The 2017 NFL regular season has concluded, so it’s time to briefly examine the state of each team’s skill positions for fantasy purposes with an eye towards next season. I will be reviewing each team in the reverse order of the 2017 NFL standings. The next team on the docket:
Cincinnati Bengals (7-9)
Andy Dalton was able to throw at least 25 touchdown passes for the fourth time in seven seasons, though his 207.5 passing yards per game was the lowest mark of his career. While Dalton may never again reach the lofty totals he put up in 2013 (4,000+ passing yards and 35 total touchdowns) he has settled in nicely as a matchup-based streamer, which is what he will be for 2018. Backup quarterback A.J. McCarron will be be a name to monitor this offseason after he filed a grievance against the Bengals with the hope of becoming an unrestricted free agent this Spring. If McCarron does win his grievance, there’s speculation he could head to Cleveland, where there was reportedly mutual interest between McCarron and Browns head coach Hue Jackson prior to last October’s trade deadline.
Despite selecting Joe Mixon in the second round (48th overall) of the 2017 NFL Draft, the Bengals opened the season with a three-headed rushing attack consisting of Mixon, Jeremy Hill, and Gio Bernard. Hill ran as the nominal “starter” for the first seven games, though he was never given more than 7 carries in any of them, and ultimately landed on injured reserve after hurting his ankle in warmups prior to the Bengals’ Week 9 contest. Now having failed to clear 3.8 yards-per-carry (YPC) in three straight seasons, Hill is a candidate for release this offseason, though his 29 touchdowns scored from 2014-2016 and relatively young age (26 in October) should ensure another NFL team takes a flier on him. Joe Mixon took over as the starter after the Hill injury, and was generally underwhelming playing behind Cincinnati’s patchwork offensive line, being held to 62 rushing yards or less in 12 of 14 games played. Mixon did appear to turn the corner in Week 12 with a 165 total yard/one score performance against the Browns, and he was able to average 5.0 yards per carry from Weeks 12 through 17, though a Week 13 concussion and Week 16 ankle injury kept him off the field for significant portions of the aforementioned timeframe. Mixon remains the Bengals’ most complete back in terms of rushing and receiving ability, and could have some post-hype RB2 appeal heading into 2018 if the team can get their offensive line issues sorted out. A forgotten man the past several seasons, Giovani Bernard rebounded nicely from an ACL tear suffered in Week 11 of the 2016 seasons, as he was able to lead the team in YPC. Bernard was particularly effective filling in when Mixon was sidelined and/or hobbled, averaging 101.4 total yards per game and scoring twice over the Bengals’ final five games of the season. Though the under-sized Bernard has previously shown the inability to achieve sustained success as a featured back in the NFL, it will be interesting to see if offensive coordinator Bill Lazor can find ways to better utilize Bernard’s pass-catching prowess in 2018.
A.J. Green took a step backwards in 2017, finishing with a career low 67.4 receiving yards per game (by comparison, Green finished second in that category in 2016 with 96.4) and just three games with more than 100. Additionally, Green’s 1,078 receiving yard output was the lowest single season total in any year that Green has played all 16 games. Green will return for his age-30 campaign as the Bengals no. 1 wideout, though he is probably more of a top-10 receiver at this stage of his career than top-5. Brandon LaFell posted just one game of over 55 receiving yards, and his 34.3 receiving yards per game were his lowest since his 2010 rookie year in Carolina. Turning 32 in November, LaFell will most likely return to the Bengals for 2018, but won’t be a realistic fantasy option. Tyler Boyd was labelled a sleeper last summer after posting 603 receiving yards in 2016 as a rookie. However, various off-field issues followed by a Week 5 knee injury resulted in Boyd seeing sparse playing time. Still just 23 years old, Boyd (a former second round pick) showed glimpses of his capabilities with a 6-91-1 performance in Week 17 that helped thwart the Ravens’ playoff aspirations, so it’s possible Boyd’s welcome may not be entirely worn out in Cincy. Drafted 9th overall in last April’s draft, John Ross was a gargantuan disappointment, as shoulder and knee injuries caused him to miss most of the preseason and training camp. All the missed time resulted in Ross becoming buried on the depth chart and only being active for three contests before finally landing in injured reserve prior to Week 14 due to a torn labrum. Already starting his NFL career on the wrong foot, Ross will have his work cut out for him this summer to prove he can stay healthy and earn a spot in the Bengals’ starting lineup, though his lofty draft status ensures he remains in the teams’ future plans.
Tyler Eifert lasted just two games before his troublesome back sent him to the sidelines for the remainder of the campaign, resulting in the talented tight end having now missed a total of 22 games over the past two seasons. When healthy, Eifert is one of the most prolific scorers the NFL has to offer, as evidenced by his 18 touchdowns in 21 games played between 2015 and 2016, and it remains to be seen if the Bengals are willing to gamble on his upside going forward, with Eifert scheduled to become a free agent this Spring. Wherever Eifert winds up, he’ll offer legitimate TE1 upside going into his age-28 season, though the injuries make him very risky. Tyler Kroft did his best Eifert impression while the latter was sidelined by scoring 7 times between Weeks 3 and 17, but was also held to 38 receiving yards or less in 9 of those contests. While not quite the athlete Eifert his, Kroft is just 25 years old, so it would not be surprising to see the Bengals let Eifert walk and roll with the younger option. Kroft should be able to carve out 2018 streaming appeal as a red zone weapon for the Bengals assuming Eifert isn’t re-signed.