Spotlight: Cedric Benson

posted by Jason Wood on Aug 9th


Jason Wood's thoughts

Cedric Benson is a guy I just don't quite trust. I know you're expecting me to lay out a deeply thoughtful statistical analysis of why I think he'll regress after last year's renaissance season - and yet my skepticism is really more of a gut feeling. We don't talk a lot about gut feeling in the Player Spotlight series, but any fantasy owner that says they don't sometimes base their views on a hunch are lying through their teeth.

Let's be fair, Benson was impressive last year.

  • 301 carries (career high)
  • 1,251 yards rushing (career high)
  • 172 fantasy points (career high)
  • 16th ranked RB (career high)

Benson was the bell cow for a Bengals team that shocked the world and won the AFC North. The Bengals had the rare feat (these days at least) of running the ball more times (505) than they passed the ball (477). Benson had at least 100 yards rushing or a TD in nine games. Considering where fantasy owners drafted him, his RB16 performance helped a lot of people contend for league titles.

But I don't think his season was quite as impressive as the headline numbers suggested:

  • 13 games played - Benson only played in 13 games last year, missing a chunk of the middle of the season with a hip flexor. For a 225-pound power runner, it's disconcerting to learn that Benson has yet to play a full 16-game slate in five NFL seasons.
  • Six touchdowns - Benson scored 6 TDs in 301 carries, for a rate just under 2%. 47 running backs had at least 100 carries in 2009, and Benson was near the bottom (35th) in TD conversion rate.
  • 4.2 yards per rush - 4.2 yards per rush is a respectable average, and it was a career high for Benson. But 4.2 is far from elite, and what's more disturbing is that both Bernard Scott (4.3) and Larry Johnson (4.4) had higher averages last season running behind the same line.
  • 17 receptions - Benson isn't a fluid receiver, and it's next to impossible for a fantasy RB to be a Top 10 performer without receiving skills OR double digit TDs. Benson had neither.

This year, the Bengals are going to be a different kind of team. Cincinnati isn't going to sneak up on teams this year; they're a respected AFC contender. Anyone that watched them play last season understands how lucky they were to hang onto the division crown given how poorly the passing attack performed in the latter part of the season. It was so ineffective; I began to wonder if QB Carson Palmer was hurt. This offseason, the Bengals signed Antonio Bryant to a 4-year deal, and then acquired Terrell "Ocho Uno" Owens. They also drafted TE Jermaine Gresham in the 1st round. Palmer has looked great in the preseason, and there's absolutely no way they're going to keep Chad Ochocinco, Owens ,Gresham, Bryant and the rest of the WR corps happy by throwing the ball less than 500 times. And why would they? Palmer is capable of MVP-caliber numbers when he's got the horses.

Positives

  • Benson is a big (6'0", 225 pound) power back who finally seemed to relish running with power last year after too many seasons dancing around the backfield
  • The Bengals coaches are committed to a balanced offensive attack
  • The additions of Terrell Owens, Jermaine Gresham and (possibly) Antonio Bryant should mean more trips into the red zone

Negatives

  • Last year came out of nowhere, and the only thing really special about his numbers was the workload. On a per touch basis, he was pedestrian
  • The additions of Gresham, Owens and (possibly) Bryant assure that Carson Palmer will have the opportunity to throw more in 2010, and reestablish himself as a star QB
  • Benson has never played 16 games in a season

Final thoughts

Benson helped a lot of people win their leagues last year because everyone drafted him as a backup and simply hoped Benson would be good enough to help during injuries or bye weeks. But the Bengals found early success with an opportunistic defense and a ball control offense, and committed to that plan throughout the season. He handled the workload well enough, averaging more then 23 carries per game. This year, I don't see how he gets as many touches per game, but if he can shock me and play the full 16-game schedule, his year end stats may look eerily similar. He's not a guy I'm likely to target in the 2nd/3rd round as there are other RBs I would rather build my team around. But I can't argue that he's a decent candidate to finish in the Top 20 yet again.


Quotations from the message board thread

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

Iwannabeacowboybaby! said:

For about a year and a half, Cedric Benson has taken his game to another level. He's the type of back who can carry the entire load for a team and really wants to do just that. However, Benson doesn't know what's good for him because it was evident he started to wear down in the latter parts of last season. I think the coaching staff saw that and that they'll try and limit Benson to some degree during the season, meaning they're not going to give this guy 30 carries a game, he just can't do it.

MrTwo94 said:

If he plays a full 16 game season it is nearly impossible to project anything less than an astounding 320 carries. People have chalked his decrease in production in the second half up to fatigue and injury, but really the entire Bengals offense took a steep drop off in the second half. Benson actually took the smallest hit out of the big 3. Palmer's ypa went from 7.0 to 6.1 and his TD/INT ratio was 14/7 in the first half and 7/6 in the second. Chad had 44 rec in the first half and only 28 in the second. Benson's TD production sank, as one would expect with a struggling offense, but his ypc only went from 4.2 ypc to 4.0 ypc. Amazingly constant for a workhorse back on an offense that couldn't seem to move the ball.

Given the new weapons in the passing game and my faith in Palmer's resurgence, I think Benson will see plenty of TD opportunities next year. Assuming he plays all 16 games: 320 carries x 4.3 ypc = 1376 yds 12 TD + 20 rec x 6.5 ypr = 130 yds 0 TD

If healthy, I'd say his floor is 300 carries x 4.0 ypc and 5 TD but if that offense really clicks then he could be good for 350 carries and over 4.5 ypc and a ton of touchdowns. I won't be shocked if he leads the league in rushing next year. Actually, given his workload, if Palmer does indeed return to 2005-2007 form AND Benson stays healthy I will be fairly surprised if he doesn't lead the league in rushing. But those are some big if's.

rzrback77 said:

Cedric Benson was the work horse for the Bengals last year and averaged a career high 4.2 ypc on 301 carries. He seemed to be at his best when he got a lot of carries. He had six games that he rushed for over 100 yards in the regular season and in each of those contests, he had at least 27 carries. I think that Benson will remain the primary RB for the Bengals, but I doubt that he will have as many carries per game as he did a year ago, when he averaged 23.2 rushes per game and had one game with only 7 carries before he got hurt. Discounting that game, he averaged 24.5. I believe that the additional weapons added in the passing game (Antonio Bryant, Matt Jones, Jermaine Gresham, and Jordan SHipley) will help the Bengals to improve their passing effficiency and to balance their offense more.

In 09, the Bengals had only 477 passes compared to 635 runs. They ran the ball 57.1% of their offensive plays. That number will likely decrease and Benson's number of carries with it. However, since he missed three games and I don't project missed games my attempts will be slightly more than he had a year ago. I just don't think that he will have six games where he has 27 or more rushes to allow him such an opportunity at 100 yards.

His current ADP is RB 12 and 21 overall, which seems a little high. In ppr scoring, his ADP drops down to RB 17. That seems like a fair assessment of his value.


Cedric Benson projections

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Jason Wood31512907261450
Message board consensus32713519211530