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Four Downs: How 'bout those ... Bengals?

11/25/2012

When most fantasy football owners think of the Cincinnati Bengals, electric wide receiver A.J. Green comes to mind first. This is fine, of course, and though the best wide receiver in fantasy saw his touchdown streak of nine games snapped Sunday, he still helped fantasy owners with 13 points. Two other Bengals produced bigger numbers, and while both quarterback Andy Dalton and running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis are owned in all -- in Dalton's case, it's nearly all -- leagues, people rarely seem exciting about using them. Perhaps things have changed over the past few weeks.

Dalton tossed three touchdown passes Sunday, albeit against the brutal Oakland Raiders, but still, it was his third consecutive performance with 20 or more fantasy points. No other quarterback is on such a streak. Dalton also accomplished this in Weeks 2-4, as well. We shouldn't be too surprised by Dalton's success. After all, he was strong much of his rookie season, and he entered this weekend a cool (though perhaps surprising) 10th in season scoring among quarterbacks. Yet even in a tasty matchup against a terrible team, he could attract only modest interest (35.4 percent) as a fantasy starter in standard leagues.

This should change the next three weeks, as the Bengals face middling opposition (San Diego Chargers, Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles), and Dalton is obviously playing well. Including Sunday, Dalton has nine touchdown passes and zero interceptions in his past three games. No, he hasn't faced anything near a Chicago Bears-type defense in that span, and his arm has never been gushed over as particularly strong, but the numbers suggest he certainly has been a top-10 player this season. Dalton is hardly considered that. I admit I haven't ranked Dalton as a top-10 quarterback regularly, but the next three weeks he certainly warrants more consideration than normal, depending on the matchups, over Tony Romo, Matt Schaub, Matthew Stafford and Eli Manning, all of whom were active in far more leagues in Week 12 (as they generally are in most weeks). Dalton does have the best wide receiver to throw to, plus ignored but emerging Mohamed Sanu, owned in 1.1 percent of leagues (that will change this week), scored two more touchdowns Sunday, and has four over the past three weeks.

Meanwhile, Green-Ellis hasn't been as productive as Dalton relative to his position -- he entered the week tied for 20th in running back scoring -- but he's coming off the first consecutive 100-yard rushing games of his career. He shredded the Raiders for 129 rushing yards, including the two longest carries of his career (48 and 39 yards). The man affectionately called The Law Firm -- is it really affection? -- is a relatively unspectacular straight-ahead runner known for his many touchdowns and no fumbles with the New England Patriots, reliable but devoid of upside. His first two months as a Bengal weren't noteworthy, but his past two weeks have been. Was Green-Ellis effective only due to the easy matchups (Raiders and Kansas City Chiefs)? Perhaps, but again, the next three weeks don't feature top-10 defenses, either. Green-Ellis will be the rare RB2 you don't have to worry about, so enjoy it.

Second down: Most of the high scorers for Week 12 accomplished their feats on Thanksgiving. Entering the Sunday night Giants-Packers game, every individual standard fantasy performance (not defenses) of more than 20 points happened before Sunday. Regardless, there was much buzz about young San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick, and he didn't disappoint against the New Orleans Saints, registering a solid 19 points. Kaepernick produced one more fantasy point than he had in his impressive starting debut against the Bears, but might not have played as well. Kaepernick made numerous mistakes Sunday against a terrible defense, but his legs will likely save him from fantasy disappointment when he struggles throwing or makes poor decisions. He threw for one touchdown and ran for another Sunday, and it's reasonable to drool over the second-year man as a fantasy starter as long as he is, indeed, starting, which doesn't figure to be in question anymore. Kaepernick will not enter my top 10 quarterbacks in Tuesday's end-of-season rankings, but top 15 seems about right.

Third down: Only two players were added in more ESPN leagues over the past week than Kaepernick, and neither of them were particularly productive Sunday. It was announced Sunday morning that Denver Broncos rookie Ronnie Hillman would be bumped as presumed starter for longtime inactive Knowshon Moreno. Hillman didn't score any fantasy points, rushing three times for 9 yards, and failing to catch a pass. Yawn. Meanwhile, Jacksonville Jaguars running back Jalen Parmele looked good rushing for 45 yards before injuring his leg in the second quarter against the Tennessee Titans. This is the risk in getting overexcited about unproven assets. Coaches don't owe fantasy owners a thing, and often change their minds. In Denver, I speculated about Moreno's relevance in Wednesday's Sneaky Pickups blog, and after he produced 111 yards from scrimmage, there won't be anything sneaky about it. With Willis McGahee out, the Broncos were clearly more comfortable with Moreno than Hillman. As for the Jaguars, it's too early to know if Parmele can play next week, but unless Maurice Jones-Drew returns, it's tough to recommend Parmele or Rashad Jennings (the most dropped player over the past week, incidentally), regardless of matchup.

Fourth down: Finally, many Julio Jones fantasy owners likely debated for days whether to play the Atlanta Falcons wide receiver or not. Jones left his Week 11 game early because of a sprained ankle, and was listed as questionable for Sunday's game. However, word came plenty early Sunday morning that Jones would indeed be active. I own Jones in multiple leagues and my take is if he's active for the Falcons, he's active for me. I follow this policy in most every case with a top quarterback, running back or wide receiver playing through injury, unless my other options are of similar top-10 stature/upside, which is rare. Sometimes the player can re-injure himself and burn you, but other times, like Sunday, when Jones caught six passes for a career-high 147 yards and an 80-yard touchdown, you're left wondering how you ever thought about using (or actually used) the likes of Golden Tate, Anquan Boldin or Michael Jenkins (those names were included in actual Twitter questions to me in relation to Jones' worth Sunday morning) instead. Of course there's no way I would have predicted Jones exploding like this Sunday, but more often than not your studs, not last-minute fill-ins like Emmanuel Sanders, win fantasy leagues.