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2012 Team Report: Cincinnati Bengals

Quarterbacks

Starter: Andy Dalton
Backup(s): Bruce Gradkowski, Zac Robinson

Starting QB: If it hadn't been for what Cam Newton did in 2011, Andy Dalton's rookie season may have been considered among the best we've ever seen. He took a team that not a lot was expected and led them to a playoff berth. Cincinnati has had good seasons before (including its 2005 AFC North Title), but the recent years haven't seen them string together consecutive strong seasons. Dalton will look to change that. From a fantasy perspective, he should be able to increase his production from last season of 3,398 yards and 20 touchdownss. Even if reasonable increases occur, Dalton is still unlikely to be among the fantasy elite. The team showed both in its play-calling last season and its acquisition of BenJarvus Green-Ellis this offseason that it's a run-first outfit. Between that and the lack of a true No. 2 receiver, it's hard to project Dalton as a No. 1 fantasy quarterback.

Backup QB: Bruce Gradkowski has been around the league and played the starter's role in a couple of his landing spots, but he's not the kind of guy who can play significant time for a playoff-caliber team. In a spot-start situation, though, he's capable of avoiding mistakes and even making a play on the move to win the occasional game. Zac Robinson was waived by the Lions last season and has yet to take a regular season snap.

Running Backs

Starter: BenJarvus Green-Ellis
Backup(s): Bernard Scott, Brian Leonard, Dan Herron [R], Cedric Peerman, Aaron Brown
Fullback(s): Chris Pressley, James Develin, Jourdan Brooks

Starting RB: BenJarvus Green-Ellis was added this offseason by the Bengals, and early reviews from the coaching staff indicate that they believe he can be a three-down player. He's played four seasons in the league, but he has fewer miles on him than most four-year players because of the Patriots' committee approach. Green-Ellis is a no-nonsense, straight-ahead runner. He won't dance behind the line or make moves that will be seen on any highlight reels, but he knows how to find a hole and get down hill. Green-Ellis is coming off of two straight seasons with double-digit rushing TDs in New England, but Cincinnati only rushed for 10 touchdowns as a team last season. 2011 leading rusher - Cedric Benson - ended the season with 1,067 rushing yards. Green-Ellis should surpass that number if he can stay injury-free.

Backup RBs: Bernard Scott has been with the team for three seasons, and while he has flashed signs of brilliance at times, the team continues to show their reluctance to commit to him through their transactions. Last year, it looked as if Scott would surpass Benson, but he only had 112 carries (to Benson's 273). On those carries, Scott only averaged 3.4 yards - a shockingly low number for a change of pace back. Brian Leonard is in the final year of his contract and averaged just three touches per game in an injury-plagued last season. Even in the deepest of leagues, Leonard won't play a significant role in fantasy leagues. With their selection of Dan Herron at 191 overall in this year's draft, Cincinnati managed to get another fundamentally sound back. Herron won't show up in the SportsCenter Top 10 too often, but he pass blocks well and has nice vision. He'll likely have to contribute on special teams to make a big impact this season. Peerman is has established himself as a fixture on special teams and he has flashed his great speed and balance as a running back during the past two preseasons. He has rarely seen time in the starting lineup and based on the acquisition of late-round running backs each year, the Bengals seem content with him as a special team tackler.

Fullback: Chris Pressley has been with the Bengals for the past two seasons, but not many people outside of Cincinnati would know that. His career stats (three seasons) are two carries, zero yards, five receptions, 27 yards, zero touchdowns. While he won't be someone on any fantasy rosters this season, his presence is worth tracking as he led the way for two straight successful Cedric Benson seasons.

Wide Receivers

Starters: A.J. Green, Mohamed Sanu [R]
Backups: Jordan Shipley, Marvin Jones [R], Andrew Hawkins, Armon Binns, Ryan Whalen, Vidal Hazelton

Starting WRs: A.J. Green was an elite-level talent in his rookie year. Imagine the typical growth of a receiver in his second year applied to Green, and you have top-five fantasy receiver potential. This offseason, Green spent time working out with Calvin Johnson and Cam Newton in Atlanta and also went out west to work with Larry Fitzgerald. Combining Green's size (6'4") and raw skills with Fitzgerald's fundamentals and mental capacity could result in a cyborg-like blend of wide receiver goodness. Green's only downfall might be consistent double-teams. The Bengals lack a proven No. 2 wide receiver. As of now, Bengals beat writers are projecting that one of Brandon Tate, veteran Armon Binn, rookies Mohammed Sanu or Marvin Jones will start across from Green. Sanu was drafted in the third round and brings great size and versatility. At 6'2" and 211 lbs, the coaching staff has already called Sanu a "slightly bigger and a little faster" version of former Bengal T.J. Houshmandzadeh. If he can fulfill his full potential, Sanu should pass Shipley and Jones and develop into a potential 80-catch possession complement to Green.

Backup WRs: Jordan Shipley has been with the team for two seasons. Following a rookie campaign in 2010 where he caught 52 balls, Shipley tore his ACL in 2011. He should be healthy for camp, so playing at the beginning of the season should not be a stretch. Shipley's ceiling remains the same as the one he reached in 2010 as a slot receiver that can be available for his quarterback on short and intermediate routes, but he won't break many 20-plus-yard plays. Marvin Jones has the best route skills, but as a fifth-round rookie, he is hardly a lock to produce and certainly won't steal too much attention from Green without earning it. Andrew Hawkins performed well in limited action during his rookie year in 2011. At just 5'8" and 165 lbs, Hawkins caught 23 balls in 13 games - including one where he started in the slot when A.J. Green was unable to play. With Shipley returning and the addition of Sanu, Hawkins' action this season should be limited. Armon Binns is a second-year free agent from the University of Cincinnati. He has good height and a strong, rangy build. He has enough long-striding speed to get separation deep and he has the strength to make plays after the catch. The coaching staff lobbied Marvin Lewis to get Binns time on the field last year. He's neck-and-neck with Brandon Tate, the former North Carolina star with excellent skill after the catch and deep speed. However, he suffered a bad knee injury his senior year and never caught on with the Patriots. The Bengals love the idea of Tate developing into a starter.

Tight Ends

Starters: Jermaine Gresham
Backups: Donald Lee, Orson Charles [R]

Jermaine Gresham, the former first-round pick from Oklahoma, is a versatile player. He has enough athleticism to create some mismatches in coverage and does a good job as an blocker at the line of scrimmage. His first two seasons have yielded consistent production: 52 receptions, 471 yards, and 4 touchdowns as a rookie and 56 receptions, 596 yards, and 6 touchdowns in his second year. While Gresham's career trajectory appears typical for growth patterns of young players, it's still hard to see Gresham becoming an elite fantasy asset in this offense. He lacks great speed and consistently strong hands of the best players at his position. Donald Lee, the former Packer, is mainly a blocker. He'll be used in two-tight end sets on running downs. Even if Gresham were injured, Lee's fantasy production will likely be minimal. He has only exceeded 40 receptions once in his career. Orson Charles, the rookie from Georgia, was selected 116th overall in this year's draft. An All-SEC selection because of his dynamic play-making ability in Georgia's pro-style offense, Charles is the definition of a catch-first tight end. He could give Cincinnati a player that can be detached from the offensive line and attack the seams of the defense against linebackers and safeties. If Gresham were to miss time this season, Charles would almost likely see more production than Lee.

Place Kicker

Mike Nugent, Thomas Weber : Kicker Mike Nugent came off a 2010 season-ending torn ACL to post a very productive 2011. His 86.8 (33 of 38) field goal percentage was the second highest of his career. The team placed the franchise tag on him and he has already signed the tender. Nugent will be working with the same co-specialists again this year: long snapper Clark Harris and punter/holder Kevin Huber. The Bengals have steadily improved in kicker scoring opportunities the past four years, from 31st, 21st, 18th, and up to 11th last year.

Kick and Punt Returners

Kick Returners: Brandon Tate, Rodney Stewart [R]

WR Brandon Tate may hold on to both return jobs this year primarily due to a lack of other options. The closest the Bengals came to picking up another return specialist was signing undrafted free agent RB Rodney Stewart from Colorado.

Punt Returners: Brandon Tate, Adam Jones, Rodney Stewart [R]

Tate was fairly pedestrian in 2011, ranking around the middle of the pack in yards per return for both punts and kickoffs. As mentioned above, the Bengals do not appear to concerned about his mediocre production.

Offensive Line

Projected Starters: LT Andrew Whitworth, LG Clint Boling, C Jeff Faine, RG Kevin Zeitler, RT Andre Smith
Key Backups: LG Travelle Wharton (inj), C Kyle Cook (inj), T Anthony Collins, T Dennis Roland, G Trevor Robinson

UPDATE: Travelle Wharton (ACL tear) is out for the year. Clint Boling should do a good job for the Bengals line (slight downgrade). Many scouts loved Boling at Georgia, and so far he's shown himself to be a real solid backup. This doesn't hurt cohesion measurably, as Wharton was a new addition via free agency. PRESEASON OUTLOOK: Left tackle Andrew Whitworth and right tackle Andre Smith have never made the Pro Bowl. In these rankings, however, they are being graded as Pro Bowl backups because they have earned their place among the other B+ grades. Both players are hugely underrated athletes and were instrumental in protecting their rookie quarterback last season. Smith is a former sixth-overall draft pick, and Whitworth actually caught a touchdown pass in 2009. Center Kyle Cook is another under-the-radar player who does a good job locking down the middle of the line and communicating blocking calls. Left guard Travelle Wharton is a free agency addition who should do a good job next to Whitworth. Right guard Kevin Zeitler was a first-round pick from Wisconsin and is a load in the run game. Zeitler has some weaknesses in pass protection, but he still should be good right away. These two guards are obviously new to the line, and the cohesion score reflects that upheaval. Anthony Collins offers decent depth as a swing tackle. Clint Boling is also a possible swing tackle or backup at several guard spots. Line coach Paul Alexander is in his 17th straight season as offensive line coach, and he has done an outstanding job over the years, often with less than ideal players to mold. Overall, the Bengals line could have again been among the league's elite if they kept the band together, but they should be able to climb back and rise up the rankings as they learn each other's habits and get experience playing together.

Team Defense

The Bengals defense/ST is a team on the rise. Last year they finished with 45 sacks, 22 takeaways and 3 defensive touchdowns. The 2012 rookie additions of defnsive tackles Devon Still and Brandon Thompson will join Geno Atkins and Domata Peko and potentially create an unstoppable force against the run. The AFC North includes two strong defenses in Pittsburgh and Baltimore, but CIN is quietly putting together a solid defense of their own. They added standout cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick through the draft to go along with veterans Leon Hall and Nate Clements. Brandon Tate, who scored a touchdown on a punt return last year, should once again be the team's return specialist. Let's not forget, the Bengals were a playoff team last year in a very difficult division. They represent excellent value as a team defense that likely won't be among the first wave of defenses taken, but they have the potential to be a Top 5 unit.

Defensive Line

Starters: DE Carlos Dunlap (inj), DE Michael Johnson, DT Domata Peko, DT Geno Atkins
Backups: DT Devon Still, DT Brandon Thompson, DT Pat Sims, DE Robert Geathers, DE Jamaal Anderson

Starting DL: The Cincinnati defense really stepped up last year and much of their success can be attributed to strong play up front. In 2010 they were near the bottom of the league with 27 sacks. 2012 saw that number improve to 45 which ranked 5th. In Michael Johnson and Carlos Dunlap they have a pair of high quality young ends. Second year tackle Geno Atkins is coming off a rookie campaign that saw him lead the club with 8 sacks from the inside and Domata Peko has established himself as a strong athletic run stuffer who can get after the passer a little as well. As team production goes, the Bengals DL accounted for 34.5 total sacks in 2012. The story left untold by the pure numbers is that DC Mike Zimmer used a rotational system up front that allowed a lot of players to contribute. As a result, none of the linemen posted stellar individual numbers. The early release of Derrick Harvey and the knee sprain that could keep Dunlap out a couple of games into the regular season, could cut down on the options at end. That said, what we may see here is simply some different names in the rotation with similar results. Johnson and Dunlap (once he is healthy) are players with good potential and are worthy of sleeper status.

Backup DL: Jonathan Faenene and Frosty Rucker were major contributors in the DL rotation last season. Both have moved on. The club has replaced them with rookie tackles Devon Still and Brandon Thompson, as well as former #8 overall pick Jamaal Anderson at end. Both of the rookies are talented players who were rated pretty high by most draft experts. Anderson never lived up to his draft status in Atlanta, but he has enough talent to provide quality depth. Anderson has been seeing a lot of action with the first unit while Dunlap recovers. Former DE starter Robert Geathers is still in the mix and will compete for a spot in the rotation as well. Pat Sims is on the roster bubble with the addition of the rookies. All in all this is a very talented and deep unit.

Linebackers

Starters: MLB Rey Maualuga, WLB Thomas Howard, SLB Manny Lawson
Backups: MLB/WLB Vontaze Burfict, SLB Dontay Moch, MLB/ SLB Dan Scuta, MLB Roddrick Muckelroy

Starting LBs: The Bengals moved Rey Maualuga to MLB last season where he was expected to become a standout. His play was solid but not spectacular and his production in general was somewhat of a disappointment. There is little threat of anyone taking his starting job in the short term but there is a reasonable possibility that he could be on the bench in some passing situations this season. Maualuga was working in the nickel early in the preseason before spraining his knee but he was in and out of the sub packages last season. Maualuga is expected to be ready for week one and the Bengals hope to see him become a playmaking force in 2012. The 2011 free agent addition of Thomas Howard turned out to be an outstanding move for the club. His four years of starting experience with the Raiders allowed Howard to step in and maybe even improve the defense when starter Keith Rivers was lost to a wrist injury. He played so well that River became expendable and was traded to the Giants this spring. Howard's solid cover skills and dependable tackling make him an ever down player who is a strong candidate to repeat as the club's leading tackler. Manny Lawson was another solid free agent addition of the Bengals in 2011. He immediately became a starter and did a more than adequate job in general, but failed to make the big play impact the team was looking for. Other than the injury shortened 2007 season, Lawson's 1.5 sacks were the fewest of his 6 year career and he failed to force or recover a fumble for the first time since '07. The Bengals starting linebackers are a solid yet unspectacular group that lacks star power. None of them can be considered a weakness but they really need someone to step up and become a difference maker.

Backup LBs: Trading Keith Rivers leaves the Bengals thin on experience behind the starters at linebacker but they are not without talent. Dan Scuta made three starts at MLB for an injured Maualuga last season and proved to be a serviceable backup. SLB Dontay Moch was the team's third round pick last season but spent the year on IR after being injured early in camp. He was drafted with the expectation that he could add some pass rush from the position. Roddrick Muckelroy was a 4th round pick in 2010 and also missed last season with injury. Maualuga's knee injury has given Muckelroy an opportunity to run with the first team. He has taken advantage of that opportunity and is a players to keep an eye on. The other player to keep an eye on here is rookie Vontaze Burfict. This former first team all American from Arizona State was once projected as a first day talent but saw his draft stock plummet due to a variety of concerns about his attitude, work ethic and mental approach to the game, as well as a poor showing at the combine. Burfict has been a completely different player since coming to Cincinnati, and he has impressed on the field. If he can keep his head on straight, Burfict could be that difference maker the club has been looking for.

Defensive Backs

Starters: CB Dre Kirkpatrick, CB Leon Hall, CB Nate Clements, FS Reggie Nelson, SS Taylor Mayes
Backups: CB Terence Newman, CB Jason Allen, CB Adam Jones, S Jeromy Miles, S George Iloka, S Robert Sands

Starting DBs: In 2011 the Bengals lost Jonathan Joseph to free agency and Leon Hall to injury. Nate Clements provided a quality veteran presence in place of Joseph and Adam Jones stepped up when Hall went down. Hall will return to action although there will be some concerns about his being 100% early in the season, and Clements will battle first round pick Dre Kirkpatrick for the other starting job. The looser of that competition will settle into the nickel corner role. This is a good mix of talent, youth and experience that should make the Bengals once again among the best in the league on the corners. The safety positions however, are a completely different story. The club has addressed safety with some late draft picks and lower lever free agents over the past couple of years, but there is clearly room for improvement on paper. FS Reggie Nelson has played some of the best football of his career since coming to the Bengals last season. He is not a particularly physical player but has proven to be a good fit in Mike Zimmer's scheme. At SS former 49ers second round pick Taylor Mayes is the favorite to win the starting job. Mayes is a big hitting strong safety who has struggled in coverage early in his career but was thought to be a huge talent coming out of college. The Bengals hope that a couple years of seasoning have helped him to overcome his shortcomings as a pass defender. There is little doubt that he can provide an intimidation factor. There has been some talk about moving Clements to safety if Mayes struggles.

Backup DBs: The Bengals have the luxury of quality depth at the corner positions. Adam Jones, Jason Allen and Terence Newman are all talented and seasoned veterans who are capable of stepping in as a spot starter if called upon. Depth at safety is a bit more tenuous. In fact, with Taylor Mayes being far from a proven starter, there could be a wide open competition to determine the pecking order at strong safety. Third-year pro Jeromy Miles seems the most likely to get a shot at the job and could really push Mayes. Last year's fifth-round pick Robert Sands is a developmental player who may be on the roster bubble if he fails to step up. The wildcard here is this year's fifth round pick George Iloka. At 6'4" and 225 pounds, Iloka has linebacker size with a safety's speed and good zone cover skills. He could quickly earn his way into some of the sub packages. Iloka has the potential to emerge as a long term starter and may get a long look during camp if Mayes fails to take advantage of his opportunity. The club will also have Jason Allen take some reps at free safety where he will likely be the top backup. All in all, coach Zimmer has a good mix of talent and experience to compliment the starting unit.

Last modified: 2012-09-03 12:02:00

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