Bengals Wide Receiver Depth Chart
The Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver depth chart has been an indecipherable puzzle since the draft in 2012. The selection of Mohamed Sanu (Round 3) and Marvin Jones (Round 5) in that draft left some fantasy owners wondering who the No. 2 wide receiver is for the Bengals. In a muddled situation that leaves some wondering if the Bengals have found a contributor opposite of A.J. Green who will take some of the pressure off of the stud wideout. The need of a solid No. 2 wide receiver is as important to the Bengals as it is for fantasy owners.
Andy Dalton had solid stats throughout the 2012 season. He finished as the 12th-ranked quarterback in fantasy football throwing for over 3,600 yards. He also finished with 27 touchdowns, which ranked 17th, though he threw 16 interceptions, which was eighth most among quarterbacks. Dalton started out red hot, throwing 23 touchdowns in the first 11 games, and he finished with four more touchdowns over the last six games of the season. During that span, Dalton’s average quarterback rating was a measly 70. Dalton was sacked 46 times — third among all quarterbacks — despite the Bengals PFF offensive line rating of 85.7, which was graded as the second-best pass-protecting offensive line. This goes to show that Dalton ran out of targets and needed a second or third target to throw to out of the backfield. Dalton’s struggles are in many ways directly related to the loss of Sanu, who missed the last six games of the season with a stress fracture in his foot. Following the loss of Sanu, Dalton was limited to seven touchdowns the rest of 2012 and three of those touchdowns were in Week 12.
The top wide receiving option in Cincinnati is obviously A.J. Green. Green is a fantasy uber stud at wide receiver and his name is preceded in his position by only Calvin Johnson. Green finished the season with 102 catches on 168 targets. He was the most targeted pass catcher for the Bengals in the red zone with 25 red zone targets, three that resulted in touchdowns. He had a touchdown stretch with at least one touchdown catch in nine consecutive games. He was leading all wide receivers in points scored in standard and PPR leagues following Week 11. Even with Green’s lack of production the last six weeks, he finished with 97 receptions (sixth), 1,350 yards (10th), and 11 touchdowns (fourth), enough to finish as the third-ranked wide receiver in PPR leagues and the fourth-ranked wide receiver in standard leagues. His status as Cincy’s best receiving option will not change anytime soon. Based on these stats alone, he could have easily finished as the No. 2 wide receiver in all formats.
Based on receptions, the No. 2 pass catcher in the Bengals offense was Jermaine Gresham. Green and Gresham were the only two pass catchers to play more than 60 percent of all of the Bengals offensive snaps in 2012. Gresham played safety net to Andy Dalton and caught 66 passes on 99 targets and helped him finish seventh in receptions among all tight ends. Gresham was over 50 receiving yards six times in 2012. Gresham also led all tight ends in YAC with 424 yards (6.6 YAC/reception also first among tight ends). He finished eighth among all tight ends with 737 yards. Gresham finished as the 10th-ranked tight end in both PPR and standard formats. He finished with eight dropped passes, which tied for sixth-worst among all tight ends. On the bright side, Gresham finished with five touchdowns – 10th best among all tight ends – and four of them came in the red zone. Gresham was targeted 14 times in the red zone with four resulting in touchdowns.
The first two pass catchers on the Bengals roster were a given. Green is by far the best receiving option on the team. Gresham will not be pushed out of the top tight end spot on the depth chart. The receiving depth chart gets muddled at this point. I contacted Vance Meek, who is a writer for Rantsports.com and the Bengals blogger, to get his take on the Bengals wide receiver depth chart. Based on his interactions with the team, he reported, “Right now Sanu is the No. 2 wide receiver with Andrew Hawkins and Marvin Jones making up the rest of the four wide receiver set. There is a distinct possibility that the Bengals may also look to draft a wide receiver in the 2013 draft.”
I used Vance’s information to pull together data that would suggest that this is the case.
Andrew Hawkins played the slot 86.9 percent of his snaps. He finished the season with 51 catches on 77 targets. Hawkins was second on the team in red zone targets with 14 and he caught three touchdown passes in the red zone. Hawkins finished the season with 535 receiving yards. After Week 3 of the season, Hawkins did not have a game with over 50 yards receiving. Hawkins split time with Sanu in the slot. Sanu slowly took over duties in Weeks 11 and 12.
Sanu came on like gang busters starting in Week 3 when he threw a 73-yard touchd0wn pass to A.J. Green. When it comes to his pass-catching abilites, Sanu found the end zone for the first time in Week 10. He followed that performance up with another touchdown in Week 11 and two more in Week 12. Sanu officially started in the slot in Weeks 11 and 12 and certainly proved himself. Unfortunately it was not to be, as he was diagnosed with a stress fracture of the foot and would go on season-ending IR following Week 12. Sanu finished the season with 16 catches for 154 yards and four touchdowns (three in the red zone). Sanu had taken 64 percent of his snaps from the slot. In Weeks 9-12, Sanu tied Green with seven red zone targets, and Sanu converted four of the targets into touchdowns. Sanu had became the target in the slot and was Andy Dalton’s secondary red zone target before getting injured. Unfortunately for Sanu and his fantasy owners, he played an abbreviated sesaon due to injury. The positive aspect of his play shows that he can be a very good wide receiver when healthy and become Andy Dalton’s No. 2 option in the red zone when healthy.
Marvin Jones was the other wide receiver that had his fair share of injuries in 2012. Jones hurt his knee in a Week 7 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Following the injury, Jones returned Week 12 against the Oakland Raiders. Jones played the outside opposite Green on 83 percent of his snaps. This would mean that the primary slot wide receivers would be the best of Sanu or Hawkins. Jones finished the season with 21 receptions for 235 yards. Jones only played 55.8 percent of the snaps when healthy. Jones is a dynamic player that offers some strong talent playing opposite of A.J. Green but was not effective enough the last six weeks of the season to justify a concrete placement as the No. 2 wide receiver.
The last wide receiver does not get as much press as Sanu, Hawkins, or Jones in the fantasy football community. Brandon Tate re-signed a contract on March 25 to stay with the Bengals next season. Tate was the primary kick and punt returner for the Bengals. He did start opposite of Green for three weeks this season and finished the season with 13 catches and 211 yards. Tate only played 26 percent of the snaps on offense. This shows that Tate is used to giving the other wide receivers a breather and is primarily a special teams talent.
Based on the information it is evident that Sanu became a favorite of Andy Dalton in the red zone in the few games that he played in. He was also the only wide receiver on the Bengals roster to throw for a touchdown this season. Jones looks to be the future playing opposite A.J. Green. I look for Jones to see some more looks from Dalton moving forward. I would put most of my stock into listing Sanu as the secondary wide receiver to own in fantasy leagues. If everything remains status quo following the NFL draft and the Bengals have not added to the wide receiver depth chart, then I look for three wide receiver sets to include Green, Jones, and Sanu. Due to Dalton’s lack of arm strength and his accuracy across the middle, I look for Sanu to be the primary slot receiver, and he will steal targets from Gresham in the process. Look for Sanu in Rounds 11-13 of your drafts in redraft leagues. His value should skyrocket as he sees more snaps, and in turn, more targets in 2013. The presence of a solid No. 2 wide receiver with consistent play should open things up for A.J. Green as well, and hopefully it will keep Dalton’s production from declining down the stretch.