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Are People Sleeping on A.J. Green?

One of the hardest teams to figure out is the Cincinnati Bengals. They rarely venture wholeheartedly into free agency. They are not given to major splashes in the draft. They seem to undervalue everything except loyalty, often to a maddening degree.

Just look how many chances they gave Vontaze Burfict despite numerous discretions, or how many seasons they allowed Marvin Lewis to occupy their head coaches office. But they have made their intentions quite clear in recent weeks by declaring that wide receiver A.J. Green is a “candidate for an extension.”

Green’s contract expires following the 2019 season, and the team feels that now is the time to discuss extending his stay. After all, Green is coming off the worst season of his career, from a numbers point of view at least.
It occurs to me, however, that while the Bengals are still somewhat high on Green, the fantasy community may have soured on him somewhat. Is this a fair position? Are the great days of A.J. Green over? Or is he shaping up to be one of the best bargains of the 2019 season?

Green’s current ADP in Bestball10s is 32.4, the 14th WR going off the board. Given his form over the last three seasons, a span that has seen him finish on IR twice, it is perhaps understandable that some may feel that Green is best viewed as a high-end WR2. But I am here to suggest that this price makes Green something of a bargain.

Dominant Beginnings

There is little doubt that the Bengals selection of Green with the 4th overall pick in 2011 was a sensible one. Green has amassed 8,097 receiving yards on 602 receptions since then, with 63 touchdowns. His production compares quite favorably to some of the best WRs the NFL has seen between 2011-2018.
green comps
The first five seasons of Green’s career, from 2011-2015, stand up against some of the very best WRs this century. Only Larry Fitzgerald and Jarvis Landry have more receptions in their first five seasons than Green’s 415. Julio Jones is the only WR with more receiving yards than Green’s 6,171. No other WR has more fantasy points in their first five seasons than Green, who amassed 1,311.40. He was downright dominant.

Human After All

But the last three seasons have not been quite so kind to Green. As previously mentioned, he has had two of his last three campaigns cut short due to injury. A hamstring strain robbed him of six games in 2016, while a foot injury suffered in 2018 meant he missed all of seven games and was held to one catch in an eighth. His production, obviously affected by his absences, hasn’t been special since the start of the 2016 season.

 TOTALWR Rank
Targets32021
Receptions18727
Rec Yds273317
TDs1817
PPR Pts568.320

On the face of it, this would appear to be another situation where the Bengals’ loyalty to one of their own is blinding them to the reality of the situation. Maybe they shouldn’t be so keen to hand out a new deal to an aging star, so clearly past his best. Funny you should say that, however.

Still Got It

When we examine Green’s numbers more closely, we can see that, while there has been a drop off in his production, it really isn’t as big as one might assume. The RotoViz Game Splits app illustrates this point perfectly.
green 1618
Of all WRs to have played at least 35 games over the last three seasons, Green’s points per game mark is the eighth highest.

Curiously enough, Green’s career-low statistics in 2018 cover up the fact that in Weeks 1-8, Green was the WR8 in PPR scoring. Green caught 45 of his 76 targets for 687 yards and six touchdowns in this span, with three touchdowns coming in the Bengals Week 2 win over Baltimore. The Ravens only allowed another nine WR touchdowns all season.
Green’s partnership with quarterback Andy Dalton,1 actually became more efficient over the last three seasons.

Between 2011-15, Dalton averaged 7.81 adjusted yards per attempt (AYA) when targeting Green (671 targets). 2016-18 saw Dalton average 8.4 AYA on his 319 looks towards Green. With Dalton seemingly going nowhere, for now, it would make no sense to expect him to shy away from his favorite target in the year ahead.

Competition? More like Company

As I write this, we do not know what plans the Bengals have regarding their draft. Josh Norris has them waiting until the end of the draft before adding offensive playmakers in his Draft Analysis of the team. Even then, the players are the relatively unflashy WR Terry Godwin and TE Kendall Blanton.

The team lost Tyler Kroft in free agency but retained the oft-injured Tyler Eifert.2 His talent is not a question, although his availability is.

At WR, the Bengals have John Ross and Tyler Boyd. Ross has been something of a let down since the team spent a top ten pick on him in 2017. Indeed, looking at players with a similar draft pedigree to Ross who performed at a similar level in their first two seasons does not make pretty reading, for Ross or any truthers of his.
ross comps
There were rumors leading up to the beginning of the league year that the Bengals were open to trading him away, although these were shot down and he remains on the team.
Boyd enjoyed something of a breakout in 2018, doubling his reception total in a single year. Boyd finished with 76 grabs for 1,028 yards, along with seven touchdowns. Now, you may be thinking that he benefitted from the absence of Green in the lineup, but this would not be the case. Indeed, Boyd’s production fell pretty much as soon as Green’s season ended.
boyd 1-8
You could certainly argue that the presence of a fit and healthy Green would be a boost to Boyd, who did his best to match Green punch for punch during the seasons first eight weeks.
boyd green
Boyd should be seen as a complement to Green in my eyes and not a competitor. Boyd’s success will be his and his more illustrious teammate’s.

Outlook

If Green is now fully healthy and can repeat the form which he showed before he was lost in 2018, then there is no doubt in my mind that he remains a top-10 WR in the NFL, and as a result a viable fantasy option. A top ten finish should not be outside of his range of possible outcomes, and as such his current third-round ADP is too low.

The sixth WR going off the board, presently JuJu Smith-Schuster, is being taken more than a round earlier than Green. I am not about to besmirch the name of JuJu, but there are enough question marks about his role and if it will change in 2019 that give me pause about taking him here. I have no such qualms about Green.

If I can start my drafts this September with studs at running back, then finding Green still mooching around the board when I come to make my third pick will be manna from heaven. As a Green fan, I want his greatness recognized by fantasy owners. But as a fantasy player, I’m happy to let everyone allow him to drop. Then … he’s mine.

  1. Dalton is another player the Bengals may have to start thinking about extending. Although they have indicated that they want him to actually earn an extension.  (back)
  2. Kroft signed with the Bills, where he may offer some weekly value but not enough for fantasy owners to get excited about.  (back)

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