Fantasy Stud — A.J. Green, WR
Green saw a huge improvement from his rookie year to his second year in the NFL, where he jumped from 65 to 97 receptions, 1,057 to 1,350 yards, and seven to 11 touchdowns. This is one of the best young playmakers in the NFL, and he’s set to become one of the best playmakers period in his third season.
The Bengals’ star player will be one of the most targeted receivers in the league, and his main goal this season is to cut down on dropped passes. According to Pro Football Focus, Green dropped 10 passes last year, and to rectify that problem, he has been training this offseason with the best of the best in the NFL in Calvin Johnson and Demaryius Thomas in Atlanta.
Green’s size, speed, hands, and playmaking ability offer fantasy owners a guy who can go off for 100 yards in any given week, and even on weeks where he doesn’t get over 100 yards, he’s more than likely to have a touchdown or two. I think we could see Green go off for over 1,500 yards this season, and possibly upwards of 13-15 touchdown grabs. This is a guy who should be a consistent 10o catch receiver year in and year out, and I think we’ll see his first 100 catch season in 2013. Green is an absolute star, and a guy you should target in the early rounds of your fantasy leagues.
Fantasy Risk — Jermaine Gresham, TE
Jermaine Gresham’s fantasy football stock took something of a hit when Tyler Eifert was selected in the first round of the 2013 NFL Draft, but there’s no doubt that Gresham has had a significant impact on the Bengals’ offense in his three years with the team.
Gresham’s rookie total of 52 receptions is the lowest total of his career, and he had a career high 64 receptions for 737 yards last year, along with five receiving touchdowns. Gresham has 15 touchdowns over his first three NFL seasons, but the Bengals obviously saw a chance to upgrade their depth at the TE position by drafting Eifert out of Notre Dame.
With Eifert now in the fold, he’s undoubtedly going to take some targets away from Gresham, even though the Bengals could use Eifert in an entirely different role. You don’t often pick a guy in the first round to sit around, and I don’t think Eifert–a very pro-ready prospect–is going to be standing on the sideline all that much in his rookie season.
Gresham’s fantasy stock took a bit of a hit with that selection, but he’s a risk because there is still a strong potential for reward. Obviously dating back to last season, Gresham is playing the best football of his career, and he has a chance to be an even bigger red zone threat for the Bengals after establishing himself as the #2 pass receiver in the offense.
Buyer beware on Gresham, who is a great talent but might lose some targets to the new kid on the block.
Fantasy Sleeper — Mohamed Sanu, WR
After being selected in the third round in 2012, Mohamed Sanu played in just eight games as a rookie, but had four touchdowns in just 16 total catches on the season. Sanu has impressive size and should open camp as the #2 receiver on the depth chart in Cincinnati, but he won’t be forgotten.
Although the Bengals have A.J. Green, Jermain Gresham, and 2013 first rounder Tyler Eifert, Sanu has a chance to be a sleeper that could rack up something like 60 catches for 800 yards and maybe 6-8 touchdowns. He might not go off for a lot of fantasy points, but he could be a valuable waiver wire pickup at some point this season, and could possibly emerge as a legitimate FLEX option or potential low end #2 receiver.
Either way, I really liked Sanu coming out of college, and I know it’s going to take time for him to come along, but Andy Dalton certainly has a lot of weapons to get the ball to and Sanu is not lacking in the talent department.
Rookie to Watch — Giovani Bernard, RB
The Bengals believe Bernard has the ability to be an every-down back in the NFL, and when I evaluated him going into this season, I saw a lot of LeSean McCoy in his game. Bernard was an absolute stud at North Carolina for two seasons, showing off impressive skills as a runner, receiver, and return specialist. I hadn’t even noticed that last season as a sophomore at UNC, Bernard had two punt return touchdowns in just 16 total returns.
This is a guy who can run around people, a player with great elusiveness and deceptive speed.
While BenJarvus Green-Ellis is currently slated to be the top back, I wouldn’t be shocked to see Bernard as the top back in Cincinnati before mid-season, and he will have huge fantasy upside whenever he takes over that spot. The Bengals in the meantime could split Bernard out wide, as well as use him as a punt returner. He could have a similar road to the starting lineup as David Wilson did as a rookie last year.
This is one of the top fantasy rookies to keep an eye on.