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Player Spotlight: A. J. Green

A detailed examination of A. J. Green's fantasy prospects for the 2016 season

Setting the Stage

A.J. Green was born in Summerville, South Carolina, and played both basketball and football for the Summerville Green Wave. Green started four years and totaled 279 receptions for 5,373 yards and 53 TDs, making All-State in all four years. He was universally ranked as a five-star wide receiver and among the top ten players nationally his senior season. He verbally committed early to attend Georgia and followed through on that commitment.

He had three straight productive seasons for the Bulldogs, totaling 166 catches for 2,619 yards and 23 TDs. He declared early for the 2011 NFL Draft after his junior season. His NFL Combine numbers were decent, but not noteworthy. Eleven wide receivers ran faster than his 4.50 forty-yard dash. He managed only a 34 ½” vertical and 10’-6” on the broad jump. Nonetheless, his wide receiver play and production kept him rated as the best or second best wide receiver in the draft, along with Julio Jones.

Green wound up being taken first at 4th overall by the Cincinnati Bengals, two spots ahead of Julio Jones. Jones however cost the Falcons much more, as they gave five picks (2011 1st, 2nd & 4th and 2012 1st & 2nd) to Cleveland to select him at sixth overall.

The Bengals followed up the Green first round pick taking Andy Dalton with their second round pick at #35 overall. Dalton was the fifth quarterback taken in that draft and well behind the others, which included Cam Newton #1, Jake Locker #8, Blaine Gabbert #10, and Christian Ponder #12. Dalton has been steady for the Bengals, but has fallen short in the post-season. His stats have mostly improved each season. He and Green made a connection quickly and in only their second game as rookies, Dalton threw for 332 yards and 2 TDs, with Green catching 10 passes for 124 yards and a TD. They have continued to be a productive and relatively healthy pair. Dalton has missed only three games in five seasons (all last year) and Green four, with none of them last year.

Green continued to be productive in the NFL, just like he was in high school and at Georgia. In each of his five NFL seasons, he has led the Bengals in targets, receptions and receiving yards. He also led them in receiving TDs each year, until Tyler Eifert topped Green’s 10 TDs last season. In addition, Green has eclipsed 1,000 receiving yards every year and has averaged 9 TDs per year. He is consistently ranked among the top five wide receivers in the NFL today.

A.J. Green's Career Stats:

Year Games Rushes Yards TDs Targets Catches Yards ypc TDs
2011 15 5 53 0 127 66 1,057 16.3 7
2012 16 4 38 0 176 97 1,350 13.9 11
2013 16 0 0 0 178 97 1,426 14.6 11
2014 13 2 2 0 116 69 1,041 15.1 6
2015 16 0 0 0 132 86 1,297 15.1 10
Totals 76 11 93 0 729 415 6,171 14.9 45

Looking Forward to 2016

The Bengals have a very good offensive line, returning all of their starters from last year. They are led by their All-Pro and Pro Bowl left tackle, Andrew Whitworth. Their line also has significant depth and should be able to maintain their effectiveness, even with some injuries. The offensive line ranked 1st last year with the fewest quarterback hits allowed and ranked 8th for least sacks given up. These protection numbers are aided by the Bengals ranking 26th in pass attempts. The unit was not nearly as successful in the running game. Jeremy Hill’s rushing average fell from 5.1 ypc in his rookie season down to 3.6 last year as the team finished tied for 21st in rushing yards per attempt, gaining only 3.9 ypr.

Ken Zampese takes over as offensive coordinator replacing Hue Jackson who was hired as the head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Zampese has been the Benglas’ quarterbacks coach since 2003 assisting the team to draft Carson Palmer. He is the only quarterback coach that Andy Dalton has known. Jason Wood discusses potential offensive changes in Coaching Carousel 2016: Cincinnati Bengals Offense. How Zampese will call the plays is anyone’s guess, but with Dalton coming off his most successful season, it seems that the passing game should be no less important in 2016. The play calling history of the Bengals during the Andy Dalton years is provided below.

Year Passes Rushes Total Plays % Passing % Rushing
2011 534 455 989 54.0% 46.0%
2012 540 429 969 55.7% 44.3%
2013 586 480 1,066 55.0% 45.0%
2014 501 491 992 50.5% 49.5%
2015 505 467 972 52.0% 48.0%
Totals 2,666 2,232 4,988 53.4% 46.6%

Green could be positioned for more targets this year as the Bengals lost both Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu in free agency this off-season for a combined $34 Million guaranteed. The two totaled 152 targets, 98 receptions, 1,210 receiving yards and 4 TDs last year with the Bengals. They will be replaced by Brandon LaFell, who came a lot cheaper than the two that departed and rookie Tyler Boyd. LaFell signed a one-year contract for $2.5 Million. Boyd was drafted at 55th overall in the second round and as the seventh wide receiver. Most pundits expected that the Bengals would draft a wide receiver in the first round, but Will Fuller, Josh Doctson and Laquon Treadwell were taken on consecutive picks just ahead of the Bengals. Some feel they may have reached a little for Boyd and were settling on him in the second round. It will be surprising if these two can match the lost production of Jones and Sanu.

Positives

  • Green is by far the Bengals best receiver and should see his targets increase because of the two free agent departures
  • Zampese could increase the team’s passing attempts, increasing Green’s targets leading to him potentially making 100 receptions for the first time in his career
  • Very good offensive line play and depth should allow Dalton match or improve his efficiency

Negatives

  • The team has been heavily focused on the running game and that could continue to limit Green’s opportunities
  • The loss of two experienced and productive receivers could focus even more attention by opposing defenses on Green

Projections

Name Games Rushes Yards TDs Receptions Yards TDs
David Dodds 16 2 10 0 94 1,363 10
Bob Henry 16 0 0 0 98 1,400 10
Jason Wood 16 0 0 0 95 1,425 9
Maurile Tremblay 16 0 0 0 87 1,300 8
Stephen Holloway 16 2 20 0 100 1,480 10

Final thoughts

Despite a reduced number of targets the past two seasons, Green has still averaged 5.34 catches and 80 yards receiving per game. This season, expect his targets to climb back to the number he had in his second and third NFL season, about 11 per game, particularly if Tyler Eifert starts the season still slowed by his injury.

Other Viewpoints

Paul Dehner, Jr. on Cincinnati.com Andy Dalton to A. J. Green the calm amid Bengals’ change

“Andy and I have been here long enough, this offense go as we go,” said Green, opening his sixth NFL season alongside Dalton. “We don’t need no coaches or anybody to push us. We know what we have to do to get this offense to go. We know the offense run through us.”

Watching Dalton sling the ball around made it easy to forget he was last seen on the sidelines in a cast when Pittsburgh ended the Bengals’ season. The first missed starts of his career are no longer an issue. He’s back to the center of stability.

Matt Waldman in his Footballguys.com Player Comments

Welcome to Atlanta 2.0, Cincinnati Bengals fans. As an observer of the Falcons’ offense that struggled mightily without a healthy Roddy White, it’s worth noting that the passing game was Julio Jones, and after a couple of marginally effective crossing routes or screen passes, more Julio Jones. Expect a similar scenario with A. J. Green if Brandon LaFell looks more like the receiver he’s been for most of his career.