Bengals: Playmakers will outshine troublemakers July 26, 2007
Chris Littmann Sporting News
It has been 38 days since a Bengals player was charged with a crime. They're on a roll!
Unfortunately, you can't talk about the Bengals without discussing the team's legal problems. But here's the thing: The players who account for the majority of the Bengals' indiscretions aren't fantasy factors anyway. Sure, you'll downgrade Chris Henry, who will serve an eight-game suspension. But the players you'll really want on your roster -- Carson Palmer, Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Rudi Johnson -- haven't shown up in the police logs. You can expect big things out of each player in '07.
With Eric Steinbach cashing in and taking a big deal with the division-rival Cleveland Browns, Cincinnati loses its most versatile offensive lineman. His departure might hurt the Bengals more than anything else that happened this offseason.
Projected draft round Player Round Carson Palmer, QB 3 Rudi Johnson, RB 1 Kenny Irons, RB 9 Chad Johnson, WR 3 T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR 4 Reggie Kelly, TE DND Shayne Graham, K 16-17 Defense/special teams DND Draft position based on a standard 12-team combined scoring and yardage league with a 17-round draft. DND: Do not draft.
Key additions: CB Leon Hall, LB Edgerton Hartwell, RB Kenny Irons. Key losses: S Kevin Kaesviharn, G Eric Steinbach, WR Kelley Washington.
Shayne Graham, K. Graham's worst season since 2003 was still good enough to place him among the NFL's elite kickers. Graham won't hit a ton of booming field goals, but the Bengals' potent offense puts him in position for a lot of chip shots and extra points. His reliability, combined with the effectiveness of his offense, makes him one of the best kicking options in fantasy football.
Chad Johnson, WR. Early last season, Johnson's focus seemed to be on the wrong things, what with the list of opposing defensive backs and the "Ocho Cinco" shtick. But once he gave that up, he looked like an All-Pro receiver again. He did race a horse on foot this offseason, but there are no other signs the gold Mohawk or shenanigans will return. Chris Henry's suspension could hurt Johnson, who faced fewer double teams because of Henry's ability as a deep threat, but Johnson still should be one of the first receivers off the board in your draft because of his big-play potential.
Rudi Johnson, RB. Every season, a few backs inexplicably vault ahead of Johnson on draft day, seemingly without explanation. Last season it was Ronnie Brown and Carnell Williams. This season it's Joseph Addai. The fact remains that after the elite crop, you'll be hard-pressed to find a more consistent option. Johnson delivers everything you want -- touchdowns and yardage -- and is a rare featured back in this day and age of platoon backfields. Perhaps his most underrated fantasy quality is the Bengals' tendency to lighten his workload early in the season so he'll be strong for your fantasy playoff run.
Carson Palmer, QB. Palmer should put up 30-plus touchdowns this season, even without Chris Henry for half the season. After all, he still has the luxury of throwing to Chad Johnson downfield and T.J. Houshmandzadeh over the middle. It's also worth noting that he was able to focus on football this offseason, not rehabbing from major knee surgery, which captured his offseason work last year. What is Palmer's only true obstacle? Cincinnati's offensive line, which must stay healthy and protect Palmer, who is not fleet afoot. Also, someone must step in and be a reliable No. 3 receiver for the first eight weeks. The good news for fantasy owners is that Palmer should have Henry back for the stretch run, only strengthening his point potential for your key fantasy games.
T.J. Houshmandzadeh, WR. If Rudi Johnson isn't awarded the crown for "most underrated Bengal," then that title belongs to Houshmandzadeh. Fun fact: Houshmandzadeh -- not former Oregon State teammate Chad Johnson -- led the Bengals in touchdown receptions for the 2006 season. Because he doesn't hit the home run like Johnson, he won't pile up the same yardage numbers, but Palmer looks for "Whosyourmama" in the red zone, which might be just as important. Just remember that, like Johnson, Houshmandzadeh's numbers could suffer early in the season if a viable No. 3 receiver doesn't emerge to relieve some pressure.
Robert Geathers, DE. The 10.5 sacks registered by Geathers in 2006 were the most by any Bengal since 1983. That doesn't say much for the last two-plus decades of Bengals pass rushers, but "Jumpy" Geathers still should be part of the IDP landscape as he enters his fourth season. After getting a more established defensive lineman, you can go after this sack specialist as a No. 2 option.
Chris Henry, WR. Henry's eight-game suspension drops him down a few notches. And with the way new NFL commissioner Roger Goodell suspends players, one misstep by Henry could add time to that suspension or wipe out his season altogether. He's a high-risk proposition, but if he's on the waiver wire around Week 6 or 7 and hasn't made the news for an off-field incident, he'll be a hot commodity. He could be a valuable asset in a high-powered offense for any fantasy owner making a playoff push.
Justin Smith, DE. The Bengals slapped him with the franchise tag in the offseason following his 7.5-sack season. Smith typically has drawn most of the attention from opposing pass blockers, but Robert Geathers' emergence on the opposite side boosts Smith's value. Do remember, however, that Smith was playing for a new contract last season. Fantasy owners must hope last year was more than just a dash for cash. Even if he performs up to last year's numbers, he's a borderline No. 2 defensive lineman.
Bengals defense/special teams. The unit that recorded 44 takeaways in 2005 came back to reality with a mundane 31-takeaway season in '06. It would take unusually quick maturation from the team's young corners, Johnathan Joseph and Leon Hall, as well as linebacker Ahmad Brooks, to make this unit more than a bye-week replacement.
Kenny Irons, RB. The Bengals sent a strong signal about a lack of confidence in Kenny Watson and the poor health of Chris Perry when they drafted Irons in the second round this year. Much like Perry, Irons will provide a change of pace and save some tread on Johnson's tires. However, Irons isn't the same receiver as Perry, and he'll be good only for a stray touchdown when the Bengals play a weaker opponent.
Madieu Williams, FS. Williams hasn't regained the form of his 2004 rookie season, and this might be his last chance to do it. The Bengals selected a pair of safeties during the second day of the NFL draft. If he doesn't perform early in the season, he will fall off owners' IDP radar. He's barely there as it is.
Reggie Kelly, TE. Kelly is a sneaky play as a bye-week fill-in early in the season. Why early in the season? Well, as the third receiver of sorts, in place of Chris Henry. Carson Palmer likes Kelly and gave him a lot of looks last season. With the way the Bengals get into the red zone, he might steal a touchdown or two, which probably will act as a nuisance to owners of the Bengals' elite options more than anything else.
Tab Perry, WR. If you get points for the return game, Perry is worth a late-round flyer in deep leagues. He's also the player most likely to keep Chris Henry's seat warm as the No. 3 receiver.
Ultimate Fantasy Football Tip: Rudi Johnson is one of the cheapest elite backs ($7.25M) in Ultimate Fantasy Football, but keep in mind that the Bengals have a bye in Week 5. Owning Bengals players could use up a lot of trades early in the season. The Week 14-16 schedule (St. Louis, at San Francisco, Cleveland) figures to be the most attractive time period to invest in Johnson and others.
TO KNOW LIST
Coaching: Marvin Lewis came to the Bengals with a reputation as a defensive genius, but that group hasn't deserved more than a dunce cap outside of the 2005 team that was a takeaway machine. Some will even go as far as to say he's on the hot seat, given the lack of discipline displayed through off-the-field issues. Defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan has his work cut out with inexperienced corners and linebackers, which is not the ideal situation to resurrect the defense. Coordinator Bob Bratkowski's offense looks its best when he gets Carson Palmer moving with a Colts-like no-huddle offense. And like the Colts, Bratkowski must get major production to make up for the team's leaky defense.
Offensive line: The now-departed Eric Steinbach, the Swiss army knife of the offensive line, was able to play tackle, guard and center. So how does the team replace him? That's something to track in training camp. The O-line has experience, especially the bookend tackles of Levi Jones and Willie Anderson. But any weak link along the front becomes a scary proposition for Carson Palmer's owners. Schedule analysis: The schedule gives owners a good reason to expect another big season from the Bengals' offense. Last season's slate was brutal for prolonged stretches, ranking as the fifth toughest in last year's owners manual. This year, only games against the Patriots and Ravens stick out as major red flags. Fantasy Strength of Schedule: 10th easiest (or 23rd toughest).