The Cincinnati Bengals were awful in 2008, but don’t let that fool you. Palmer’s injury crushed a season that was already on life support following Chad Ochocinco’s off season drama. Backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick couldn’t throw the ball farther than the end of Chris Berman’s buffet plate, killing the passing game entirely. Call me a homer, but I am giving many of the Bengals a mulligan for last season. Very few teams would overcome the loss of their pivotal QB. On to 2009…
QB: Carson Palmer, J.T. O’Sullivan
RB: Cedric Benson, Brian Leonard, Kenny Watson, Bernard Scott
WR: Chad Ochocinco, Laveranues Coles, Chris Henry
TE: Ben Utecht, Chase Coffman
PK: Shayne Graham
Quarterback: The conversation starts and ends with Shaggy’s health. If, as he says, Carson Palmer is fully fit and ready to go, then he is a valuable asset to any fantasy team. The o-line has undergone change this offseason, with first-round pick OT Andre Smith a sure-fire starter, and C Jonathan Luigs drafted to replace the leagues worst incumbent Eric Ghiaciuc. Those moves have to help. I have Palmer as #13 on my QB list, one of several QBs in a tier with tempting upside. Palmer makes an excellent part of a combo for owners waiting on QBs and drafting a pair of them in the middle rounds. If his elbow restricts or sidelines him, then his value and that of the entire offense goes down the can. For now, put me down for 3,650 yards and 25 TDs.
Running Back: I don’t buy the whole Cedric Benson renaissance thing. He was decent last season under very testing circumstances, and yes, he did face some tough run defenses, but his numbers were boosted by running over two doormat defenses (Browns and Chiefs) in the final two weeks of the season. Opportunity alone makes Benson a middle-of-the-pack RB3, but he will likely lose third-down work, with better receivers Brian Leonard and Kenny Watson dividing that piece of the pie equally. Rookie Bernard Scott should be the best starting option long term, if he can avoid the off-field mistakes of Benson. If Benson fails, watch out for Scott.
Wide Receiver: I don’t see a return to the golden era (used loosely) of the Bengals offense. However, if Palmer stays healthy, and Chad Ochocinco stays close enough to sanity then a 85/1300/9 season beckons. Laveranues Coles should benefit from the move away from New York. He is as brave across the middle as T.J. Houshmandzadeh was, and 80/900/6 makes me confident in him as a strong WR3 in PPR leagues. Chris Henry has all the talent needed to succeed, and reports suggest he is finally trying to turn around his life, so he is the perfect replacement for Chad if needed. Andre Caldwell, a 2008 draftee out of Florida, has improved much faster than last year’s second-round project Jerome Simpson and will battle Henry for WR3 status.
Tight End: Ben Utecht was brought in to finally give the passing game a TE presence. Injuries hindered him last year, and the drafting of Chase Coffman this year is the writing on the wall for Project Utecht. Coffman can’t block (an optional requirement in Missouri’s spread offense), but he can catch and is a TD threat. I love Coffman in dynasty leagues.
IDP: The Bengals rallied well on defense last year. Mike Zimmer continues his sterling work. Linebacker Keith Rivers looked great before getting hurt, and Dhani Jones was solid. The addition of second-round pick Rey Maualuga creates a strong trio at LB, and all of them should put up nice tackle numbers. The DBs are fine — the problem with the Bengals’ pass defense was the absolute lack of any pass rush all year long. Only Kansas City had less sacks than Cincinnati’s 17. There is some talent at DL now, with Pat Sims, Robert Geathers, Domata Peko, and Antwan Odom joined by the 2009 arrivals, the dubious Tank Johnson and the uber-talented but lazy Michael Johnson. As a unit, you could do far worse then the Bengals defense as a low end starter or decent bye week fill in. No, seriously I mean it!
These aren’t the Bengals of 2005 or 2007. With almost half the fantasy schedule comprising of games against the mediocre-to-bad defenses of Cleveland (twice), Denver, Houston, Oakland, Detroit and Kansas City, there will be value in the Bengals offense. Peyton Manning and Tony Romo owners for example could benefit from Palmer’s shootout at home to Houston in Week 6 when their QBs are on a bye. Palmer and Chad are no longer the top-five talents at their positions, and Houshmandzadeh is gone, but there’s still gold in them there Bengal mountains!
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