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Fantasy football 2020: AFC North series III

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We’re back, just like I said we would be! Last time we spoke, we took an in depth look at the rise of Miles Boykin, and why he is the only undervalued player on the Ravens in 2020 and this week we move on to the Cincinnati Bengals.

I’m sure you understand what’s going on by now, but before we get into it once more, a reminder of the point of the following exercise. This is not about who will score the most fantasy football points in 2020; rather, who will get you the best value based on their draft position, their output, and their opportunity.

For reference, the following stats are taken from a few different sources, all of which are worth your time to look at.

The ADP is taken from a combination of fantasyfootballcalculator.com, and fantasypros.com both of which provide exceptional tracking data for ADP’s over the year. The rankings are taken from various sources, most prominently our very own TimeSkew fantasy rankings, which project scores and stats for the 2020 season.

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Cincinnati Bengals

Background

Candidly speaking, this was not an easy exercise for the Bengals. The main fantasy draw for the team, Joe Mixon, is very appropriately rated in most respects; rounding out as the RB10 with an ADP hovering around 1.12-2.01.

Their 2019 cast of pass catchers are just barely scraping into the conversation of fantasy relevance, with Tyler Boyd leading that particular charge with an ADP in the eighth round as the WR30-34. Boyd had a excellent season, quietly racking up over 1000 yards for the second time and five TD’s, but faces some regression in 2020 with rookies and veterans muscling their way in to his receptions.

Image credit: Bengals.com

John Ross, Auden Tate and Alex Erickson all saw extensive playing time. But outside of Erickson’s excellent game in week seven against a poor Jacksonville defense (8-137-13.5pts) the group failed to make an impact. Tate was consistent up until his injury in week 14, but looks to have his outside receiver snaps taken by the newly drafted Tee Higgins.

The Burrow factor?

The newly minted number one draft pick and Heisman trophy winner Joe Burrow projects as the QB20. He’s being drafted early in the 14th round as the QB22-24, so there is some value in the former LSU star. However, in order to live up to these projections, Burrow will have to outperform the historic 2018 season of Baker Mayfield. Can he do it? Impossible to say at this point.

I would love to write a piece about the resurgence of Giovanni Bernard and his role in the new Bengals offense. However, the diminutive back seems to have hit a wall with his production. Gio averaged a career-low 3.2 yards per carry and 2.5 fantasy points per game – not exactly bang for your buck.

But there is one veteran who returns to action in the Queen City with a chip on his shoulder. A multi-time pro-bowler with six 1000 yard seasons, 63 touchdowns and two working ankles and ten healthy toes to show off…

A.J. Green – wide receiver

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Why AJ?

Imagine this question in 2017. Insanity. But the world has changed and so has the NFL. Several season ending injuries later, A.J. is being drafted behind receivers such as:

Don’t take this the wrong way. All three of the young guns ahead of A.J. are legitimate NFL talents with bright futures. But a healthy A.J. Green is the dominant, undisputed number one threat on any offense.

Reflecting on 2019 (and 2018)

Last time we saw A.J. in mid-2018 he was on pace for 137 targets, 82 catches, 1,234 yards and 11 scores. This would have been good for nearly 190 fantasy points and a WR2 or 3 finish in 2019.

Image credit: Yardbarker.com

Unfortunately, A.J. suffered through several injuries in 2018 that put him on the shelf for a large chunk of the season and wiped out his 2019 campaign. This has been a recurring theme in A.J’s career. He has suited up for only nine of the Bengals last 32 contests and only played a full 16 game slate in four of his nine seasons in Cincinnati.

“Everything’s been positive with A.J. He’s fully healthy.” Zac Taylor on A.J. Green

As per @Ben_Baby on Twitter

Bengals second year head coach Zac Taylor seems optimistic that Green can be an impactful player in 2020. But Bengals fans and potential fantasy owners are right to be on edge. Just look at the injury profile that playerprofile.com put together:

Image credit: playerprofile.com

Yes; that’s an injury probability rating of 65.7% and a fragility rating of 84.6%. That’s grim reading by any stretch of the imagination.

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Did the draft impact Green?

Long term -yes, short term – no. In terms of his fellow receivers, the big bodied jump ball specialist from Clemson Tee Higgins makes his way to Cincinnati as a second round pick looking for opportunity. The lack of preparation time for Higgins due to the pandemic, and the shift required for most college receivers to succeed in the NFL may hinder his opportunity. But the current options impact Green more.

Click here for a full breakdown on the Bengals selecting Higgins

The biggest difference-maker will obviously be the chemistry that Green can strike up with number one overall pick Joe Burrow. If Burrow can replicate any of the success he had at LSU in 2019, the Bengals may be looking at a drastic offensive turnaround. If Green can become a trusted target of the young signal-caller, he can produce WR1 numbers with ease. However, if the shortened pre-season and training camp activities impact this chemistry, it may be a few weeks before we see the offense begin to gel.

“A lot of people don’t want quarterbacks to be that fired up, but I feel like he’s going to bring to us the same energy he brought to LSU,” Green told media, via the Cincinnati Enquirer. “I know the type of player he is. I know he’s a dog for a fact. I’m excited to play with him and I can’t wait to get back out there.”

A.J Green quote from CBS sports
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How does 2020 shape up?

The Bengals franchise-tagged Green after a seemingly endless news cycle about him moving on, leading him to sign a guaranteed one-year, $18.2 million deal. Green will play under this tag in 2020, fully aware of the knowledge he could be playing himself into (or out of) his final NFL contract.

If we place the health issue to the side for the moment, Green is part of a potentially potent offense. He will work with a creative, young head coach, a dynamic NFL ready QB, and an established star in the running game; Joe Mixon. If you plugged another underrated star (in 2020) such as Odell Beckham Jr, the expectations for success would be sky-high. However, Green’s health issues are a drag on his real life and fantasy stock. This will give him tremendous value if he stays out of the trainer’s room.

Image credit: Cincy Jungle
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Rankings

Our own TimeSkew predictions (approx 105 targets/65 receptions/7 TD) put A.J. in the middle of the pack depending on the yards gained with those stats. It’s important to note that A.J. didn’t record a grab over 40+ yards in his shortened 2018 season – something he has regularly managed throughout his career. However, he still managed 12 grabs of 20+ yards, averaging 15.1 yards a catch. His best since the phenomenal rookie season in 2011.

All of this means that A.J. may have more value in PPR leagues this year. He should find a role in Burrow’s new offense and soaks up targets from the young signal caller. He may lack the explosive downfield aspect to his game at this stage in his career, but should provide a steady stream of receptions regardless.

Redzone reliability

As Green’s downfield ability wanes, it’s reasonable to expect that his redzone prowess may wax in concert. Even with the injury-ravaged 2016 and 18 seasons, Green averages 15 touches a year in the “20 yards in” zone. Green converts them around 24% of the time, or in football terms, 3.6 TD’s a year from this range. This places him in the Keenan Allen range of redzone efficiency.

Check out Keenan Allen’s projections for 2020 here

The last time we saw a full season from Green in 2017, he gobbled up nearly 30% of the redzone target share (#7 WR), and 38% of the target share in the end zone itself. This is categorized as targets once a player has passed the goal line – as per playerprofiler.com.

Redzone threat

In terms of physical metrics that lend themselves to effective redzone players; A.J. fits one of the two body types that succeed. Generally the most successful players (WR only) in the redzone are route running specialists receivers such as Tyler Lockett (17 rec/7 TD’s) and Julian Edelman (14 rec/4 TD’s). However, the more athletic receivers such as Julio Jones (12 rec/5 TD’s) and Cooper Kupp (13 rec/7 TD’s) also excel.

Green certainly fits into this latter mould. For consistent target share, it’s important to note that the Bengals haven’t had a game breaking tight end on the roster since early era Tyler Eifert. Without this or the type of savvy route runner that excels, the former all pro should demand attention when the Bengals get within striking distance of the red zone.

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Value for your pick

The value for A.J Green is squarely placed in tandem with his health. In a perfect world, he returns as the receiver we saw in mid-2018 and rules the roost as the number one receiver in Cincinnati. The explosive downfield threat of John Ross also allows Green more space. Add this to the fact that boxes must be adequately stacked to prevent Mixon from breaking big plays and Green and Boyd should feast in the intermediate section of the field.

As mentioned earlier, if Green had carried on his projected pace through the 2018, he would have finished in the top three WR. All things being equal and taking into account various rankings and predictions, the below stat line seems reasonable:

70 receptions/106 targets

950 yards/8 TD’s

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This production would give Green 145 points in standard-scoring leagues and 215 points in PPR leagues. These totals would have been good for the WR21 and WR22 respectively, in 2019. A drop from his previous production for sure, but a relative bargain considering his ADP.

The latest ADP’s have Green falling to WR29 in standard and WR28 in PPR (as per fantasypros.com) with the TimeSkew rankings dropping Green the WR37 spot.

The takeaway from these stats and predictions?

Grab Green now.

Up next in the AFC North series – the Pittsburgh Steelers…

For more Time Skew Content Visit us on Youtube, Follow us on twitter, and listen to the Time Skew Podcast on Apple Podcasts.

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Jack Mullins View All

Jack is an NFL nerd with a passion for player stories and watching too much draft coverage. He's a DB coach with the Exeter Demons University team in the UK and a Steelers fan.

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