Injuries are one of the most frustrating parts of life in the NFL. Any team can, at any moment, be robbed of a key cog in the machine due to unfortunate or freak injuries beyond the control of even the most careful training staff or coach.
The front office and coaches in Cincinnati are currently dealing with this very issue after news of Marvin Jones' broken foot that left the team without a starting wideout just weeks before the start of the 2014 season. Are they prepared to deal with this loss at receiver, and can you benefit as a fantasy football player?
More Like "Shallow Chart"
A quick look at the Bengals' depth chat at wide receiver with Jones removed should be enough to make even Buccaneers, Panthers and Raiders fans chuckle. Past superstar A.J. Green, the Bengals will look for a second starter and a slot receiver from a group including Mohamed Sanu, Brandon Tate, Ryan Whalen, Dane Sanzenbacher, Cobi Hamilton and a couple of fringe rookies. A look at the numbers reveal just how poor this depth is.
Sanu moves into a starting spot (presumably) with the news of Jones' injury, and last year provides a very clear picture of how far off the pace of his fellow wideouts Sanu was.
|Name||Receptions||Rec NEP||Targets||Rec NEP/Target||Rec Success Rate|
Sanu saw a very similar volume as Jones, but didn't even do half as much as his teammate with those opportunities. In fact, among receivers with between 50-100 targets in 2013, Sanu was seventh-worst in Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) per target, joined near the bottom with the likes of Darrius Heyward-Bey and Greg Little. Marvin Jones had the second best per-target NEP average among that same group, dozens of spots higher than Sanu.
And with Sanu in the starting lineup, the combined career production of every other player on the wide receiver depth chart looks something like this:
|Name||Rec||Rec NEP||Targets||Rec NEP/Target||Rec Success Rate|
More than half of that production comes from Sanzenbacher in 2011 and Tate in 2010, as the backup Bengals wideouts have only two 20-reception years among them, and can't combine to equal the production of A.J. Green in 2013 alone.
Making Sense of This Mess
There are, however, a couple of players on the Cincinnati roster who do stack up well against their peers in the passing game, and may benefit from the loss of Jones in added opportunities through the air.
When considering the 23 running backs to see 50 to 100 targets last season, Gio Bernard is above average, ranking 10th, ahead of Darren Sproles, Le'Veon Bell and DeMarco Murray in per-target efficiency. The shifty second-year back may lose some carries in the Bengal offense with the addition of Jeremy Hill, but the loss of Jones may open up more opportunities for him in the passing game.
Because despite playing running back, a position which doesn't run as many downfield routes like a wide receiver, Bernard was essentially on par with Sanu in terms of his production as a receiver, posting a better per-target average than Sanu while falling just shy of matching his overall production total despite a distinct disadvantage.
Tyler Eifert is the other player poised to capitalize on the targets up for grabs with Jones sidelined, as the second-year tight end was also more efficient with his targets last season than Sanu, with a better Reception NEP per target and Success Rate than the wide receiver.
Those two players should see a nice volume boost while Jones is out, as they represent the best options outside of A.J. Green in the passing game. Andy Dalton will likely still favor his superstar for a majority of his passing attempts, but given the choice between Sanu and Bernard or Eifert, the back or tight end would be the wise decisions.
As for Sanu himself, he'll likely see time at wideout and make a few catches, but don't expect him to impress and take over the second starting position from Jones with a stellar performance. His numbers declined sharply in 2013 when given a bigger role, and it would be highly improbable for a player who struggled with a leap from "barely used" to "third-string" to somehow reverse course and become respectable again when given even more work.
If I were running the Bengals, I would be shopping the free agent and trade markets to find depth, because even if they accept that Sanu is an "acceptable" starter, they have no depth, and will be very predictable on offense without a playmaker like Jones across from A.J. Green. I would assume the Bengals feel the same way, which is further evidence as to why buying in on Sanu at this point would be setting yourself up for fantasy football failure.