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Team Previews

Cincinnati Bengals 2021 Fantasy Football Preview

by Nick Mensio
Updated On: June 28, 2021, 12:21 pm ET

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2020 Stats (Rank)

Total Offense: 5,116 (29th)

Offensive Touchdowns: 32 (29th)

Offensive Plays: 1,040 (13th)

Pass Attempts + Sacks: 629 (11th)

Rush Attempts: 411 (18th)

Unaccounted for Targets: 195 (5th)

Unaccounted for Carries: 140 (10th)

 

Coaching Staff

When hired prior to the 2019 season, Taylor inherited one of the league’s worst rosters, starting Andy Dalton and Ryan Finley at quarterback en route to a 2-14 record and the No. 1 overall pick that landed the Bengals Joe Burrow. Burrow then tore his ACL in Week 11 as a rookie. A disciple of the Sean McVay coaching tree, we just don’t seem to have all of the information on Taylor as a coach. His work would be marked as “incomplete” right now. But 2021 will have to show some sort of progress, as Burrow enters Year 2 and should be ready for the start of the season. Joe Mixon is back healthy after missing the second half of last season with a foot injury. And Cincinnati landed an elite receiver prospect in Ja’Marr Chase at No. 5 overall in this year’s draft. This offense is stacked with skill-position talent that also includes sophomore WR Tee Higgins and veteran slot man Tyler Boyd. Prior to Burrow’s injury, the Bengals were among the league leaders in offensive pace and plays per game under Taylor. That’s exciting for fantasy. Simply put, Taylor is in a sort of do-or-die season as the Bengals’ head coach. Taylor calls his own plays on offense with OC Brian Callahan as his right-hand man. On the defensive side, DC Lou Anarumo enters his third year alongside Taylor. With a healthy DT D.J. Reader and the additions of DT Larry Ogunjobi, DE Trey Hendrickson, CB Trae Waynes, CB Chidobe Awuzie, slot CB Mike Hilton, and S Ricardo Allen, things are looking up on that side of the ball.

 

Passing Game

QB: Joe Burrow, Brandon Allen

WR: Ja’Marr Chase, Auden Tate

WR: Tee Higgins, Mike Thomas

WR: Tyler Boyd, Trent Taylor

TE: C.J. Uzomah, Drew Sample

 

Burrow made it 10 games into his rookie year before tearing his ACL in Week 11. At the time of his injury, Burrow was among the league leaders in pass attempts in a Bengals Offense that was playing fast and playing from behind often. Taylor had no problem throwing Burrow right into the fire in year one. Burrow averaged 40.4 pass attempts per game, but his 3.2% TD rate was a measly 28th among 35 qualifying quarterbacks. He was 25th in yards per attempt with a 6.7 mark and he was on pace to absorb a league-high 51 sacks. There were still many positives, as Burrow looked the part to the naked eye. He also contributed 37-142-3 on the ground as an underrated athlete with the ability to make plays as a runner. Burrow is reportedly ahead in his rehab and is expecting to be out there Week 1. The Bengals let A.J. Green go as a free agent and replaced him with No. 5 overall pick Ja’Marr Chase, who was Burrow’s teammate at LSU. There should already be a connection, and Chase’s addition to Tyler Boyd and Tee Higgins gives Cincinnati an exciting wideout trio. Cincinnati also signed veteran RT Riley Reiff to help shore up the front five. Burrow likely being ready for Week 1 and the nature of the Bengals’ offense that wants to play fast and run plenty of plays to mask their defense puts Burrow in the QB1 conversation thanks to his upside-laden wideout corps. Burrow is a high-end, upside QB2.

Chase opted out of last year’s college football season, but the last time we saw him, he produced 84-1,780-20 and 21.2 yards per catch as a 19-year-old sophomore from Joe Burrow during LSU’s 2019 title run. The 21-year-old arrives as the alpha among Cincinnati’s wideouts from day one, commanding targets from his former college teammate over slot man Boyd and Tee Higgins. Boyd may be viewed as the favorite to lead the Bengals in targets, but it’s hard to discount Chase given his elite size-speed combo at 6’3/201 with 4.34 wheels. Being embedded in an offense that led the league in pass attempts per game while Burrow was healthy last year makes the rookie a high-floor option for 2021. A.J. Green leaves behind 104 targets that Chase should step right into as a rookie. Chase is currently being drafted behind both Higgins (WR25) and Boyd (WR32) as the WR44 in half-PPR. The rookie has the highest ceiling of the bunch.

Boyd again flourished as a high-floor WR3/4 last season despite the changes under center, averaging 16.1 PPR points per game as Joe Burrow’s safety valve from the slot. Overall, Boyd finished as the WR37 in PPR. Chase’s arrival throws a wrench into things a bit as the Bengals’ new alpha dog out wide, but Boyd’s role is still secure as any from inside after running 84% of his routes from the slot in 2020. After a sleepy start to his career, Boyd is averaging 122 targets over the last three seasons. His consistent volume in a pass-happy offense makes him a reliable WR3 in PPR formats. He should flirt with 80 catches and a handful of touchdowns.

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Higgins opened his rookie season as John Ross’ backup, but last year’s No. 33 overall pick was starting by Week 2 and averaged 8.1 targets per game from Burrow. Chase’s arrival could lead to less volume in Year 2, but there’s still a chance the sophomore wideout paces the Bengals in air yards as Burrow’s top downfield threat. It’s an exciting position to hold in a pass-happy offense that isn’t afraid to air it out. Higgins saw 27% of the Bengals’ air yards as a rookie and consistently contributed splash plays no matter who was under center. Higgins’ week-to-week numbers could cause headaches in fantasy, but he’s sure to have some true “ceiling” games. Burrow has already said he expects a “big year” from Higgins, and OC Brian Callahan says Higgins looks “markedly more explosive” this year. Higgins’ ADP of WR25 is a bit rich and doesn’t leave a whole lot of room for upside at that cost, but he’s going to be in the WR3 mix.

C.J. Uzomah tore his Achilles’ in Week 2 but averaged a respectable 5.5 targets per game in those first two contests before missing the rest of the year. He’s always been an intriguing talent as Tyler Eifert’s sidekick and injury replacement in years past. But Uzomah is 28 and coming off a serious injury. Sample wasn’t nearly as productive in Uzomah’s absence, seeing just 3.07 targets per game Weeks 3-17 following Uzomah’s season-ending injury.

 

Running Game

RB: Joe Mixon, Samaje Perine, Trayveon Williams, Chris Evans

OL (L-R): Jonah Williams, Michael Jordan, Trey Hopkins, Quinton Spain, Riley Reiff

 

Mixon suffered a foot injury in Week 6 but didn’t land on I.R. until Week 9. The Bengals claimed at the time it was “not a major injury,” as coach Taylor seemingly said every week that Mixon was nearing a return. Mixon was nevertheless never heard from again as the Bengals limped to a 4-11-1 finish. Before his injury, Mixon was leading the league in touches but averaging just 3.6 yards per carry behind an awful offensive line. The Bengals’ blocking woes made positive game script rare and pass attempts plentiful. Mixon is still just 25 years old and signed a big-money, long-term deal last September. Neither he nor his role are going anywhere. Burrow is returning from injury, and the Bengals’ offensive line almost has to be better in 2021. The run will remain a point of emphasis under Zac Taylor, and long-time pass-catching back Giovani Bernard departed in free agency, freeing up more third-down and pass-catching opportunities for Mixon, who is truly one of the league’s better receiving backs. OC Brian Callahan said in the spring that he didn’t want Mixon to leave the field this season. “And I think he's up for that challenge,” Callahan concluded. This remains a mediocre Bengals team, but Mixon has serious breakout appeal. Through Week 6 last season, Mixon was the overall RB9 and averaged 23.3 touches per game. Mixon could easily threaten 350 touches if health cooperates. The Bengals figure to get involved in plenty of offensive shootouts thanks to a subpar defense. Being drafted as the overall RB13 right now, Mixon is a steal at the end of the second round.

Perine emerged for his most touches since his rookie year of 2017 last season, finishing third on the Bengals in carries as Joe Mixon missed the majority of the year with his foot injury. Most of Perine’s work came in the closing two weeks, where Perine went 22-146-2 on the ground. Perine’s biggest accomplishment was holding off second-year pro Trayveon Williams and earning a second contract from Cincinnati as a free agent this offseason. Due to Mixon’s injury history, Perine will have insurance value for fantasy. The Bengals did little else at running back.

 

Win Total

Cincinnati’s win total currently sits at 6.5, ahead of only the Texans (4.5) and Lions (5) and tied with the Jaguars, Jets, and Eagles. Based on 2020 results, the Bengals’ strength of schedule is sixth-toughest with out-of-division road dates at the Bears, Lions, Jets, Raiders, and Broncos. They’ll host the Vikings, Jaguars, Packers, Chargers, 49ers, and Chiefs. But with better health, including the returns of Burrow and Mixon, the arrival of Chase out wide in place of A.J. Green, an improved offensive line, and more talent on defense, this is a team on the rise on paper. Many have pegged the Bengals as a sleeper to squeak into the playoffs as a Wild Card team.

Nick Mensio

Nick Mensio has been covering the NFL for NBC Sports Edge since 2012. He can be found on Twitter at @NickMensio.