NFL Rookie Watch: A.J. Green
Bengals could lose their starting quarterback and top two WRs before next season
A.J. Green tallied three 50-catch seasons while playing for Georgia Bulldogs
Green may struggle to produce if Bengals start roookie Andy Dalton at QB
No one quite knows what the Bengals passing game will look like in 2011. Quarterback Carson Palmer has made it clear he would be happy to walk away from the game if the team refuses his demand to be traded, while wide receivers Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens -- who combined for 139 receptions and nearly half of the team's total targets in 2010 -- each have one foot out the door. The loss of those three veterans would all but dismantle a unit which ranked fifth last year in attempts (590) and 11th in passing touchdowns (26).
With a nod to the future, Cincinnati used its top two selections in April's draft to address the situation. Georgia's explosive wide receiver A.J. Green was taken with the fourth overall selection; TCU quarterback Andy Dalton was selected with pick No. 35.
The 6-foot-3, 211-pound Green was one of the draft's most intriguing picks. A standout receiver from a run-first conference, Green caught 50-plus passes in each of his three seasons in the Bulldogs lineup.
Dissecting the depth chart: The Bengals would have to pay Ochocinco $6 million to keep him but few believe that check will get cut. The 33-year old's skills have dropped off considerably the past few seasons and he is no longer viewed as an elite NFL receiver. Owens -- Cincinnati's leading receiver in 2010 -- is also expected to relocate, meaning Green could jump to the front of the Bengals depth chart early into his first season. The team still has hope for '08 selections Jerome Simpson and Andre Caldwell; Simpson exploded in the final two weeks of last season but has accomplished little else. Jordan Shipley, the team's '10 third round pick, is a possession-type who should complement Green well in the future.
Just the stats: Even more impressive than his three 50-catch campaigns is that Green reached the mark despite missing three games in '09 and four games last season. He was very consistent at Georgia, having gained 80 or more yards in 17 of 32 collegiate contests. But if there is a knock on Green it's that he didn't have the huge games that fantasy owners crave -- he never caught 10 or more balls in a game, never scored more than twice in any one contest, and his career best for yardage was the 164 he gained in last November's loss to Auburn.
Projection for 2011: 55 receptions, 825 yards, 6 TDs.
2010 rookie comparison: Mike Williams
First, it's best to clarify that no one should expect Green -- or any rookie wide receiver -- to match Williams' touchdown total (11) from his '10 rookie campaign. That's too much to ask. However, Green does possess the same big-play ability that Tampa Bay's star receiver flexed last year, and probably will rank as one of the leading rookie fantasy producers.
Interesting fact that won't help you: Green credits the time he spent as a member of his elementary school's juggling team for helping to develop his strong hand-eye coordination. "I can juggle, like, four balls," the receiver told an Atlanta Journal-Constitution reporter last August. "I can juggle everything -- pens, bowling pins, whatever."
What he's worth: It's fine to like what Green has to offer; just don't fall in love with him -- yet. While it's true he could be "the guy" in Cincinnati, that may not mean much if Palmer makes good on his threat to head into early retirement. If Dalton is operating under center, the Bengals passing game will suffer growing pains, making life miserable for Green and every other viable fantasy weapon in Cincinnati's offense.
Green will land as a No. 3 receiver in most drafts, but he's a far safer bet as a No. 4.
Mike Beacom is a contributing writer for FootballDiehards.com.
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