The Taylor Effect: Quiet Offseason
The Taylor Effect: Quiet Offseason
This is an update of a previous article in my New Coaching Impact series to reflect roster moves and changes since it was first published on February 14th, 2019. Please enjoy.
The Cincinnati Bengals had perhaps the quietest offseason of any team in the NFL. The only significant move they made at the skill position was the resigning of Tyler Eifert. We will discuss Eifert later in the article. Not much has changed for the Bengals since the first rendition of this article, but all updates will be covered.
A Philosophical Change?
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.
Mike Brown finally woke up and embraced today’s NFL. Taylor is the first offensive-minded coach in Cincinnati 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 Zac Taylor takes what he learned from McVay and parlays it into a successful career with the Bengals. The young coaches offensive system has been loosely compared to that of Jay Gruden.
We will look at what data we can to see what we can expect to see from the Bengals 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 Taylor was a part of two top-20 scoring offenses (2009 and 2011).
Zac Taylor went on to work under Joe Philbin and the Miami Dolphins from 2012-2015 as the quarterbacks coach. While Taylor was in Miami, 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. 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, in an offense 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 on January 29th to be the offensive coordinator for Taylor. Neither of the two young 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. Dalton 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. There was significant development from Goff in 2017 with Taylor as his position coach. Keep an eye on how that translates to Dalton’s production in 2019.
Dalton is also not guaranteed to even be the quarterback here. The TCU graduate has been the Bengals signal caller for eight years and been an average NFL quarterback at best. There would be no dead cap hit if Dalton were cut today. The Bengals may choose to “punt” this season and take a quarterback. Cincinnati may also take a different 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 Tyler Eifert will go a long way in determining Dalton’s success in 2019. Using the awesome splits tool via FFS, we can see that over the past four years Dalton is a much better fantasy quarterback with a healthy Green on the field.
Andy Dalton has a ton of upside. The Bengals could potentially be a top-five offense under Zac Taylor. Do not be afraid to take a shot on Dalton late in super flex leagues or as a late round quarterback in redraft. Dalton’s dynasty value is probably at an all-time low so do not be afraid to test the waters on his trade market in your league.
Joe Mixon (RB1)
Joe Mixon should be a top-10 running back this year in fantasy. 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 go around as a 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.
Mixon hung with some of the bigger names in fantasy last year with his weekly finishes. Todd Gurley was the RB2 and Dalvin Cook was RB11 while Mixon was RB14 by ADP last year. Mixon can be had for the same value this year as people may shy away from the new offensive staff. The Taylor/Callahan combo likely helps Mixon. Draft with confidence as your RB1.
Giovani Bernard (RB2)
Gio Bernard deserves some mention as a potential RB3 in deeper leagues. Bernard is still just 27 and will be a free agent after 2019. If the knee issues that have plagued Mixon flare up, Bernard instantly jumps into the RB2 conversation. The former Tarheel has shown he can get it done when given the opportunity.
Bernard finished as a top-20 running back in PPR his first three years in the league. Mark Walton was cut on April 6th after his third arrest of 2019, leaving Quinton Flowers as the only other running back on the roster at the moment. Draft Bernard in deep leagues and definitely select him as a handcuff if you are a Mixon owner and have the room on your bench.
A.J. Green (WR1)
A.J. Green will be an enigma this year come fantasy draft time. Green is a 30-year-old perennial stud coming off a serious toe injury. It was mentioned earlier that Taylor could implement a system like Jay Gruden. Green had his best years when Gruden was in the Queen City. Jay Gruden and A.J. Green both arrived in Cincinnati 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. Green could end up being a value pick come fantasy draft day in July or August. The former Georgia Bulldog is currently going in the third round of early drafts. That is a bargain barring any offseason setbacks to the toe injury.
Green’s combine numbers were actually on par with Odell Beckham Jr. and his Relative Athletic Score (RAS) was actually better than OBJ’s.
Target A.J. Green as a bounce-back candidate and a value in any format. Even at 31 years old, Green is worth a value check in your dynasty league. The missed games over the years may actually prolong his career.
Tyler Boyd (WR2)
Tyler Boyd was up and down last year the way Andy Dalton has been up and down for his career. Boyd did produce well above league average in the weeks he was on point. The former Pittsburgh Panther finished higher than average in over half of the weeks he was active. The problem is, the weeks Boyd 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. Zac Taylor would be wise to feature Boyd and Green 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. You should 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. The former Washington Huskie was efficient with 7 touchdowns last year on just 21 catches. The number nine overall pick in 2017, Ross has not lived up to his draft status. The catch rate was just 36.2% on the year.
There is good news here in that the new coaching staff has given Ross a clean slate. The speedy wideout was on the trade block for a bit, but that chatter has since died down for the Bengals. Ross did show a flashy 1.37 points per opportunity in 2018. Age is on Ross’s side and he may figure the league out in his third season, as many wideouts do. It is worth taking a shot on him late in redraft leagues and buying low in dynasty. It is likely he can be had for next to nothing.
As for the rest of the receivers on the Bengals, Auden Tate and Cody Core are the only ones of any interest. Other wideouts listed on the depth chart include Josh Malone, Alex Erickson, Hunter Sharp, and Kermit Whitfield.
Tyler Eifert (TE1)
Eifert is in the TE1 conversation when healthy. Unfortunately, luck has not been on the oft-injured tight ends side. The Bengals brought Eifert back on a cheap “prove it” deal this year. Eifert signed for one year, $4 million on March 16th. The Notre Dame product has been a point per opportunity machine when on the field.
Tyler Eifert actually outperformed All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce on a per opportunity basis. Again, the problem is, due to injury, the opportunity is not there. In a perfect world, Eifert plays 16 games and is in the conversation as one of the top tight ends in fantasy. Draft him as a valued piece late in drafts. The athletic tight end could be a sneaky league winner for you if he stays on the field.
We have yet another fantasy conundrum here with a new coach with little experience. The potential is there for Cincinnati to be a top-five offense given the talent they have at the skill positions. The question is what type of offense will be run and who will be featured. Andy Dalton could revive his career under Zac Taylor. Joe Mixon is an RB1 in all formats. A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd are solid buys. Tyler Eifert will flirt with top-five fantasy tight end status if healthy. It all sets up nicely for the Bengals. But, will they execute?