Is A.J. Green a Mid-Round Steal in Fantasy Football This Year?
After missing 23 games over the past two seasons, including the entirety of the 2019 campaign, A.J. Green returns with high hopes for 2020, and he comes back to a new quarterback in rookie Joe Burrow, the number-one overall pick by the Cincinnati Bengals
Due to all his recent injuries -- just one 16-game season since 2016 -- Green's fantasy football stock is at a low point. In BestBall10 drafts from July 1 on, AJG is being taken 69th overall as the WR31.
With Burrow in the fold, will this be a redemption year for Green, or should you fade the 32-year-old wideout with an ugly recent injury history? Let's take a look.
Well, we have to do some digging to get to Green's last full season, which came in 2017. That year he ranked in the top 10 among wideouts in targets (143), snap share (29.2%), HOG rate (17.5%), red-zone target share (29.6%), and total touchdowns (8), per PlayerProfiler. That was his only 16-game season since 2016.
His last game action of any kind came in 2018. Green played in nine games that season and caught 46 of 77 targets for 694 receiving yards and 6 touchdowns. That put him as the half-PPR WR15 on a points-per-game basis. Not too shabby.
Can Green repeat those numbers?
Since 2015, he has dealt with a high-ankle sprain, knee contusion, hamstring strain, and toe sprain -- forcing him to miss a total of 35 games. And that's just the known injuries.
No one can say for sure how much of a toll those injuries have taken on Green, so drafting him this season comes with plenty of risk. That much is obvious. But does he offer upside that makes the risk worth it?
AJG in 2020
While Andy Dalton wasn't terrible, something Green has going for him this year is a quarterback who might be really good. Obviously Burrow hasn't yet taken an NFL snap, but based off what we saw from him in 2019, he has all the tools to be a superstar signal caller.
And Burrow could mesh well with Green.
Throughout his career, Green has been known as a quality deep threat, and that's precisely what Burrow excels at. Green's 15.1 yards per catch in 2018 was tied for the second-most in his career. Burrow had a Pro Football Focus grade of 94.9 overall in 2019, the highest-graded season we’ve seen at quarterback since 2014. He excelled at everything -- ranking first in all of deep passes, tight window passes, and clean pocket throws, per PFF.
We have to be careful expecting too much from any rookie quarterback, but Burrow could be solid right away. And the return of 2019 first-rounder Jonah Williams up front should be another boost to this offense.
Something else that'll be different for Green this year is the amount of target competition Cincy has at receiver. Tyler Boyd has become a reliable playmaker in Green's absence the past few years. John Ross flashed a bit when healthy last year, and the Bengals took Tee Higgins in Round 2 this spring.
The talent at receiver for Cincy could go one of two ways for Green's fantasy prospects -- it could keep defenses honest or it could hurt his target volume. We see more of the latter as we project Green for 116 targets, well short of the 144 he got in his last full campaign back in 2017.
The Current Cost
When deciding whether or not to take Green, you need to evaluate the other options in that price range. As we said earlier, Green is coming off the board 69th overall as the WR31.
That's actually right after Boyd (WR30), and it's just before receivers such as Jarvis Landry (WR32), Will Fuller (WR33), Diontae Johnson (WR35), Marvin Jones (WR36) and Brandin Cooks (WR38). Two of the wideouts going right before Green (other than Boyd) are T.Y. Hilton (WR27) and Marquise Brown (WR28). There are some appealing players in that group, with guys like Brown, Fuller and Johnson possessing difference-making upside. Landry was the half-PPR WR13 last year.
In short, Green isn't as expensive as he once was, but there's still a signifcant opportunity cost that comes with taking him.
One more thing worth noting is Cincy's schedule. Every other team in the NFC North has a stout pass defense as the Pittsburgh Steelers, Baltimore Ravens and Cleveland Browns all ranked in the top-10 last year in fewest pass yards allowed per game. We have all three projected to be top-13 pass defenses in 2020, so that's six tough games. Besides division games, the Bengals will face two more top-10 passes defenses from a year ago, so 8 of their 16 games will come against teams that we very good against the pass in 2019.
We can break this down any which way you want, but it really comes down to one thing -- how much you think the recent injury woes have zapped Green's upside.
If you think Green still has plenty left in the tank, you'll likely be on board with taking one of the best wideouts of the last decade at his current price. If you're terrified of Green suffering another injury and think he's probably not the same guy even if he does stay healthy, then you're unlikely to take him over some of the high-upside wideouts in his ADP range -- such as Brown, Johnson and Fuller.
Our model ranks Green as the WR30, so we mostly agree with his market value. With that said, it's hard for me to get behind Green having the upside of some of the other players in his range, and for that reason I'll mostly be fading AJG unless he slides in drafts.