Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages – your 2022 AFC Champions, the Cincinnati Bengals! I will never get tired of hearing that. Having my Cubs win a World Series in my lifetime was the cake. I could die a happy man if the Bengals somehow won a Super Bowl.
On paper, the Bengals’ offensive line is the most improved in the NFL – ranked eighth per PFF. Even with a rough offensive line, the 2021 offense was among the best in the NFL. They scored 460 points, seventh most in the NFL. The passing offense took off in Joe Burrow’s first entire season, amassing 4,403 yards in the air and 36 TDs, both also seventh in the NFL. The rushing offense was also solid, rushing for 1,742 yards and 16 scores, both middle-of-the-road.
How does this offense get better in 2022 with a better offensive line? How much better can it get? And can the Bengals afford to keep it all together? The Brown family has been notoriously stingy, and several young stars will get paid soon.
Joe Burrow, QB6
The quarterback is the most expensive of the studs who will need to get paid. Burrow looked cool and collected, despite being sacked 51 times, the most in the NFL. He routinely made big play after big play and pushed the Bengals’ offense. He led the NFL with a 70.4% completion percentage rate and threw for 34 scores with 14 picks – a number that will need to go down.
Burrow was good in the playoffs and never rattled against teams with much better seasons. The Bengals were underdogs in every game but the wild-card round vs. the Raiders. Burrow averaged 276 yards over four playoff games and threw for five scores with only a pair of INTs. There was room for improvement, which is a scary thought for the rest of the NFL.
As far as being paid, Burrow is technically under contract until 2025. Most quarterbacks on their rookie contract never make it to the end of their rookie contract, and I would expect the Bengals to pay him after the 2022 season, after 2023 at the latest.
Currently, veteran Brandon Allen is the only backup on the roster after the Bengals cut Drew Plitt, who looked solid in preseason. Allen has started six games over the past two seasons and is familiar with the offense. He’s not a spectacular backup, but he can keep the offense moving if Burrow has to miss time.
Joe Mixon, RB12
Another star under contract until 2025, Mixon just turned 26, is coming off the best year of his career. And now has an improved offensive line. Mixon rushed for 1,205 yards and 13 scores for a 4.1 yards per carry average. He caught 42 passes for 314 yards and three scores also.
Mixon is the unquestioned man and one of the few three-down backs left in the NFL. He’s the RB12 in our dynasty rankings – a price I would pay for him eight days a week. Statistically, he was in the top five of most scoring formats, and the offense has improved. Mixon’s YPC should increase, and although a bit of touchdown regression can be expected, he is primed to have another high-end RB season. Regarding age, Mixon should have at least this season and next before we see the cliff that most RBs hit.
Best of the Rest
If Mixon has to miss time, the Bengals have some solid options behind him. Samaje Perrine is signed through 2023 and has looked good in relief. He rushed for 246 yards but was most valuable as a pass catcher, catching 27 passes in 2021. Second-year back Chris Evans from Michigan is also most dangerous as a pass-catching option but has good size at 5’11,” and 220 pounds and can handle early-down work. Finally, Trayveon Williams rounds out the roster and has also been solid in relief. All three backs are versatile, and the Bengals’ offense would be in good hands if any of the three had to have extended playing time.
Ja’Marr Chase, WR2
We’re old enough to remember last preseason when Ja’Marr Chase couldn’t catch 🤷♂️— Mojo (@mojo) August 11, 2022
Many have bumped Chase up to WR1 in dynasty rankings, and a case can be made for the lofty ranking. I was skeptical of the selection in the 2021 Draft, Chase is a great player, but receiver didn’t feel like a need. Chase proved he was worth the fifth overall selection with 81 receptions for 1,455 yards and 13 TDs as a rookie. He quickly rekindled the LSU connection with Burrow and was unstoppable in many games.
Chase is another that will get paid, but the Bengals likely have several years until that is a pressing need. He’s only 23 years old and a cornerstone of this offense now. He’s dominant and has another receiver opposite him, so defenses can’t keep stopping Chase. Safeties also have to respect the next receiver on this list.
Tee Higgins, WR11
Higgins is also 23 years old and has had about a good of a first two seasons as a receiver can have. But he’s the second fiddle because of Chase’s dominance. Higgins caught 74 balls for 1,091 yards and six TDs, nearly replicating his rookie year statistics.
He is more of a boundary receiver, while Chase can work all over. Higgins is 6’4,” and I love his ball tracking ability and how he works the sideline. He was targeted more than ten times in four games and eclipsed the 100-yard mark in four of the last six regular season games. Higgins has the talent to take over if Chase is handled, as evidenced in the Super Bowl. He caught four passes for 100 yards and two scores versus the Rams.
He’s still under his rookie contract through 2024, and I hate to think of it, but the way receivers are getting paid, Higgins could end up as the odd man out. It will be challenging for the Bengals to pay Burrow over $40 million (likely) and then pay Chase over $20 million and still have enough cap space to give Higgins nearly the same.
Tyler Boyd, WR58
Possibly one of the best WR3s in the NFL, Boyd is locked up through 2024 and is still a viable option in the Bengals’ offense. He had 94 targets and raked in 67 receptions for 828 yards with five scores. He’s a good slot receiver with great hands and as reliable as possible. Boyd is a good WR3/4 for fantasy as well.
Best of the Rest
The depth chart beyond their trio is pretty bleak, though. Stanley Morgan, Mike Thomas (not that one, though), and Trent Taylor are basically just jags. If any are thrust into a more prominent role, by proxy of the offense, they may see receptions and fantasy points. But none of the backups are guys I want to roster.
Hayden Hurst, TE33
A tight end in this offense should probably be more valuable than the 33rd-ranked TE in the NFL. Finding targets for the tight end may be the biggest issue, but I could see Hurst carving out 50-60 targets and being a decent tight end for fantasy. With Atlanta in 2020, he had his best season and caught 56 balls for 571 yards with six scores. I think that’s his absolute ceiling in this offense, but if you took him as the TE30 or later, you are thrilled. Hurst just turned 29 and is on a one-year prove-it deal.
Best of the Rest
I thought the role of starting tight end would go to fourth-year player Drew Sample, but I was also never keen on him as a viable option. Especially with his second-round draft capital. Sample is a good blocker and not a total scrub as a pass-catcher, but I like Hurst’s upside in that role much more. Remember the hype former Patriots’ tight end Devin Asiasi was getting a few years ago? He’s now a Bengal and is their TE3. He’s got potential and could develop, but he is still not a player I am rostering other than in super deep leagues.
The improved offensive line is the biggest story of the offseason, and you can’t have your franchise quarterback hitting the ground 50 times a season. The offense is likely in line for very similar production. With an improved offense, the Bengals will be in the hunt for another division title and another trip to the AFC Championship game.
The NFL knows they are coming now, and they won’t be sneaking up on anyone. Burrow has to cut down on turnovers, and the defense has to limit yards and mistakes. This team is one of the most exciting up-and-coming teams on both sides of the ball. Let’s see how they do in 2022 and when the target is now on their back.
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