The 2015 Cincinnati Bengals were a tale with two chapters. In the regular season, the Bengals were stout — especially so in the only defensive statistic that really matters. Only the Seattle Seahawks allowed fewer points last year than the Bengals’ 17.4 per game.
Then came the playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and in the span of one late drive it all fell apart, with a series of brain-bendingly stupid gaffes that combined to relegate the Bengals to Bungles status once again — one and done for the fifth straight year.
Five straight playoff trips (and an AFC North title in 2015) is nothing to sneeze at though, and 2016 brings with it a clean slate — not to mention a Cincinnati defense that contains quite a bit of IDP-relevant talent, especially in the front seven.
Numbers in parentheses denote 2015 positional finish in Fantasy Sharks Default IDP Scoring.
Nowhere is there more fantasy pork to enjoy in the Queen City than on the defensive front, and it begins with defensive end Carlos Dunlap (DL5). Dunlap had a career year and then some with 13.5 sacks last year, but he told Coley Harvey of ESPN that he has his sights set significantly higher this season.
“Along with the team goals, you’ve got to have your personal goals that will help you obtain the team goal,” Dunlap said. “My personal goals is to get that sack title at the end of the season, one, and then two, to get (Michael) Strahan’s record.”
23 sacks may be asking a lot, but Dunlap’s an elite IDP DL1. He’s joined in DL1 territory by tackle Geno Atkins (DL13), who appeared fully recovered from his 2013 ACL tear in piling up 11 sacks of his own in 2015. Sam Monson of Pro Football Focus talked up Atkins as the best three-technique tackle in the NFL not named Aaron Donald.
“2015 showed us the best of Geno Atkins once again,” Monson wrote, “having last seen that guy back in 2012. Atkins trailed only Aaron Donald in PFF grading among defensive tackles, and ended the year with 14 sacks and 82 total pressures. Like Donald, Atkins is an undersized DT, but one who plays with exceptional quickness and leverage to destroy plays deep in the backfield. There are few better interior linemen than Atkins when healthy, and we saw this season that his peak has not been stolen by injury.”
He’ll get no argument here.
Those bone-headed gaffes in last year’s playoff game were spearheaded (quite literally) by linebacker Vontaze Burfict (LB48), who earned himself a three-game suspension to open the 2016 campaign after a series of questionable hits last year. Defensive coordinator Paul Guenther told WCPO-TV in Cincinnati he’s hopeful the fifth-year veteran has learned his lesson.
“Obviously the league is making a statement, and he’s got to understand they are doing that and he’s going to have a red flag,” Guenther said. “He understands that. He’s a smart kid, and we’ll move forward with it together.”
Burfict was a top-20 fantasy linebacker last year on a points per game basis, and his IDP ceiling may be even higher than that. The problem is that we’ve been waiting for Burfict to learn his lesson since before he ever entered the NFL. His current suspension and the very possibility that is isn’t the last one are enough to drop Burfict into LB3 territory.
Partly to compensate for Burfict’s absence (and maybe as insurance against another one), the Bengals signed free agent veteran Karlos Dansby (LB24) in the offseason. The 34-year-old told the team’s website this may be the best defense he’s ever played on. “We might be one of the more talented groups I’ve ever been around.” Dansby said. And when asked what team he’s been on that best compares to his current squad, his answer was, “that ’08 Arizona team when we went to the Super Bowl.”
As Dansby’s 108 tackles and top-25 fantasy finish last year shows, he remains capable of being a productive IDP option if he plays in subpackages. Whether he does so in 2016 or not may well depend on how he fares early in the season while Burfict’s out — and that adds more than a bit of risk to drafting him this summer.
Burfict wasn’t the only Bengals defender who committed a stupid 15-yard penalty that helped the Steelers on their game-winning Wild Card round drive. Cornerback Adam Jones (DB40) got in on the fun. The 10th-year veteran told Harvey the loss still stings
“I done watched that game about 10 times,” Jones said. “We kicked they ass the whole game; that’s all I can say. And it hurt me to my heart that we let it go like that. [But] it’s over with. It’s in the past.”
Last year’s mistake aside, Jones has grown a great deal from his “PacMan” days, into a quality veteran cornerback who has finished inside the top 20 at his position in fantasy points each of the past two seasons. If you play in a deeper IDP league that requires a pair of cornerbacks, Jones is worth a late look as a middling weekly starter.
Outside that, there isn’t much. With Reggie Nelson (DB11) and his league-leading eight interceptions in 2015 now in Oakland, youngsters George Iloka (DB148) and Shawn Williams (DB175) will man the team’s safety spots. Per Paul Dehner of The Cincinnati Enquirer, it’s the team’s faith in Williams that opened the door for Nelson’s departure.
“Entering the last year of his contract,” Dehner said, “the Bengals want to know specifically what they have in Williams before needing to decide on his future. And Williams earned the right to prove the optimistic trend of his career arc.”
There’s enough potential present with Williams to merit a late dart throw — nothing more.