The Taylor Effect
The trend of young coaching hires continues with the Bengals announcement of Zac Taylor as the 10th head coach in franchise history. Taylor is the sixth (of eight new coaches) under the age of 45. The “touched by Sean McVay” label is legit. Before spending the past two seasons under McVay, Taylor had never been associated with a top-10 scoring offense. In fact, he was only a part of three top-20 scoring offenses in his past nine years as a coach.
A Philosophical Change?
Maybe Mike Brown has finally woken up and embraced today’s NFL. Taylor is the first offensive-minded coach in Cincy since Bruce Coslet left in 2000. It is hard to say if Taylor is the answer. As mentioned above, he toiled in mediocre offenses before joining forces with McVay.
Taylor was the assistant wide receivers coach in 2017 and the quarterbacks coach in 2018 under McVay. For fantasy purposes, we can hope that Taylor takes what he learned from McVay and parlays it into a successful career with the Bengals. Taylor’s system also has been loosely compared to that of Jay Gruden.
We will look at what data we can to see what we can hope to see from the “cats” in 2019.
Hope for the Best
From 2008-2011, Taylor was a graduate assistant at Texas A&M under Mike Sherman. Sherman ran a zone read scheme before converting to a pro-style offense while Taylor was his graduate assistant in College Station. This is where he was a part of two top-20 scoring offenses (2009 and 2011).
Taylor then went on to work under Joe Philbin in Miami from 2012-2015 as a quarterback coach. While there, the Dolphins finished in the top-20 in points per game just once (11th in 2014). Philbin did good work as the Green Bay offensive coordinator with Aaron Rodgers before going to Miami. We cannot say for sure if Philbin helped Rodgers or Rodgers helped Philbin, but hopefully, Philbin at least schooled Taylor somewhat on how to coach an elite quarterback.
In 2016, Taylor was the offensive coordinator of the Cincinnati Bearcats, under Tommy Tuberville, that finished 123rd of 128 teams in points per game (19.3). It is also concerning that he only has one year of experience as a coordinator of any type and that came at the college level under a defensive-minded coach. It should be noted that Brian Callahan was hired as offensive coordinator and neither of the coaches has any play calling experience and are the youngest tandem of coaches in the league.
Andy Dalton (QB1)
Dalton is entering his ninth season in the NFL and certainly has had his share of ups and downs. The “red rifle” has peaked as high as QB4 (2013) and been as bad as QB26 (2019).
Ideally, Taylor’s work with Jared Goff post-Jeff Fisher era will help him establish Dalton back to his 2013 form. We did see significant development from Goff in 2017 with Taylor as his position coach. How it translates to Dalton’s production remains to be seen.
Dalton is also not guaranteed to even be the quarterback here. He has been there eight years and been an average NFL quarterback at best. There would be no dead cap hit if he were cut today. The Bengals may choose to “punt” this season and take a quarterback. They may also take the Dolphins’ approach and wait for a better quarterback class next year and give Dalton one last go at it.
If Dalton is the week 1 starter, the health of A.J. Green, Tyler, Boyd and John Ross will go a long way in determining Dalton’s success in 2019.
Joe Mixon (RB1)
I am bullish on Joe Mixon this year. Given the way Todd Gurley is used in a McVay offense and the fact that Taylor has some Mike Sherman background in him, I think the sky could be the limit. The lack of play calling experience on the staff may also make them lean run-heavy in the first year as head coach.
Mixon thrived last year in Bill Lazor’s run heavy attack. Some of this can be attributed to injuries to A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert. However, Mixon excelled given the opportunity.
You can see that Mixon hung with some of the bigger names in fantasy last year. These guys were RB2 and RB11 while Mixon was RB14 by ADP last year. I expect Mixon can be had for the same value this year as people may shy away from the new offensive staff. I believe the Taylor/Callahan combo helps Mixon. Draft with confidence as your RB1.
Gio Bernard deserves some mention here as well as a potential RB3 in deeper leagues. He is still just 27 and will be a free agent after 2019. If the knee issues that have plagued Mixon flare up, Gio instantly jumps into the weekly flex conversation.
A.J. Green (WR1)
A.J. Green will be an enigma this year come draft time. He is a 30-year-old perennial stud coming off a serious toe injury. I mentioned earlier that Taylor could implement a system like Jay Gruden. Green had his best years when Gruden was in the Queen City. Gruden and Green both arrived in 2011. The fantasy ranks were impressive to say the least (WR14, WR4, WR4).
Even coming off an injury, Taylor would be crazy not to utilize Green the way Gruden did. I think Green could end up being a value pick come fantasy draft day in July or August. He is currently going in the third round of early drafts. I think that is a bargain barring any offseason set backs to the toe injury.
Tyler Boyd (WR2)
Tyler Boyd was up and down last year the way Dalton has been up and down for his career. He did produce well above league average in the weeks he was on. He finished higher than average in over half of the weeks he was active. The problem is, the weeks he was below average, he failed to get double-digits in all but one of those weeks.
You might initially think that Boyd has his lows during the games that Green was healthy. A look at the splits via the splits tool at FFS shows a very different story. Boyd produced better and projected out much better with Green on the field at the same time. Taylor would be wise to utilize him frequently in the passing attack.
With Green’s advanced age and injury history, Boyd is certainly the one to own in dynasty leagues and even at an ADP of 5.08 in redrafts, you could argue he is a better value. I will have a lot of Boyd in dynasty and certainly some exposure in redraft leagues.
John Ross (WR3)
Ross is what he is. A one-trick pony. A speedster that has had a horrible first two seasons. He managed seven touchdowns last year on just 21 catches. A former number nine overall pick, Ross has not lived up to his draft position. His catch rate was just 36.2% on the year. He is off the radar for me in redraft and a deep stash only in dynasty.
As for the rest of the receivers on the Bengals, Auden Tate and Cody Core are the only ones I have any interest in anywhere. Others listed on the depth chart include Josh Malone, Alex Erickson, Hunter Sharp and Kermit Whitfield.
Who knows? Tyler Eifert, Tyler Kroft and C.J. Uzomah are all free agents. Eifert is in the TE1 conversation when healthy. Unfortunately, luck has not been on his side. My feeling is that the Bengals bring him back on a cheap “prove it” deal laden with incentives. Kroft and Uzomah are serviceable tight ends in real life but not really fantasy factors as they have shown over the past couple of years Eifert has missed. You have to think they would address the position either in the draft or free agency.
A deep tight end draft class may convince them to go this route, especially if they decide to wait on a quarterback and give Dalton one last hurrah.
We have yet another fantasy conundrum here with a new coach with little experience. I think the biggest beneficiaries of Taylor’s arrival will be the perennial great A.J. Green and the up-and-comer Joe Mixon. Boyd could certainly out produce Green in 2019, especially if they do little at the tight end position. This is the last installment of my coaching effect series. This series will be updated as news dictates throughout the offseason.
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