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Sleepers, Busts and Bold Predictions: The 2023 Cincinnati Bengals

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Michael Dolan

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Welcome to Sleepers, Busts and Bold Predictions for the 2023 fantasy football season. All summer, our analysts, two at a time, will preview all 32 NFL teams for the upcoming season. We’ll pick a pair of sleepers, a pair of busts and a pair of bold predictions. Sometimes they’ll be the same pick! Sometimes they will directly disagree! And that’s fine. Today: The Cincinnati Bengals.

 

Below, Michael Dolan and Sam Choudhury tackle the Bengals, starting with their picks in “The Answers,” then expanding on their picks in “The Explanation.”

2023 Sleepers, Busts & Bold Predictions: Cincinnati Bengals

The Answers

Favorite Sleeper

Dolan: Trayveon Williams
Choudhury: Tyler Boyd

Biggest Bust

Dolan: Tee Higgins
Choudhury: Irv Smith

Bold Prediction

Dolan: Ja’Marr Chase Tops Justin Jefferson to Be WR1
Choudhury: Ja’Marr Chase Tops 1,500 Yards, Scores Double-Digit TDs

The Explanations

Sleepers

Dolan: Trayveon Williams

Trayveon Williams‘ status as a sleeper took a bit of a hit when Joe Mixon restructured his contract, but Williams still has some sneaky handcuff value. Mixon is about to turn 27, and that age paired with a rich injury history and a high workload in recent years means he’s entering 2023 with a few red flags. The No. 2 role behind Mixon is up for grabs right now, but early rumblings indicate Williams may be the guy for that job.

While Williams is an unproven commodity, his potential role should Mixon go down is a lucrative one. The Bengals are a high-octane offense, and whoever they trot out at RB is in a cushy position to accumulate tons of fantasy points. You never want to bank on injuries in fantasy football, but drafting handcuffs is a strategy that’s paid off handsomely in the past, and Williams is a low-cost option with tons of upside.

Choudhury: Tyler Boyd

Tyler Boyd Cincinnati Bengals 2023 Fantasy Football Sleepers, Busts & Bold Predictions

Tyler Boyd had a disappointing 2022 season, logging only 762 receiving yards, his lowest mark since 2017. As the third fiddle on the Bengals’ offense, volume was difficult for Boyd, who finished third on the team in targets (82), behind two alphas in Ja’Marr Chase (134) and Tee Higgins (109). The expectation for Boyd entering next season is much lower, creating sleeper appeal. He is still tied to one of the most efficient, pass-heaviest teams in the NFL, that posted a +7.6 pass rate over expectation last season, trailing only the Chiefs. It’s also worth noting that Boyd’s production could have looked significantly better last season had it not been for the cancelation of the Week 17 game — he was targeted early and often in Cincinnati’s lone offensive drive, scoring the only touchdown of the game. 

 

Busts

Dolan: Tee Higgins

Finding a bust on the Bengals is tough. There are only a few guys on the team you’re drafting in fantasy, and they’re all solid fantasy assets. Tee Higgins is one of those guys, and his talent plus situation (great offense with an elite QB) are great for fantasy production, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll provide great value on draft day.

The problem with Higgins is he’s always going to be the second fiddle to Ja’Marr Chase, which limits his upside. Higgins finished as the WR17 and WR22 (half-PPR) the last two seasons, yet he’s consistently going off the board as a top-15 receiver in 2023 drafts. Using a top pick on Higgins means you’re likely drafting him at his ceiling, which is a practice that’s typically best to avoid in general. While he’s a near lock to provide production that’s at least solid, the uphill battle he’ll face to outperform his ADP lands him in the bust category here.

Choudhury: Irv Smith

After letting Hayden Hurst walk this offseason, the Bengals opted for a budget-friendlier option in free agency, signing former second-round tight end Irv Smith to a modest one-year contract. Despite being a top-50 overall pick in 2019, Smith was never able to vault his way up the depth chart in Minnesota, starting only 15 games in four seasons. He has also struggled with injuries, suiting up in just 37 out of a possible 66 regular season games. Even if Smith wins the starting spot in Cincinnati, there are a lot of mouths to feed on the offense. Since Joe Burrow and Tee Higgins were drafted in 2020, no tight end has finished higher than fourth on the team in targets, receptions or receiving yards. 

 

Bold Predictions

Dolan: Ja’Marr Chase Tops Justin Jefferson to Be WR1

While Tee Higgins is set to underwhelm slightly this year, I think we’re about to see Ja’Marr Chase absolutely explode. The phrase “third-year breakout” used to be common for wide receivers, but not as much lately given how quickly they’re breaking out these days. Even though Chase has already broken out himself, I think he’ll experience another breakout in 2023 and take his game to another level.

Despite playing just 12 games last year, Chase still saw 134 targets on the season (good for 15th in the league). On a per-game basis, he averaged 10.3 targets, which would have been good for fifth in the league and 3 more than Higgins (7.3). It’s not unreasonable to think Chase can hit the 180-target mark this year – a number only Justin Jefferson and Davante Adams hit last year – and establish himself as the unquestioned No. 1 on the team rather than simply the 1A. If he does, his combination of talent, age and supporting cast will have him primed to enter 2024 as the league’s No. 1 overall fantasy receiver.

Ja'Marr Chase Cincinnati Bengals 2023 Fantasy Football Sleepers, Busts & Bold Predictions

Choudhury: Ja’Marr Chase Tops 1,500 Yards, Scores Double-Digit TDs

Ja’Marr Chase was a much different player in his second season, averaging 3.04 more targets and 7.13 more receptions than his 2021 rookie campaign. He started to separate as the true No. 1 of the offense, creating a wide gap among all other Bengals’ pass catchers in targets (134), receptions (87) and receiving yards (1,046). Over the past two seasons, Chase has logged 2,501 receiving yards, the fifth most by any player in their first two seasons, despite missing five games. The shower narrative between Chase and Burrow grows stronger by the hear and could take another step forward in their third season together. I expect Chase to hit career-high marks in receiving yards and touchdowns next season, north of 1,500 and 10. 

 
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