Will the Bengals' New Weapons Hurt A.J. Green's Fantasy Football Value?

Does the presence of a healthy Tyler Eifert, first-round pick John Ross, and stud rookie running back Joe Mixon help or hurt Green's fantasy fortunes?

Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green has been one of fantasy football's premier players for a long time. This year, your gut might tell you he's going to face more competition for touches, as the Bengals added running back Joe Mixon and wide receiver John Ross in the draft, and tight end Tyler Eifert looks to be fully healthy.

So what impact will these players have on Green's fantasy production, if any?

With or Without You

With or without you (let's call it "WOWY") isn't just a classic '80s jam, it's also a helpful exercise for Green's situation. We'll look at how one player (Green) performed when another player (say, Eifert) was either in the game or not in the game. We'll look at per-game numbers for these game splits. Keep in mind that this isn't a perfect exercise. Overall offensive performance, quarterback play, game script, and many other variables will affect Green. We're just looking for anything that suggests Green owners should worry about the Bengals' new weapons. We'll do this for Green and Eifert first.

A.J. Green and Tyler Eifert

Here we see Green's performance with and without Eifert on a per-game basis. It's also broken out over Eifert's career (2013 through 2016) and for Eifert's best season (2015).

WOWY Year(s) Games PPR Points Standard Points Receptions TD Yards
With Eifert 2013-2016 33 18.7 12.7 6.0 0.64 88.8
Without Eifert 2013-2016 21 17.1 11.4 5.7 0.48 85.7
With Eifert 2015 13 17.7 12.0 5.8 0.62 82.7
Without Eifert 2015 3 15.1 11.4 3.7 0.67 74.0

No matter how we slice it, Green has always played at the level of a top-12 wide receiver. And actually, he's performed better when Eifert plays. That was true in Eifert's best season, although the sample of games without Eifert was small. It's also true over a much larger sample of games. In 33 career games with Eifert, Green has averaged nearly 19 fantasy points per game in PPR formats.

So while we project Eifert for a career-high 57.98 catches in 2017, that shouldn't concern Green's fantasy owners.

Conclusion: Don't fret the impact of Eifert. If anything, his presence helps Green.

A.J. Green and Joe Mixon

This is trickier, since Mixon has yet to play an NFL game. Allow me to suggest Jeremy Hill as a stand-in for Mixon. Before dismissing the comparison, consider their college profiles.

Player Drafted Height (in) Weight (lbs) Rush YPG Rec YPG Rush YPC Rec YPR Rush TD/G
Hill 55th 72.6 233 116.8 15.1 6.9 10.1 1.3
Mixon 48th 73.1 226 106.2 44.8 6.8 14.5 0.8

Like Mixon, Hill was a second-round draft pick with an impressive college resume. Mixon was a better pass catcher, but Hill was a better touchdown producer. It's easy to hate on Hill now, but he was once a sexy prospect. As an NFL rookie, he was fantastic. Hill produced 1,339 yards from scrimmage and 9 total touchdowns, a very impressive feat. In the past 10 years, only 11 rookie running backs have topped 1,300 yards from scrimmage.

Player Year Scrimmage Yards
Adrian Peterson 2007 1,609
Matt Forte 2008 1,715
Chris Johnson 2008 1,488
Steve Slaton 2008 1,659
Doug Martin 2012 1,926
Alfred Morris 2012 1,690
Trent Richardson 2012 1,317
Eddie Lacy 2013 1,435
Jeremy Hill 2014 1,339
Ezekiel Elliott 2016 1,994
Jordan Howard 2016 1,611

Our projections give Mixon 973.59 total yards and 7.43 total touchdowns in 2017, which would fall short of Hill's rookie campaign. And even in Hill's dynamic 2014 rookie campaign, Green still averaged over 17 points per game in PPR formats.

WOWY Year(s) Games PPR Points Standard Points Receptions TD Yards
With Hill 2014 12 17.4 11.7 5.8 0.50 86.8

Conclusion: Don't worry about Mixon, either.

A.J. Green and John Ross

Like Mixon, Ross has yet to play in the NFL, but there have been a few Bengals players who were somewhat comparable prospects.

Player Height (in) Weight (lbs) 40-Yard Dash Time Speed Score Yards Per Reception
John Ross 71 188 4.22 119 14.2
Marvin Jones 74 199 4.46 101 13.6
Andre Caldwell 72 204 4.35 114 13.6
Jerome Simpson 74 199 4.47 100 17.0

Speed Score is a formula that adjusts 40-yard dash time to account for weight. It's calibrated so that 100 is the average score. Ross is still clearly the fastest of the bunch, but Marvin Jones and Andre Caldwell were faster than average prospects. They all also had reasonably similar yards per reception, which suggests they were used in a similar fashion. We'll use these three receivers as proxies for Ross.

Jones played with Green from 2012 through 2015, while Caldwell and Simpson were with the Bengals during Green's 2011 rookie season. Here is Green's per-game performance with or without these other wide receivers.

WOWY Years Games PPR Points Standard Points Receptions TD Yards
With Jones 2013 16 19.2 13.0 6.1 0.69 89.1
With Jones 2012-2015 40 18.1 12.3 5.8 0.62 85.4
Without Jones 2012-2015 20 18.5 12.5 6.0 0.65 85.0
With Simpson 2011 15 14.5 10.2 4.3 0.47 70.5
With Caldwell 2011 11 15.2 10.7 4.5 0.55 73.1
Without Caldwell 2011 4 12.8 8.8 4.0 0.25 63.3

Jones' best season was 2013 -- and Green also had the best fantasy performance of his career in 2013. That was true despite the fact that in that season, Jones had the highest market share of any receiver not named A.J. Green since 2011 (at 20.40%).

Over the four seasons they played together, the presence or absence of Jones didn't materially affect Green's fantasy production at all.

In 2011, Green didn't play without Simpson, but Simpson's presence didn't hurt Green's numbers (Green averaged 14.5 PPR points over his entire 2011 rookie season). In a very small sample, Green played better with Caldwell than without.

Admittedly, Ross has much more draft capital than the rest of these guys, and could very well be the fastest guy in the NFL.

Conclusion: As a rookie Ross' role is thus far unclear, but the results with similarly speedy guys lining up alongside Green to this point in Green's career suggest Ross will not adversely impact Green's performance.

All Together Now

Of course, looking at each individual player alongside Green is helpful, but it doesn't show the full picture, since Eifert, Mixon and Ross will all be out there at the same time with Green this season. Which means, in order to project the potential impact of other weapons around Green on his production, we need to understand Green's typical production in the context of his offense.

The table below bears that out, showing Green's targets and -- so we can get an idea of how good the offense was as a whole each year -- the Bengals' NFL rank in terms of Net Expected Points (NEP) per play, his quarterback Andy Dalton's NFL rank in terms of Passing NEP, and his own mark in Reception NEP per target (the league average from 2011 to 2016 was 0.62). Because as the Bengals' offense goes, you'd expect Green to go, too. Right?

Net Expected Points is our proprietary metric that tells us, on average, how many expected points a given play generates. You can learn more in our glossary.

Year Targets Green Reception NEP/Target
Dalton Passing NEP Rank Bengals Adj NEP/P Rank
2011 115 0.85 21 17
2012 164 0.67
2013 178 0.72
2014 116 0.69
2015 132 0.88 5
2016 100 0.76 12 12

Essentially, Green's production is unaffected by what's going on around him.

Our 2017 projections have Green putting together the kind of numbers we've grown accustomed to by now: 89.47 receptions, 1,277.19 yards, 9.78 touchdowns, and 186.56 total fantasy points in standard leagues, good enough to make him the 6th-best wide receiver in our preseason rankings.

The bottom line is, Green is a flat-out stud whose performance is immune to his teammates. Draft Green with confidence, and don't worry about who else lines up alongside him in Cincinnati.