Make no mistake, Cincinnati Bengals wide receiver A.J. Green has always been known as an extremely gifted receiver. The former No. 4 overall pick out of Georgia hasn’t seen a year go by in his NFL career where he didn’t post at least 1,000 yards receiving and six touchdowns.
Yet, for some reason, he’s never been mentioned among the truly elite fantasy wide receivers in the game. A couple years ago, Dez Bryant and Demaryius Thomas were the two best. Antonio Brown and Julio Jones took over next and although they are still at the top of their game, Odell Beckham Jr. and DeAndre Hopkins are considered the two great ones in waiting.
Yes, Green has been top 10 and even top five, but he’s never led the league in catches, yards or touchdowns. Could that change by the end of 2016, and could he record the first or second most points by a wide receiver in fantasy?
After four weeks this season, it certainly appears as if he can. Green has 32 receptions for 468 yards and two touchdowns at the quarter mark of the season. Should this pace continues, the Bengals wideout will have 128 catches, 1,872 yards and eight touchdowns by season’s end. If he had posted those totals last season, Green would have been first in receiving yards and third in catches.
Now, four games is still a relatively small sample size, so it’s important not to get too carried away with expectations, but there are several reasons to believe Green is well on his way to a really magical year.
For one, quarterback Andy Dalton is looking his way a lot. Green has 44 targets, which is more than twice as many as Cincinnati’s No. 2 receiver, Brandon LaFell. Running back Giovani Bernand is actually second for the Bengals with 24 targets in the passing game.
But for how much Dalton targets Green – an average of 11 times per week – it doesn’t feel like he’s forcing him the ball. Against Miami on Thursday night, Dolphins cornerbacks Tony Lippett and Xavien Howard left him wide open on crossing routes. Maybe it wasn’t such a good idea benching Bryon Maxwell after all.
Bengals offensive coordinator Ken Zampese sent his No. 1 weapon deep too. Green caught passes of 51, 43 and 21 yards versus Miami. He had a 54-yard touchdown against the Jets too.
His most impressive play Thursday was the 51-yard catch where Dalton basically threw it up high, and Green outfought the defender in the air for the ball. His second best play was a 7-yard catch, where he simply stiff-armed out of an arm tackle and walked into the end zone. He displayed two very difficult skill sets on both of those plays.
Green dominated so much in Week 4 that at the end of the third quarter, he had more receiving yards (166) than the Dolphins had total offense (152). His 173 receiving yards nearly accounted for half of Cincinnati’s offense, and he could have had even more, but the game was over early in the third quarter, so the Bengals ran the ball to milk the clock.
The 28-year-old did have one stinker against Pittsburgh, a team he usually torches, in Week 2, but other than that, he has at least eight catches and 77 yards in the other three games this season. In two of the four games, he has 10 or more receptions for greater than 170 yards.
It’s absolutely no coincidence that in the two games where Green has massive totals, including a touchdown, the Bengals have won. Look for Zampese to continue feeding him the ball like he did Thursday because good things happen for Cincinnati when he’s performing well.
And don’t forget, tight end Tyler Eifert should be returning soon. He might take a few targets away from Green, but it’s going to open things up too. The Bengals are in the bottom five in red zone touchdown percentage through four games. The addition of Eifert, a guy who averaged a score per game a year ago, will definitely help that. More overall scoring for the Bengals offense means more touchdown opportunities for Green.
The schedule over the next several weeks looks favorable too. Three of Cincinnati’s next six opponents are ranked among the six worst teams at allowing fantasy points to opposing wide receivers. There could be more 150-yard days coming soon.
Maybe he won’t continue his current rapid pace all season, but no one should be surprised if by season’s end, owners are talking about Green setting several career-highs in 2016.