(Photo Credit: Andy Lyons / Getty Images)
After finishing 2019 with a 2-14 record, the Bengals selected LSU quarterback Joe Burrow with the first overall pick in the 2020 draft. Burrow had led the Tigers to the 2019 FCS championship and won the Heisman Trophy. He would soon become the only quarterback in his draft class to start week one. Although immediate success (Bengals were only 2-1-6 in nine games that Burrow started and finished) did not occur, Burrow made the team more competitive by losing four of their six unsuccessful contests by five points or less.
In week ten, in a subsequent loss to the Washington Football team, Burrow suffered a torn MCL/ACL injury and missed the remainder of the season. In Burrow’s absence, the Bengals lost four out of their last six games. On July 25th, Burrow was cleared for camp and is expected to be a full go once training camp starts. Despite the Bengals’ on-field improvement, Burrow showed some inefficiency with lots of progress to be made. He finished 26th in yards per attempt (6.7), 43rd in red-zone efficiency (54.5 percent completion rate), and 36th in deep-ball completion percentage (20 percent). On a fantasy point per game average, Burrow finished 19th with 17.87 fantasy points/game.
In addition to Burrow’s expected occasional struggles, Joe Mixon had a tough year before ultimately playing his last game in week six at the Colts. For the first three games of the season, Mixon had 52 carries for 164 tards (3.15 yards per carry) with zero touchdowns and added 7 catches (on nine targets) for an additional 58 yards. On average, Mixon was scoring 8.76 fantasy points per game.
For the final three games of his season, Mixon averaged 24.1 fantasy points per game. He amassed 67 carries for 264 yards (3.94 yards per carry) and three touchdowns while adding 14 catches(on 17 targets) for 80 yards and an additional touchdown. Mixon became more of a three-down back in 2020, playing over 71 percent of the snaps in three of the five games he finished (as compared to only three out of sixteen in 2019 with that high of a snap rate).
The since-departed Gio Bernard (free agency to the Bucs) did a steady job filling in for Mixon. On the season, including ten starts, Bernard had 124 rushes for 416 yards and three touchdowns and added 47 receptions (on 59 targets) for 356 yards and an additional three touchdowns. Samaje Perine added 63 rushes for 301 yards and three TD’s, while Trayveon Williams added 26 rushes for 157 yards. Combined, Perine and Williams only chipped in for 96 receiving yards on 16 catches.
In terms of the receiving department, Burrow attempted 404 passes over the ten games he played(an average of 40.4 passes per game). If this average was extended over a 17 game season, Burrow would have attempted 687 passes. Burrows’s final stat line for the season was 264 completions on 404 attempts for 2688 yards and thirteen touchdowns. During the ten games that Burrow played, Tyler Boyd had 87 targets, Tee Higgins had 76, A.J. Green(now with the Cardinals) had 77, Bernard 41, Mixon 26, and the Tight Ends 33.
For the season, the Bengals had three receivers (Boyd 110, Higgins 108, and Green 104) go over the 100 mark in targets, with none going over 1k yards. Boyd wound up with 79 catches for 841 yards and four touchdowns, Higgins had 67 catches and 6 touchdowns, while Green had 47 catches for 523 yards and two touchdowns.
Per ProFootballForecast.Com, the Bengals had the 30th ranked offensive line in the league. Ten different linemen played at least 200 snaps, while Burrow was sacked 32 times and endured 42 quarterback hits (tied-5th most). Needless to say, the Bengals had several areas to shore up heading into the 2021 off-season.
Almost all of the free-agent additions for the Bengals were made on the defensive side of the ball. Only WR Trent Taylor (49ers) and LT Riley Reiff (Vikings) were added to help the offense. While Reiff is currently slated to be the starter at right tackle, Taylor is currently listed as Higgins’s backup. On defense, the Bengals added the following three players currently listed as starters: 1) DT Larry Ogunjobi (Browns); 2) DE Trey Hendrickson (Saints); and 3) CB Chidobe Awuzie (Cowboys). Several other free agents were added for defensive depth.
In terms of the draft, WR Ja’Marr Chase (LSU) was drafted with the fifth overall pick. Chase is considered to be the best WR prospect since at least Amari Cooper. In addition to Chase, Chris Evans (Michigan) was added for depth in the running back room. Evans will be 24 in October and only started six games in his five-year Michigan career. During that span, Evans only had 369 total touches. Despite being lightly used, Evans has incredible athleticism. With Bernard’s departure, Evans may be in line for some targets out of the backfield. In hopes of adding depth at the offensive line, the following three players were drafted: 1) Jackson Carman (2nd round Guard-Clemson); 2) D’Ante Smith (4th round Tackle-East Carolina); and 3) Trey Hill (6th round C-Georgia).
In terms of fantasy football for 2021, the talent is on the roster to be fun to watch and a very productive offense, but it all starts with the health of Burrow. If Boyd’s and Higgin’s 10 game target totals were projected to 17 games, they would have had 148 and 129 targets respectively. With the loss of Bernard and Green, there are 163 vacated targets as well. As a result, there is simply no reason (assuming good health for Burrows) for Chase (as well as Boyd and Higgins) not to have a really successful season.
With regards to the low target total to tight ends (33), this continued a pattern to what fans saw at LSU. In the championship season of 2019, starting TE Thaddeus Moss had only four touchdowns compared to the 38 that Chase and Justin Jefferson combined for. There is simply no expectation for TE1 numbers out of this offense. In terms of Mixon, there is top 12-15 RB potential there. In the six games that Mixon played last year, Bernard’s top snap percentage was only 45 percent(four of those games were 33 percent or less), and there is no one of Bernard’s talent on the roster. Fantasy owners of Mixon have to hope for continued volume usage, as well as slightly better line play.
According to VegasInsider.Com, the Bengals over/under win total is set at 6.5. Despite potential improved play, especially on offense, this total seems high. Schedule makers did the Bengals no favors, adding the Packers, Chiefs, Chargers, Vikings, and 49ers to their already tough divisional opponents. It simply doesn’t seem like enough was done at O-line to exceed this win total.
(Cover Photo Credit: Geoff Hobson)