Early 2016 Projections: The Cincinnati Bengals, or Why A.J. Green Looks Like an Elite WR

Now that the draft is over we can starting doing some early 2016 fantasy football projections. Today: the Cincinnati Bengals, including why A.J. Green looks like a top six WR. 

First things first, using our staff projection machine I set some baseline team-wide assumptions:

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For average scoring margin, I went with the league-wide 75th percentile mark, as I believe the Bengals to be one of the better teams in the league. They’ve gone 50-26-1 in regular season games with Andy Dalton. For pass tendency (how often they pass relative to expectations) and pace tendency (how many plays they execute relative to expectations) I just went with league medians. They lost offensive coordinator Hue Jackson to the Browns so I’m not sure how relevant their past tendencies are, thus the median projections.

Next up, Andy Dalton:

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I set Dalton’s sack rate, rush percentage, and yards per carry to an average of his 2014 and 2015 stats. I set his interception rate to the league-wide 25th percentile mark, which is about 2.25 percent. That’s higher than his 2015 rate of 1.8 percent, so it accounts for some regression while still giving him credit for avoiding interceptions in 2015. I didn’t want to include 2014 because his receivers were ravaged with injuries that season.

This is a fairly strong projection for Dalton as it gives him over 4,000 passing yards with a good TD-to-INT ratio. Between this projection, his QB3 point per game finish in 2013, and his QB7 finish last season,1 Dalton looks like a great bargain at his current QB16 price.

On to the WRs:

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For A.J. Green’s target market share, I just went with his 2014 rate of 31 percent, which was also close to his 2012 and 2013 rates of 30 percent. Green only had 26 percent of the targets last season, but with Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu departing it seems reasonable to expect a rebound. For catch rate, TD rate, and yards per target I just went with the mean of his 2014 and 2015 numbers. This gives him a projection of 20.4 PPR FPPG, which would have tied Keenan Allen for WR6 per game numbers last season.

I set Brandon LaFell as the team’s WR2. Often a disappointment for fantasy purposes, he’s consistently been a good real life player. He was at his worst last season, but there is reason to believe that was the byproduct of injuries. I set his target share, catch rate, TD rate, and yards per target to the means of his 2014, 2013, and 2012 seasons. Note that this projection is actually pretty close to Marvin Jones’ 2015 stat line.

Tyler Boyd is the WR3, but that is in large part because he’s a rookie and rookie WRs simply tend not to produce much. I agree with RotoDoc and his friend PACO that Boyd is a great prospect in a great situation. I left all of his stats at the league median for a WR3 since he has no career numbers to work with, but I wouldn’t be shocked if he surpasses this projection.

To the tight ends:

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Tyler Eifert was kind of tricky to project. I set his catch rate, target percentage, and yards per target to their 2015 levels. But what about TD rate? Eifert’s 18 percent TD rate from 2015 is simply unsustainable over a large enough sample. At first I set it to the 75th percentile mark league-wide, but that’s only about 7.25 percent. That seemed like an overcorrection. Then it occurred to me that Dalton and Eifert are almost certainly better than 75 percent of NFL QB-TE pairs. I ultimately decided to go with 10 percent, which is a nice round number that Rob Gronkowski and Jimmy Graham have scored around. Might that be giving Eifert too much credit? Maybe. But it seemed like a good compromise. Ultimately, this projection would have only made Eifert the TE8 in terms of per game scoring in 2015, so it’s a fairly conservative projection even if I am being overly generous with the TDs.

Given Eifert’s most recent ankle surgery, this is probably a good time to mention that these projections assume a full 16 games for everyone involved.

I just set Tyler Kroft’s settings to the league medians for TE2s, which gave him a stat line very similar to his 2015 stat line.

Finally, the running backs:

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For most of their settings, I treated Giovani Bernard and Jeremy Hill the same way. I set their percentage of the rushing attempts to their respective means of the 2014 and 2015 seasons. I did the same thing with target percentage, catch rate, and TD rate. I set both of their yards per carry to the RB1 median of 4.2, as I believe both are good enough to be RB1s.

The one place where I really deviated in terms of method was yards per target. I set Hill’s to his career rate. I set Bernard’s to the 75th percentile mark for a RB1.

This gives you a pretty straightforward projection for the two backs. Bernard gets less rushing work but significantly more receiving work. He is projected to average 75 yards from scrimmage per game, almost exactly his career average of 76 yards from scrimmage per game. Hill breaks 1,000 yards and scores 10 TDs, but a small overall workload gives him an outlook that would have only made him RB16 last year. That’s overall, not per game. To be really valuable, Hill either needs an injury to Bernard or to be a more efficient rusher and TD scorer than is projected here.

  1. Not counting the game where he got injured, or counting Geno Smith who only played one game.  (back)
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