Two years ago, the Cincinnati Bengals ranked tenth in the NFL in sacks, getting to opposing quarterbacks 43 times. Last year, that number free-fell to dead last in the league at 20. A bounce-back there could be a key to a return trip to the playoffs for the Bengals in 2015, but there are more than a few questions facing the team on defense.
The Cincinnati defensive line will be anchored in 2015 by sixth-year defensive end Carlos Dunlap, who set career highs in both tackles (66) and sacks (8) a year ago. Those numbers were good enough to land Dunlap at the back end of IDP DL1 territory in 12-team leagues a year ago, and while the 26-year-old can be prone to bouts of inconsistency, Dunlap is in the IDP DL1 conversation this year given his talent and every-down workload.
After tearing his ACL midway through the 2013 season, defensive tackle Geno Atkins was a shell of his usual dominant self last season. However, Geoff Hobson of the team’s website writes that Atkins could be set for a rebound in 2015. “From what I’ve seen,” Hobson said, “the best news (from OTAs) is that Atkins seems to be moving a lot better than he did last spring and that bodes well.” That also bodes well for Atkins’ odds of being an IDP value in 2015, especially in DT-required formats.
In 2012, defensive end Michael Johnson rode 11.5 sacks to a DL1 finish in fantasy points and a franchise tag designation from the team. In the two years’ since (including a disastrous one-year stint with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers a year ago), Johnson has managed only 7.5. At 28 Johnson is still plenty young enough to recapture past glories, but Johnson isn’t worth investing in as more than a low-end IDP DL2 in 2015.
Entering the 2014 season, it looked like outside linebacker Vontaze Burfict was ready to join the NFL’s elite at his position. Then last year’s injury-marred disaster of a season happened, and coming off microfracture surgery Burfict’s 2015 prospects are muddy at best. Still, Hobson reported that defensive coordinator Paul Guenther remains optimistic that Burfict will be ready for the season opener.
“The plan,” Hobson said, “calls for Burfict to be back in time to play a pre-season game or two in preparation for the regular season. That’s an optimistic sign because if he practices just once, he’s not allowed to go on the physically unable to perform list (PUP), which would keep him off the practice field for the first six weeks of the regular season.”
Unfortunately, we don’t share Guenther’s optimism. And given a crowded Cincinnati linebacker corps that includes holdovers Emmanuel Lamur, Rey Maualuga and Vincent Rey, free-agent signee A.J. Hawk and rookie Paul Dawson, we may not know who’s going to slot where (and who will be playing in subpackages) until well into the preseason – and that makes any of those players speculative IDP options at best.
Josh Kirkendall of SB Nation recently called free safety Reggie Nelson arguably the Bengals most under-appreciated defender. “There are no Pro Bowl commendations or All-Pro celebrations for Nelson,” Kirkendall said, “and save for the noticeable flow of tightly woven dreads bouncing around in the defensive backfield, you might be inclined to forget about him. Yet, reliability and stability in Cincinnati’s evolving secondary are common core descriptions which define Nelson.”
Nelson rode a career-high 95 tackles to a top-15 fantasy finish in 2014, and with a reasonable asking price in IDP drafts the 31-year-old is a decent late flier pick in the secondary.