The Rams hired Sean McVay in 2017, and Los Angeles more than doubled their point output from 224 to 478, a worst-to-first turnaround that set the stage for 2018’s league-wide offensive revival. Meanwhile, Doug Pederson, Andy Reid disciple and second-year head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles, led his team to a 41-33 Super Bowl victory over the Patriots. They were the third-highest scoring team in football.
Hoping to capitalize on these trends, the Bears hired another Reid disciple in Matt Nagy. Chicago immediately jumped from 264 points to 421. After four years with no more than six wins, the Bears finished 12-4 in Nagy’s first campaign.
If you’ve been reading Ryan Collinsworth’s excellent series, you know that an influx of fresh ideas is creating a new offensive environment with more passing and better per play efficiency. Colm and I discussed Ryan’s work on RotoViz Overtime and hypothesized that this may still be only the beginning of a wide-ranging revolution. As more teams try to catch up with the Saints, Patriots, Rams, and Chiefs, we’ll see more games like the Rams 54-51 victory over Kansas City a season ago.
In the ultimate copycat league, the NFL is finally trying to copy a good thing, and the 2019 hiring cycle offered more evidence that scoring will tick higher. The most exciting team to follow will be the Arizona Cardinals, as the tandem of Kliff Kingsbury and Kyler Murray bring Air Raid theatrics to the desert. But it would surprise if the young Cards are able to make the same playoff jump we saw from the Rams in 2017 and the Bears in 2018.
On the other hand, there is a loaded offense that’s ready to explode in their new scheme.
“We have the best offense in the NFL”
Those were the words of Tyler Boyd as he participated in Zac Taylor’s first offseason as the new head coach. It sounds crazy when you consider that the Bengals were middle of the pack in points and near the bottom in yards last season, but Cincinnati played their last five games without their starting QB or superstar WR. A closer look reveals front-line talent almost unmatched across the league.
This is the list of teams with two stud receiving options and a top-tier RB:
- Cincinnati Bengals (A.J. Green, Tyler Boyd, Joe Mixon)
- Cleveland Browns (Odell Beckham, Jarvis Landry, Nick Chubb)
- Minnesota Vikings (Adam Thielen, Stefon Diggs, Dalvin Cook)
- Los Angeles Rams (Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods, Todd Gurley)
That’s it. Now, you obviously don’t have to have that particular trifecta to have a strong offense. You’d likely prefer the New Triplets in New Orleans or any skill players surrounding Patrick Mahomes. Scoring starts with the QB, after all, and the Bengals don’t have one. Right?
Buying Andy Dalton
Dalton isn’t a popular pick compared to QBs with similar weapons. In fact, he’s not a popular pick at all. Drafters are rightly expecting to see the Second Year QB Leap from Baker Mayfield. They’ve mildly punished Jared Goff for a poor playoff run and Kirk Cousins for a final stretch where he only hit 20 points once in his last five games. Dalton gets a much bigger penalty, falling well below Matthew Stafford and Derek Carr, two players he easily outscored on a PPG basis. The QB Lesson from the Best Ball Workshop suggests a QB with Dalton’s ADP shouldn’t factor into your best ball rosters.
This provides a big advantage for owners trying to manage runs in SuperFlex formats. I snagged Dalton as the QB26 for my SFB team and expect him to easily outperform that slot.
Not A Star, But A Quality Starter
The Bengals much-maligned QB got off to a fast start as a rookie in 2011 and quickly moved to the edge of the QB1 tier in his second season. That was just the appetizer for a 2013 campaign where he was outscored by only Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. It may be hard to believe, but in 2013 Dalton finished ahead of Tom Brady, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson, and Matt Ryan.
It was a step back in 2014 as Green missed six games, Dalton threw picks on 3.5% of his passes, and the Bengals relied on their defense. But Dalton bounced back with a 2015 season that tied Stafford for QB8 on a PPG basis.
Dalton earned his second QB12 finish in 2016,1 but this was the beginning of the Ken Zampese era and the collapse of the Bengals offense.
A 2018 Obscured By Injury
The Bengals came out of the Zampese era with Bill Lazor calling the shots, and a Boyd breakout led to early fireworks. Unfortunately, A.J. Green’s mid-season injury snuffed the momentum.
Dalton was on a 4,200-yard, 34-TD pace when Green went down. Those numbers would have allowed him to slide in between Brees and Cousins at QB9.
Buying Tyler Boyd
In discussing the WR selections for the MFL10 of Death, I pointed out that Boyd is undervalued by a wide margin when you compare his ADP to a simple Screener projection.2 But even that may understate his upside when you consider his splits with and without Dalton.
Boyd was on pace for a 92-1223-9 season before the Dalton injury, and they jump a little more if you look only at games where he had Green drawing coverage.
Discussions of whether or not Boyd needs Green are difficult because Green’s absence overlapped with Dalton’s absence.3 We can, however, look at what Green managed in 2017 when Boyd was injured or a healthy scratch.
Although Boyd wasn’t an impact player in 2017, the offense absolutely cratered without him. His presence going forward makes Green a more palatable play in Round 3.
Buying Zac Taylor
We obviously don’t know what to expect from Taylor in his debut season. He was the Dolphins offensive coordinator for a five-game stretch in 2015 and a Rams assistant the last two years, working closely with Goff as the QB coach last year.
Taylor is an unknown, but he’s being hired to bring the Rams system to Cincinnati. Much like the situation with Kingsbury, we are uncertain of competency, but we do know intent. The Bengals will be a new wave NFL offense that challenges defenses to cover the whole field. They intend to score and be one of the best units in the NFL.
When the Rams hired McVay, he revolutionized their offense. We can see his impact when looking at the QB performance compared to the three years prior to his hiring.
While the volume didn’t immediately jump – the Rams attempted fewer passes in 2017 than they had in 2016 – McVay helped Goff resurrect his career and author a 90-point swing in fantasy points over expectation (paFPOE). They followed that up by adding 49 pass attempts in 2018 and further juicing the adjusted yards per attempt (AYA) into the elite range.
Dalton has not been an above average QB for several seasons, but he’s starting from a better vantage than Goff in 2017. The Bengals also have more continuity. While the Rams entirely revamped their WR corps, drafting Cooper Kupp, signing Robert Woods, and trading for Sammy Watkins, the Bengals already sit with one of the top skill groups in the NFL.
The Bengals Will Be a Big Story in 2019
While I’ve focused on Dalton and Boyd as undervalued, it’s worth noting that Mixon and Green also have some room to run at their loftier ADPs. Green sits at WR13, and he’s a value compared to Keenan Allen (WR9) and Adam Thielen (WR10) should all of them have healthy seasons.
Tabbing Joe Mixon As The 2019 Gurley/McCaffrey
Joe Mixon is the quintessential risk/reward candidate. He’s frequently picked ahead of superstar WRs, making his selection difficult from both a total downside and a roster construction perspective. On the other hand, he’s primed to be the next breakout star at the position after Gurley and McCaffrey parlayed similar ADPs into ridiculous win rates with their 2017 and 2018 leaps.
Gurley’s jump might be especially instructive when it comes to what Taylor plans in Cincinnati.
Gurley averaged 12.5 PPG in 2016,4 before jumping to 25.8 in 2017. We can see that such a gigantic move was based in both the run and pass games and predicated on volume and efficiency. On a team level, a roughly 70-point bounce in expected points was amplified by a jump of 120-plus in points over expectation.
We’ll obviously hope that the fruit of the very young McVay tree tastes more like Reid plums than Belichick lemons, but even with all of the caveats about Taylor not being McVay … this is fairly exciting.
Image Credit: Daniel Bartel/Icon Sportswire. Pictured: Tarik Cohen.
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