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Spotlight: A.J. Green

posted by Jason Wood on Jul 8th


Jason Wood's thoughts

A.J. Green is a transcendent player. There are times when a player comes along and not only lives up to the hype, but cements even the loftiest of expectations - and Green's rookie season has put him on a path toward becoming one of the very best at his position. He may even reach that height this year; his second season partnered up with fellow 2nd year QB Andy Dalton.

Green was drafted 4th overall by the Cincinnati Bengals, and was expected to serve as the centerpiece of new offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's precision passing attack. At 6'4", 211 pounds, Green had all the physical tools of a #1 receiver, but becoming a dominant player is more than simply having impressive measurables. Luckily for Bengals fans and fantasy owners, Green possesses the other requisite skills, too. He's a terrific route runner, he understands how to use his hands to create space, he has a "my ball" mentality when attacking balls in tight quarters, he's a hard worker and a voracious student in the film room. In other words, he's the total package.

Green's Rookie Numbers:

  • 65 receptions
  • 1,057 yards
  • 16.3 yards per reception
  • 7 TDs
  • 14th place fantasy ranking

In an era of inflated fantasy numbers, that stat line may not seem eye-popping at first glance. But consider the following; Green was only the 10th rookie in NFL history to have at least 60 receptions, 1,000 yards and 6 touchdowns.

Rank Player X Year Team Rec Yds YPR TD
1 Bill Groman 1960 HOU 72 1473 20.5 12
2 Anquan Boldin 2003 ARI 101 1377 13.6 8
3 Randy Moss 1998 MIN 69 1313 19.0 17
4 Michael Clayton 2004 TAM 80 1193 14.9 7
5 Terry Glenn 1996 NWE 90 1132 12.6 6
6 Bill Brooks 1986 IND 65 1131 17.4 8
7 A.J. Green 2011 CIN 65 1057 16.3 7
8 Joey Galloway 1995 SEA 67 1039 15.5 7
9 Marques Colston 2006 NOR 70 1038 14.8 8
10 Cris Collinsworth 1981 CIN 67 1009 15.1 8

The Bengals Learning Curve has Exponential Potential
It's perfectly rational to expect a player like A.J. Green to improve in his second season. Most young players, particularly those with Green's skill set and work ethic, show improvement as they get better acclimated to the rigors of the NFL. But what's so exciting about Green's prospects is that he stands to benefit from the growth of everyone around him. Remember, 2011 was not only his first season, it was Andy Dalton's first season, it was offensive coordinator Jay Gruden's first season, and it was the first season for all the Bengals in that new offensive system. They ALL should benefit from additional understanding of the schemes, and from the combination of more experience and cohesion.

This Is Not to Say Green Doesn't Have Room for Improvement
Like all young players, Green has areas he can, and should, improve upon. First of all, Green only generated 4.4 yards after the catch last season (tied for 52nd among qualifying receivers), and given his strength and athleticism, he should be able to do more with the ball in his hands. Second, Green was credited with just two missed tackles last year, a staggeringly low amount. Third, Green was among the most penalized receivers, which stalled drives and cost him a number of potential big gains. Last but not least, Green struggled at times when better defenses schemed against him with double teams.

Positives

  • Green is one of 10 rookies in NFL history with at least 60 receptions, 1,000 yards and 6 touchdowns
  • Every facet of the Bengals offense was in its first iteration last year, so even modest natural improvement in year two should yield exponential returns
  • The additions of Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu should make it harder (but not impossible) to double team Green

Negatives

  • Green was not explosive with the ball in his hands, finishing with a paltry two missed tackles and ranking outside the top 50 in yards after the catch
  • Many wonder if Andy Dalton has a high ceiling, and that we may see him plateau faster than his rookie numbers would suggest
  • The Bengals play in a difficult division with excellent opposing defenses

Final thoughts

Don't be surprised if A.J. Green establishes himself as one of the very best receivers in the NFL in 2012 -- cementing his place alongside the likes of Larry Fitzgerald, Calvin Johnson and Andre Johnson. He had a remarkable rookie season in spite of playing with a rookie quarterback, with a rookie offensive coordinator, and no other difference making offensive playmakers. Even if Green and his offensive counterparts show modest improvement in their second seasons, the sky is -- quite literally -- the limit.


Quotations from the message board thread

To view the entire Player Spotlight thread (there's a ton of fantastic commentary in there), click here.

TheDirtyWord said:

I worry about AJ Green in 2012 for the following reasons:

1) Andy Dalton - His YPA when he threw at a target other than AJ Green was 5.9. I always worry about a passing attack when a QB struggles to get the ball downfield. He was effective at getting the ball downfield to Green, but really not much else. Can AJ overcome the certain attention and focus he'll garner from opposing defenses on a consistent basis?

2) BenJarvus Green-Ellis - In 510 career carries, The Lawfirm has 4 carries of 20+ yards. In an offense where defenses were completely focused on stopping the passing game. In 2011, he averaged 3.7 YPC when his QB threw for 5200+ yards. On the field, is this guy an improvement over Cedric Benson? His lack of fumbles notwithstanding, this seemed an uninspired FA signing and one that doesn't strike me as one that should provide much net impact.

3) Who'll take the focus away from AJ? - Green will always be compared side-by-side to Julio Jones who was drafted 2 slots behind him. Julio has a bonafide #1 WR (Roddy White) and a HOF TE still producing at a big time level (Tony Gonzalez) to shoulder the mantle of individual and offensive unit expectations that his team faces. A big time albeit declining RB (Michael Turner) also offers a level of offensive diversity that should create additional passing game opportunities. In CIN, I feel there is AJ...and that's it. And while some may feel he can be a target whore and get his production that way - I'm concerned that all these factors combined could wind up being too much to overcome.

4) Cincy's defense - If I'm Marvin Lewis, with a burgeoning wrecking crew of a defense...am I going to be throwing the ball a lot? If a conservative run/pass ratio is 45:55, I could see the Bengals being ultra-conservative on offense and maybe scraping 500 pass attempts together. Dalton averaged 30 attempts/game in wins; 35 in losses. Say what you will about the Bengals chances in 2012, but if their defense continues to show well and I like a lot of their personnel (not to mention Lewis/Zimmer), I might be taking the air out of the ball or at least not bombing away.

Listen, I'm not saying the guy is going to go all Charles Rogers on us. But I don't think Green's ceiling is all that high for 2012. In fact, I wouldn't be surprised to see more of the same that we saw in 2011, perhaps with a slight slide back as the Bengals work to find alternative weapons in their offense as teams clamp down on the one player who can really hurt them.

lbouchard said:

He was their only weapon last year, teams clamped down on him, and he still produced top 15 numbers with a rookie QB in his rookie year and no offseason.

sspunisher said:

I'm finding that AJ Green is in the same tier as Roddy White, Julio Jones and Dez Bryant in redrafts. Choosing between these 4 is much harder than I thought it'd be. I give the slight advantage to Green but a part of me worries about that QB sophmore slump that's been plaguing the league lately. While there are no indications that Dalton might regress, I'd be a bit more comfortable with a proven QB at the helm. I'll probably split my money on Green and Bryant in a lot of drafts as they are more likely to break 10 TDs than Julio and White, but Julio did out-TD Green in far fewer games last year. Roddy only comes into the equation in PPR leagues obviously, as he has 100 catch potential.

wdcrob said:

For starters Green has a long way to go before he's in the same category with Fitz, Calvin, etc. Coming into the league I thought he had more in common with Braylon Edwards, Germane Crowell and Roy Williams than those guys and it'll take more than 65-1047-7 to change my mind.

Braylon Edwards (07/08) 80-1289-16
Roy Williams (06/07) 82-1362-7
Germane Crowell (99/00) 88-1338-7

So in addition to still not liking his long-term prospects I think he's got problems this year. IMO Dalton's not as good as people think he is either and Gresham's still going to get his targets.


A.J. Green projections

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Jason Wood851275900
Message board consensus8212391000