Its pretty much a preview on the bengals players and their fantasy potential
Roar Restored in Cincy
By John Tuvey, Senior Editor
May 25, 2005 6:00 PM ET
With all 11 offensive starters returning, the roar should be restored in Cincy.
When's the last time fantasy folks got excited about the Bengals? I mean downright giddy, reserved seat on the bandwagon, "I-gotta-get-me-a-couple-of-these-cats" excited?
It hasn't been recently, that's for sure. The last time the Bengals had the top-scoring offense in the NFL, Boomer Esiason was still playing and the Icky Shuffle was still en vogue. That was 1988, and it kicked off a three-year run of top-10 finishes for Air Wyche.
In between, the Bengals fluked into a top-five slot in 1996 with Jeff Blake throwing to Carl Pickens and Garrison Hearst splitting backfield duties with Ki-Jana Carter. The following year Corey Dillon arrived, the Bengals finished 10th in points, and then they went directly down the toilet.
How bad has it been? From 1998 to 2002, Cincy's best finish in the points race was 24th in 1999.
Jon Kitna led a mini-resurgence in 2003, as the Bengals crept into the top half of the league in both yards (12th) and points (13th), and under Carson Palmer last year they cracked the top 10 in scoring for the first time since 1997.
So optimism—something that's been in short supply in the Queen City for the last decade or two of autumns—is starting to take hold, not only of Bengals fans but for fantasy folks as well. Cincy offers up legitimate fantasy starters at every position except tight end, along with solid fantasy sleepers at wide receiver and tight end.
But before I run off for another mug of the orange Kool-Aid, let me attempt to quantify and justify this optimism.
Carson Palmer, QB
Palmer struggled a bit at the start of his sophomore season after Marvin Lewis handed him the job prior to training camp. But the move paid off as Carson grew into his role, and to become positively giddy about his prospects in 2005 one need look no further than his final four games of the season.
In that four-game stretch, Palmer completed 82 of 114 passes (almost 72 percent) for 1,000 yards and 11 touchdowns. He wasn't exactly beating up the Little Sisters of the Poor, either; Cincy's opponents in those four tilts were the Steelers, Browns, Ravens, and Patriots—three top-10 defenses and an underrated Cleveland unit that finished fifth in the league against the pass.
Palmer was certainly hitting his stride when his season was ended by a knee injury. Had he not missed the final three games, Carson was on pace for top-10 finishes in both passing yards and passing touchdowns—two important categories when it comes to ranking a fantasy quarterback.
Yes, Palmer is prone to the pick, serving up 18 last year. You might recall that Peyton Manning averaged 18 interceptions a season his first five years in the league, and that didn't prevent him from becoming a pretty good fantasy quarterback. Given his improvement over the course of the season—for example, it that aforementioned four-game stretch Palmer threw six picks against 11 scores—it's not folly to expect Carson to lower the turnover rate this year.
Palmer is fully recovered from the MCL injury, and he also dropped 20 pounds in the offseason to help improve his stamina and mobility. Most fantasy folks aren't ready to elevate him into the top 10 at his position, but given his talent, his supporting cast, and his upward curve that's exactly where he projects to be this year.
Rudi Johnson, RB
The Bengals got exactly what they had hoped for when they showed Corey Dillon the door: all the production, none of the whining. Well, okay, they got some whining when Rudi said he didn't want to be franchised, but the sides kissed and made up when they came to terms on a five-year contract.
Rudi earned the deal by establishing single-season rushing records almost across the board, but that doesn't tell the entire story. Johnson finished fifth in the league in rushing first downs and sixth in the league in runs of more than 10 yards—ahead of such notables as LaDainian Tomlinson, Clinton Portis, and Ahman Green, among others. And while no ball-carrier was stopped for no gain or negative yardage more frequently than Johnson, he also boasted a 60 percent conversion rate on third-and-short situations and a similar success rate for touchdowns on carries inside the three-yard line.
Assuming Chris Perry, the team's top draft pick in 2004, can get and stay healthy this season, Rudi might see a slightly reduced workload. That won't prevent him from putting up numbers similar to last year's digits, and in the Bengals' improved offense that should also lead to an uptick in scoring opportunities. What's not to like about a back who's going to get you 1,400 yards and double-digit touchdowns
Chad Johnson, WR
The former Beaver should need no introduction to fantasy fans, as he's posted three straight seasons with at least 1,100 receiving yards and tallied 24 touchdowns over that same span. CJ's numbers actually took a slight step backwards last season, as he fell 81 yards and one touchdown shy of his 2003 marks.
That slippage can be attributed in part to some growing pains with Palmer at the start of the season, as well as the emergence of T.J. Houshmandzadeh as a legitimate No. 2 option in the passing game and the presence of a record-setting rusher.
Once Carson and CJ got on the same page, very good things happened. Even with TJ getting a large share for himself, Johnson ripped off a four-game stretch (the same one mentioned for Palmer above) in which he recorded 30 catches, 438 yards, and five touchdowns.
With the Bengals' offense firing on all cylinders, there should be more than enough for Johnson to continue to get his again this year. And similar digits for CJ would make him easily a top-10 fantasy wideout—maybe even pushing the top five.
Learn to say it, learn to spell it; you're going to want to pencil Houshmandzadeh into your fantasy lineup this year.
Housh stepped into the lineup when Peter Warrick went down with an injury and was a solid contributor for much of the season. But December was when TJ really put his best foot forward, catching 31 passes for 423 yards. That effort earned him a four-year contract from the Bengals, and the inside track on the No. 2 receiver job heading into 2005.
TJ also ranked 12th in the league in first-down catches on third-down plays, and he was particularly effective when the Bengals needed big yardage to move the chains; only two receivers converted more third-and-long passing plays into first-downs than Houshmandzadeh last season.
Warrick still hasn't been cleared to return to work, and even if he does he's better suited to be a slot receiver. Kelley Washington and rookie Chris Henry could also factor into the mix, but they'll be bit players in the CJ and TJ show. Give Houshmandzadeh a full season at the No. 2 spot in Cincy's burgeoning offensive juggernaut and he'll bring 1,000 yards and at least a half-dozen touchdowns to the table—with the potential for significantly better numbers.
Matt Schobel, TE
Schobel is one of the Bengals' best kept-secrets. He tied Houshmandzadeh for second on the club in touchdown catches last year, turning four of his 21 grabs into six points. Cincy still has Reggie Kelly on the roster, but Schobel was clearly the red-zone target of choice. There are so many other weapons for defenses to be concerned about—Rudi's running, CJ and TJ on the outside—that Schobel will have plenty of space to explore in the middle of the field. Will you get Antonio Gates-like production from Schobel? No. But as a sleeper tight end when the studs are off the board, or as a plug-in play against a team that traditionally struggles to cover the tight end—the Vikings or Titans, for instance—you're going to want more Schobel.
Shayne Graham, K
Graham set the Bengals' team record for points last season, converting 27 of 31 field goals and all 41 PATs. If the Bengals' offense is set to improve, it would follow that Graham's scoring chances would increase as well. And seeing as Graham tied the Eagles' David Akers for fourth in scoring last year, an uptick in numbers would make him a pretty valuable fantasy kicker.
The nice thing is, Graham's numbers didn't come because the Bengals were stalling in close. Only seven of Graham's 31 attempts came from inside of 30 yards, and none were inside the 20. Thus, you don't have to factor in a drop in attempts if Cincy starts scoring more touchdowns.
Considering that Graham will probably be an afterthought to most of the big names—guys like Vanderjagt, Longwell, and Janikowski, all of whom he outscored last year—you're going to get plenty of bang for very little buck.
The Bengals return all 11 starters from last year's offense. Palmer's got a year of starting experience under his belt, the team has committed to Rudi for the long haul, and the CJ/TJ show is just entering its prime. If only Cincy's defense wasn't improving as well; fantasy folks would love to see the Bengals forced into more 58-48 shootouts.
Yes, the roar has indeed been restored in Cincinnati, and fantasy folks should be ready to pounce.