards in two games (4/105/1 and 8/155/1), but the Bengals gave him minimal chances (51 targets) over his final 12 games, leading to 35 catches for 396 yards and two touchdowns.
Fantasy Outlook: Boyd's catches, receiving yards, and targets have regressed in each of the past three seasons, making him an extremely challenging player to time. His career peaked in 2018 (76/1,028/7) and 2019 (90/1,046/5 on 148 targets), but his catch rate over the last two years (71.2 and 70.7) shows Boyd can still contribute when targets flow in his direction. Last year, he ranked 39th in fantasy points (167.35) in PPR leagues. Not a bad insurance card for Ja'Marr Chase and Tee Higgins, but his ADP tends to be in round 11 in 12-team leagues.
WR Trenton Irwin - Deep-league Only
When the Bengals needed a fourth option at wide receiver last season, Irwin emerged as that player. Cincinnati had him on the field for 361 plays over 12 games while receiving WR3 snaps in four matchups. Irvin offered fill-in value in three games (3/42/1, 2/58/1, and 3/45/2). He's been on Cincinnati's roster for part of four seasons.
Over four seasons at Stanford, Irwin caught 152 passes for 1,738 yards and five touchdowns over 48 games. His size (6'2" and 200 lbs.) increases his scoring chance in the end zone.
Fantasy Outlook: The Bengals trusted him enough to reward Irwin with WR3 snaps last year. He hopes to build on that opportunity in 2023 while fending off the incoming draft class.
WR Charlie Jones - Dynasty Only
After a sluggish start to his college career over 33 games (39/718/6 on 74 targets), Jones turned into a beast for Purdue in 2022. He caught 110 of his 159 targets for 1,361 yards and 12 touchdowns, highlighted by eight games (12/153/1, 9/133/3, 11/188/1, 12/132/12, 10/105, 11/104, 4/143, and 13/162).
Fantasy Outlook: Jones gives Joe Burrow another weapon to challenge a defense over the long field in single coverage. His base skill should also play well close to the line of scrimmage on third downs. The first step for Jones this summer is passing Trenton Irwin (15/231/4 on 23 targets on the depth chart) while also potentially moving to WR3 if Tyler Boyd leaves town next season. Other options: Trent Taylor, Stanley Morgan, Kwamie Lassiter
WR Andrei Iosivas - Dynasty Only
Iosivas improved each season for Princeton. His career started with 18 catches for 263 yards and four touchdowns in 2019. He set out the following season due to no football games in the Ivy League. Iosivas gained 15.3 yards per catch in college while upping his output in 2021 (41/703/5) and 2022 (66/943/7).
TE Irv Smith Jr. - Quality Backup
The Vikings drafted Smith in the second round in 2019 after catching 44 of his 61 targets for 710 yards and seven touchdowns at Alabama. He came into the NFL with a raw skill set with questions about his route running and blocking. However, Smith runs well with the strength and quickness to threaten a defense in the deep passing game.
Over his 37 games with Minnesota, he has 91 catches for 858 yards and nine touchdowns on 126 targets. Most of his chances in 2020 came over four matchups (4/64, 4/55, 4/63/1, and 6/63/2). Smith missed three games with groin and back issues. In 2021, he suffered a torn meniscus in his right knee that required surgery in late August, leading to a lost season.
Last season after a quiet first seven games (22/168/2 in 33 targets). Smith landed on the injured reserve again with a right ankle injury. He suited up for Week 18 (3/14) and the first round of the postseason (1/3/1).
Fantasy Outlook: Trust has become an issue with Smith after missing 29 of his possible 50 games over the past three years. He projects as a backend TE2 in the fantasy market with upside if his injury woes are behind him. Last season, Hurst had 52 catches for 414 yards and two scores for the Bengals. Smith will make more significant plays, allowing him to beat those stats with 17 games played.
TE Drew Sample - Not Draft Worthy
In the second round in 2019, Cincinnati tried to upgrade the tight end position by drafting Sample. His best asset early in his career 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.
The Bengals gave Sample almost two-thirds of their tight end opportunity in 2020, leading to 40 catches for 349 yards and one touchdown due to an injury to C.J. Uzomah in Week 2. He gained over 50 yards in one contest while receiving five catches or more in three games. Over the past two seasons, Sample only has 13 catches for 79 yards on 17 targets despite being on the field for 576 and 39 plays.
Other Options: Devin Asiasi, Tanner Hudson, Nick Bowers
PK Evan McPherson - Stud (low risk)
Not only did the Bengals find the foundation of an elite offense in the draft in 2020 and 2021, but they also landed a game-winning kicker with the addition of McPherson. He finished his first regular season with exceptional success from 50 yards or more (9-for-11). Overall, McPherson made 28 of his 33 field goals (84.8%) while missing two of his 48 extra points. In addition, he converted all 12 of his field goals and four extra points over three matchups in the postseason while also going 3-for-3 from long range.
Last year, McPherson built on his success from 50 yards or more (5-for-5), but he missed five of his other 24 field goal attempts while also getting sloppy in his extra-point tries (40-for-33). McPherson had a stretch from Week 5 to Week 9 over five games where he only made two of his four field goals, leading to disappointing fantasy stats.
Fantasy outlook: I'm a fan of kickers with big legs, and so is the rest of the fantasy world. McPherson ranks as the fifth-best option at his position in mid-May. Cincinnati has a great offense, setting the stage for a high floor in many games for their star kicker.
Cincinnati - Quality Backup
The Bengals inched up to 7th in rushing yards allowed (1,706), with ball carriers gaining 4.2 yards per rush with 12 rushing touchdowns. Opponents averaged 25.4 rushes against them.
Their pass defense climbed to 16th in passing yards allowed (3,665) with 27 touchdowns and 13 interceptions. Their pass rush only managed 30 sacks (29th).
After delivering 27.5 combined sacks in 2020 and 2021 for the Saints and Bengals, DE Trey Hendrickson had a regression in his pass rush (8 sacks) and run defense while battling neck and wrist injuries. His best asset remains attacking the quarterback. DE Sam Hubbard showed growth in his rush attack over the past two seasons, but he still missed too many tackles. The addition of DE Myles Murphy and the potential improvement of DE Joseph Ossai should add depth to Cinci's defensive line this year. The interior of their line lacks playmakers.
CB Cam Taylor-Britt held receivers to a low catch rate in his rookie season with minimal damage in scoring. He struggled in run support and created no turnovers. CB Chidobe Awuzie has been an excellent addition in coverage over the past two seasons, but he missed eight games last season with torn ACL. The safety position will be in flux after losing their veteran experience to free agency in the offseason.
The second of Cincinnati's defense offers minimal help in the pass rush. LB Logan Wilson continued to show growth in his third season, and LB Germaine Pratt has 90 sacks or more in back-to-back years.
I sense regression in this defense due to the questions at the safety position and questionable pass rush. The Bengals will have risk vs. the run up the middle out of the gate. Cincinnati is the 18th defense drafted in mid-May.