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Fantasy Opportunity Spotlight: Cincinnati Bengals

A team-by-team analysis of coaches’ tendencies and using them to help create realistic fantasy football projections. @TubaDeus takes a look at the Cincinnati Bengals.

Welcome to the new home of my yearly Fantasy Opportunity series! For those who didn’t see this series on Reddit last year, I try to take a different approach to fantasy projections than your run-of-the-mill analyst. The basis of my process is that the number one indicator of fantasy success is opportunities to touch the ball. Obviously, individual player skill can (and will) affect that, but at the end of the day, players are at the mercy of playcalling and play design. Therefore, if we want to make accurate projections, we need to look at each coach’s scheme and how they like to spread the ball around.

As a result, this series is very coach-centric. I’ll touch on individual players, but only as they relate to their coaches’ schemes. On a related note, this series will only aim to establish projections on how touches will be split up, not what individual players will be able to accomplish with those touches. That will come later once depth charts settle through training camp. Think of this series more as a basis for realistic expectations.

Make sense? Good. Let’s dive in.

Most of my stats are pulled from Pro Football Reference. Please support them. They are awesome and are my primary source of statistical information.

Cincinnati Bengals

Last Year’s Accuracy

Total PlaysRush Attempts (Rush %)Passing Plays (Pass %) – Includes SacksSacks Allowed (Sack %)WR Targets (WR Target %)RB Targets (RB Target %)TE Targets (TE Target %)
2020 Projections1050420 (40.0%)630 (60.0%)45 (7.1%)380 (65.0%)85 (14.5%)95 (16.2%)
2020 Stats1040411 (39.5%)629 (60.5%)48 (7.6%)392 (67.5%)102 (17.6%)72 (12.4%)
For league wide stats, see this spreadsheet.

Coaching Changes

The good news for head coach Zac Taylor is that the Bengals did show some improvement in year two, and Joe Burrow does appear to be the franchise QB Cincinnati hoped he would be. Taylor’s seat should be safe for at least one more year. If he wants to stay much longer, though, he’ll have to lead the team to more than four wins. The same goes for offensive coordinator Brian Callahan and defensive coordinator Lou Anarumo, neither of whom have led their respective units to a ranking above the bottom third of the league. The trio will stick around for 2021, but we’re getting to the point in the rebuild where we need to start seeing serious results if they want to stay longer.

Cincinnati Bengals: 4 Reasons to put Zac Taylor on a warmer seat
Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Coaching History

The Taylor-Callahan combo now has two years under their belt running this offense. There hasn’t been any sort of incredible consistency between years one and two, but we are starting to see some trends emerge. First of all, this is a very wide receiver-friendly offense. The Cincinnati wideouts commanded a 63.1% positional target share in 2019, good for second-highest rate in the league. They then went and increased that rate to 67.5% in 2020. Not surprisingly, this coincided with the arrival of Tee Higgins to replace the ghost of A.J. Green. Of course, it also coincided with the release of Tyler Eifert and C.J. Uzomah’s torn ACL, which likely combined to play a large role in the tight ends’ target share reduction from 18.2% in 2019 to 12.4% in 2020.

The team-level numbers present a much more interesting picture. In 2019, the Bengals’ 63.3% pass rate tied for the 5th highest mark in the NFL. They also operated at the 6th fastest pace in the league. In 2020, Cincy was only slightly more pass-happy than average with a 60.5% pass rate, and their offense slowed down to being the 24th fastest in the league. Curiously, the Bengals finished the 2020 season with only nine fewer total plays than 2019 despite the drop in pace. It didn’t come from any great increase in offensive efficiency or volume, as Cincinnati was middle of the pack in total drives and plays per drive in both 2019 and 2020.

Looking Ahead

The Bengals have done plenty this offseason to try and break that middle-of-the-pack trend, though. Specifically, Cincinnati’s offensive line will get boosts from the draft, free agency, and simply getting healthier. With better protection up front, quarterback Joe Burrow may actually have some time in the pocket this year. Running back Joe Mixon should also benefit from having some holes to run through for a change. All around, the improved offensive line should help the Bengals offense rise from a mid-level unit to being one of the better units in the league. That should lead to a nice boost in offensive efficiency, which, in turn, should lead to more plays per drive.

Joe Burrow said the right things, but he's probably wrong
Patrick McDermott/Getty Images

Of course, it doesn’t hurt to land the consensus top wideout in the draft either. As noted above, the Bengals wide receivers were already one of the highest targeted position groups in the league. That won’t go down after adding yet another elite weapon. The return of C.J. Uzomah from injury could help out the tight end unit despite the elite wideout group, but any increase in the tight ends’ target share is likely to come from the running backs after the departure of scatback Gio Bernard. Overall, there might be some fluctuation between the tight ends’ and running backs’ target shares but expect the passing offense to once again operate through the wide receivers.

You may have noticed a lack of mention of the defense despite the addition of three mid-round defensive linemen in the draft. The problem is that while those picks could lead to a bright future on the D-line, they still lost two of the best players on the defense to free agency. The good balances out the bad here, which leads me to believe that there won’t be substantial change in defensive performance.

2021 Projections

Total PlaysRush Attempts (Rush %)Passing Plays (Pass %) – Includes SacksSacks Allowed (Sack %)WR Targets (WR Target %)RB Targets (RB Target %)TE Targets (TE Target %)
2020 Stats1040411 (39.5%)629 (60.5%)48 (7.6%)392 (67.5%)102 (17.6%)72 (12.4%)
2021 Projections (17 Games)1101421 (38.2%)680 (61.8%)44 (6.5%)441 (69.3%)93 (14.6%)83 (13.1%)

Previous Entry: Chicago Bears

Next Entry: Cleveland Browns

Find this article helpful? You can follow me on Twitter and Reddit as @TubaDeus, though I spend most of my time on Discord.

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