STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
By most measures, the Bengals' 2009 season was a resounding success. They swept their AFC Central foes en route to a 10-6 record and a division title. Mike Zimmer's defense continued its rapid improvement, finishing fourth in the NFL in yards allowed and sixth in points allowed. Cedric Benson was a revelation, rushing for 1,251 yards while averaging 4.2 yards per carry. Carson Palmer was healthy enough to stay on the field for all 16 games, after playing in just four games the previous season.
And yet, the Bengals still left the season with a bit of a bitter taste in their mouths. Over their final 10 games, they went 4-6 and averaged just 15.6 points per game. For the season, the Bengals averaged only 19.1 points per game, 22nd in the league and the lowest among all playoff teams. Then they were bounced out of the playoffs by the Jets in the first round.
A pivotal point in the season occurred in Week 9 when Chris Henry broke his arm. The team never adequately replaced his ability to open up the field and draw coverage away from Chad Ochocinco. Certainly there were other reasons why the Bengals' offense struggled after that, but the supporting stats suggest that there was at least a strong correlation. Compare Carson Palmer's stats before and after the injury:
Games 1-8-1,832 YDS, 7.05 YPA, 14 TD, 89.5 Rating
Games 9-16-1,262 YDS, 6.13 YPA, 7 TD, 76.2 Rating
What else went wrong offensively? Laveranues Coles, signed to replace T.J. Houshmandzadeh, was a total bust, catching just 43 passes for 514 yards and five touchdowns. Andre Caldwell had his moments, but he's a possession receiver, not a big play guy (8.5 yards per catch). Once again, the Bengals didn't have a legitimate receiving threat from the tight end slot, yet touted rookie Chase Coffman never dressed for a game. Meanwhile, Palmer injured his left thumb and had to hand off with his throwing hand, thwarting proper play-action plays.
To address these deficiencies, the Bengals loaded up on offensive weapons. They signed WR Antonio Bryant, arguably the best free agent receiver available. They spent their first-round pick on the top-rated tight end in the draft, Jermaine Gresham, and a third-round pick on receiver Jordan Shipley. Finally, Palmer had surgery on his thumb and was already participating at the start of OTAs.
The Bengals once again should be competitive in the AFC Central. Pittsburgh's world has been turned upside down by the Ben Roethlisberger saga and the trade of Santonio Holmes. Cleveland is revamping with new management and a new quarterback. Baltimore should be the Bengals' primary competition and arguably the favorite, but the Bengals did sweep them last year. Another 10-plus win season and playoff appearance should be the minimum expectation.
Round, Overall, Player
1. (21) Jermaine Gresham, TE, Oklahoma-Can he finally give the Bengals a legit TE receiving threat?
2. (54) Carlos Dunlap, DE, Florida-Yet another boost to the pass rush.
3. (96) Brandon Ghee, CB, Wake Forest-Good tackler, bad hands - just one career INT.
4. (120) Geno Atkins, DT, Georgia-Quietly the Bengals have built up their depth on the defensive line.
4. (131) Roddrick Muckelroy, LB, Texas-Yet another player that went to a power school.
5. (152) Otis Hudson, G, Eastern Illinois-Hudson is somewhat raw, having alternated between offense and defense.
7. (228) Reggie Stephens, C, Iowa State-Under the radar of most draft scouting services.
Antonio Bryant, WR (Bucs) Will he be the big play threat the offense so desperately needs?
Matt Jones, WR (FA) and Adam Jones, CB (FA) Both redemption stories are long shots to contribute.
Shayne Graham, K (FA) One of the all-time accurate kickers, yet had clutch misses.
Larry Johnson, RB (WAS) Now part of a committee with the Redskins.
Cedric Benson vastly exceeded the modest expectations the fantasy community had for him in 2009, running for 1,251 yards in 13 games to go along with six rushing touchdowns, along with another 169 yards and a touchdown in the playoff loss to the Jets. Yet early mock draft results suggest that many still don't believe a repeat is likely. Benson's high workload last year raises durability concerns for 2010 - he had 301 regular season carries despite missing 3.5 games. He also isn't a factor in the passing game, with just 17 receptions last year. However, if the passing game improves as expected, it might open up a few more holes for Benson, allowing him the same production with fewer carries. Bernard Scott will once again be the top backup behind Benson. He had his flashes of brilliance last year, but virtually all of his production came with Benson hurt. Once Benson demonstrated that he was healthy, Scott got buried on the bench again.
THE NEW ADDITIONS
Chad Ochocinco fell off over the second half much like Carson Palmer, nabbing just 28 catches for 408 yards in Games 9-16 last year. To help him out, the Bengals signed Antonio Bryant and drafted tight end Jermaine Gresham. Bryant's knee problems and the Bucs' general ineptitude dampened his numbers last year, and those injury concerns make him a risk for 2010, but he has the upside of a 1,200-yard receiver. Gresham was the consensus top tight end in the draft despite missing most of the season with a knee injury. Bengals fans tiring of seeing the killer combo of Daniel Coats and J.P. Foschi are happy to see them take a chance with Gresham, though the inactivity of Chase Coffman last year serves as a cautionary tale. Meanwhile, the team drafted Texas wide receiver Jordan Shipley, encouraging comparisons to former Bengal and current Texan Kevin Walter. Shipley will start out at best as fourth on the totem pole behind Ochocinco, Bryant and Andre Caldwell.
We try to eschew strength of schedule analysis for fantasy purposes in the offseason, under the theory that so much changes during the season to render that analysis flawed at best. That said, the Bengals' second-half schedule features these highlights:
Week 9 vs. Pittsburgh (Mon. night)
Week 10 @ Indianapolis
Week 12 @ New York Jets (Thanksgiving Night)
Week 13 vs. New Orleans
Week 14 @ Pittsburgh
Week 16 vs. San Diego (Sunday Night)
Week 17 @ Baltimore
The Bengals better do their damage early again in 2010.
Rising: Carson Palmer has more weapons at his disposal and won't be too expensive on Draft Day following a poor finish in 2009.
Declining: Don't be fooled by the name value of Matt Jones - he's at best a third receiver for the Bengals.
Supersleeper: Chase Coffman won't start at tight end, but Gresham's arrival frees him from blocking duties.
Leon Hall, CB Arguably robbed of a Pro Bowl bid last year in a loaded AFC.
Dhani Jones, LB Again the Bengals' leading tackler despite youthful additions to the LB corps.
Antwan Odom, DE Can he successfully return from a torn Achilles' tendon?
RotoWire Rank: 21