This article is part of our Team Previews series.
By Andre' Snellings
STATE OF THE FRANCHISE
This could be a very exciting year for the Bengals, who had a "down" year in 2006. To begin with, Carson Palmer, the team's franchise quarterback, played at least half of the season rusty and recovering from major knee surgery. Further, the offensive line was banged up and not cohesive all season, plus second-leading receiver (T.J. Houshmandzadeh) played the entire last month with several cracked ribs.
To make matters worse, the Bengals had nine players arrested in nine months, their rising
star at middle linebacker (Odell Thurman) was suspended for the season for substance
abuse, and their other rising star at outside linebacker (David Pollack) missed most of the
year with a broken neck.
Yet, despite all of that, the Bengals still had one of the most fantasy-
friendly offenses in the NFL.
Palmer threw for a career-high 4035
yards with 28 touchdowns and only
13 interceptions. Chad Johnson and
Houshmandzadeh combined for 177
receptions for 2450 yards and 16 touchdowns,
with Johnson leading the NFL
in receiving yards. Rudi Johnson ran for
1309 yards with twelve touchdowns, and
Shayne Graham finished among the NFL
leaders with 115 points on the season.
So what makes this so exciting? Just imagine
what kinds of numbers the squad can put
up in 2007, without all of the hardships.
This season, the defense is the biggest
question mark. Two years ago the unit led
the NFL in takeaways, whereas last season
it fell into a four-way tie for eighth in takeaways
and 30th overall in team defense.
New additions like defensive tackle Sam
Adams and safety Dexter Jackson were expected to shore up the run defense to complement
the team's ball-hawking pass defense, but instead a slew of injuries and the seasonlong
suspension of Thurman conspired to make the unit weaker.
This season, the Bengals
have let a few of their aging starters go and have replaced them with younger talent. Also,
they have attempted to upgrade with a new starting defensive tackle (Domata Peko) and
linebacker (Ed Hartwell). If the offense allows the team to play-from-ahead again this year,
then perhaps Cincinnati can get back among the league leaders in generating turnovers.
These Bengals are a textbook example of a team ready to bounce back. The core of the
offense returns intact, with four legitimate high fantasy draft picks at skill positions, a
strong offensive line, and new talent in second-round pick, running back Kenny Irons, to
help infuse more home-run potential. Palmer will begin the season 19 months removed
from his knee surgery, which means he should be back at full strength ready to resume his
positive career trajectory. In sum, the Bengals could be on the verge of a fantasy explosion
Round, Overall, Player
1. (18) Leon Hall, CB, Michigan
Has good size (5-11, 193), good speed
(4.39 40), and is a physical cover corner.
2. (49) Kenny Irons, RB, Auburn
A smaller back with speed and elusiveness.
He'll provide a change-of-pace to starter
4. (114) Marvin White, S, TCU
Big hitter, with the size of a free safety and
the skills of a strong safety.
5. (151) Jeff Rowe, QB, Nevada
A backup quarterback to develop.
6. (187) Matt Toeaina, DT, Oregon
Can be a run-stuffer.
7. (230) Dan Santucci, G, Notre Dame
Adds O-line depth.
7. (253) Chinedum Ndukwe, S, Notre Dame
Could stick as a special-teamer.
1. Ed Hartwell, LB (Falcons)
Former Marvin Lewis protégé at Baltimore
was on the rise before injuries derailed him
the last two seasons. Should start on the
weakside and be a good source of tackles
if his health holds up.
2. Michael Meyers, DT (Broncos)
Productive tackle started every game
last season for the Broncos last season.
3. Kenderick Allen, DT (Packers)
Adds some depth at DT.
1. Eric Steinbach, G (Browns)
One of the better guards in the NFL,
but the depth of the offensive line
made him expendable.
2. Brian Simmons, LB (Saints)
Mainstay for the past decade was a cap
3. Tory James, CB (Patriots)
Had lost a step and is likely to be
replaced in the rotation by Hall.
1. CAN THE OFFENSE CHALLENGE THE LEGACY OF THE 2004 COLTS?
In 2004, Indy's Peyton Manning set an NFL record for passing touchdowns while
Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Brandon Stokley, and Mike Vanderjagt
all put up huge numbers of their own. If the Bengals skill players stay healthy this year,
they could challenge those marks. Palmer is still a young quarterback, but has already
established himself on a short list with Manning as one of the best fantasy quarterbacks in
the league. Now healthy, he could be ready to move up another level. On top of that, Chad
Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh, Rudi Johnson, and Shayne Graham all have the skills to
match or better the numbers of their 2004 Colts counterparts.
2. WHO TAKES OVER AS THE THIRD RECEIVER?
Chris Henry has been outstanding as a third receiver for the last two seasons, but his
off-the-field issues caught up with him and led to an eight-game suspension to start the
season. The Bengals have thus far not added another established receiver this offseason
while losing Kelley Washington to free agency, which suggests that it will be between Tab
Perry and Antonio Chatman to grab that slot while Henry is out. Henry should return for
the second half of the season, though, and if no one has stepped forward he could be a nice
late-season addition just in time for the fantasy playoffs.
3. WHO IS THE HANDCUFF RUNNING BACK?
Last season it appeared that Chris Perry was on the verge of a breakout as the changeof-
pace backup to Rudi Johnson, but he was plagued by injury yet again. This year the
Bengals spent their second round draft pick (one of only two first day picks that they had)
on running back Kenny Irons, who has many of the same skills as Perry. The value of the
resource that they spent on Irons suggests that it will be he, and not Perry, that gets first
crack at the coveted second running back/receiver out of the backfield slot that could produce
good numbers in the Bengals' offense.
4. CAN MARVIN LEWIS FIX THE DEFENSE?
Like Tony Dungy in Indianapolis, Lewis came to the Bengals with a reputation as a
strong defensive mind, but for the most part it has been the team's potent offense that has
paid the bills in Cincy. With the team's first round draft pick and primary free agency
acquisitions all dedicated to the defense, it is possible that Lewis finally has the pieces to
start turning things around.
Rising: Now healthy, Carson Palmer
may be poised to become the best fantasy
quarterback in the league.
Falling: Injuries have robbed Chris
Perry of much of the first three years of his
career and now he may lose his backup
job to a rookie.
Sleeper: If Kenny Irons is able to wrest
the backup RB job from Perry and Kenny
Watson, he could be in line for good
Supersleeper: If none of the other
receivers step up in his absence, Chris Henry
could return with a vengeance for the last
1. Madieu Williams, S
Led team's defensive backs with 88
tackles, while generating five turnovers
and deflecting 10 passes.
Article first appeared 6/14/07