Over most of the past decade, A.J. Green was about as reliable as fantasy receivers get. A Terminator that chewed up yardage, scored touchdowns and helped teams win championships. For five straight years from 2011 to 2015, Green topped 1,000 receiving yards. He had three seasons with double-digit touchdowns over that span. He was a top-10 fantasy option three times and never finished outside WR2 territory.
In 2016, Green missed six games but still flirted with 1,000 yards and ranked fifth in PPR fantasy points per game. In 2017 he again surpassed 1,000 yards and finished inside the top-10.
Last year, however, the bottom fell out—Green missed seven games, posted the lowest yardage and reception totals of his career and finished outside the top 40 receivers in PPR formats.
Between that recent injury history and his age (he’ll turn 31 before the season starts), there’s growing doubt about Green’s future—so much so that heading into his ninth season A.J. Green is being drafted in WR2 territory.
So, which is it? Were Green’s down 2016 and 2018 seasons just bumps in the road that led to an over-correction that leaves him undervalued in 2019? Or are those down years indicative of an aging player whose best days are behind him?
The Health of A.J. Green Will Be a Hot Topic This Summer
Over the first five years of his career, Green was durable, missing just four games total. Then came the torn hamstring that ended his 2016 season after 10 games. And the toe injury (and surgery) that put an end to last year’s career-worst campaign.
However, in a recent interview with ESPN’s Adam Schefter, Green said he’s back to running routes and expects to be a full participant in training camp—a development that would help allay at least some of the concerns about his health.
“I feel great,” Green said. I’m back running routes. Everything’s back to normal…I should be cleared like next month. Definitely be ready for training camp.”
Of course, this time of year every injury update is glowing, and Green’s participation in OTAs will bear monitoring. But it appears that Green’s little piggy will ready to rock for Week 1.
No reports on whether it was the one that went to market or the one that stayed home.
Green’s Fantasy Situation Has Changed…for the Better
After 16 years under Marvin Lewis, the Bengals have a new, offensive-minded young head coach in Zac Taylor. And as Josh Alper reported for Pro Football Talk, A.J. Green is loving the shift in focus in the Queen City.
“Playing with coach Lewis, it’s all about the defense,” Green said. “You don’t show up the defense at practice. But Zac is like, ‘OTA one, we’re going to kick the defense’s butt.’ That’s what we like to hear. I love the way he teaches. He’s not yelling at you; he’s teaching every little detail and having you understand why we run it this way.”
Also, for the first time since Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu left town, the Bengals appear to have a legitimate No. 2 receiver in second-year pro Tyler Boyd. With Green on the shelf last year, Boyd was forced into the No. 1 role—and he responded with a 76/1,028/7 stat line and WR15 fantasy finish.
After that breakout season, even with A.J. Green back Boyd’s going to be a substantial part of the offense. Green likely won’t be among the league’s five most targeted wideouts like he was in 2012 and 2013. But Green’s only ranked among the 10 most targeted wideouts in the NFL three times, and that didn’t exactly ravage his ability to produce.
Never mind that with a legitimate secondary receiver opposite him, opponents aren’t going to be quite as likely to bracket Green in coverage all game every game. The quantity of his targets may drop, but the quality will go up.
There’s also the presence of quarterback Andy Dalton, who had injury issues of his own in 2018. Dalton’s not a great quarterback, but if he’s healthy is a good one. He’s also a quarterback who joined the NFL the same year Green did. There isn’t a more tightly knit pitch-catch duo in the NFL.
Green’s Playing for His Supper in 2019
There’s also one more major factor with A.J. Green—the contract factor.
Green is playing in 2019 on the final year of a four-year, $60 million contract extension that he signed back in 2015. And while the organization has maintained all along that they intend to extend Green this year, the wideout admitted to Schefter in their interview (via Chris Roling of Bengals Wire) that he’s a little unsure about his future.
“I don’t know. I love the Bengals, I’d love to be a part of the organization for the rest of my career, but you never know,” Green said. “I just take each year at a time, and go out there and play and get healthy and go from there. It’s hard. This is a place I’ve been for the last eight years, going on nine years now. So, it’s hard for me to see myself somewhere else because I have a family here. You just never know, like I said, I can’t control that. Something may get done something might not get done.”
It’s admittedly more likely than not that Green will be re-upped at some point this year and finish his career where it started. But it’s a little curious that it hasn’t already happened.
And in any event, Green has tens of millions of reasons to go out this year and remove all doubt that he can still play at an elite level.
Talk about motivation.
Green’s age and recent injury are legitimate concerns. Father Time, as they say, is undefeated, and while Green’s not necessarily that old there’s no set age when players start to decline. Some do gradually. Others careen off a cliff.
If the Bengals weren’t worried about it, A.J. Green would already have inked a new deal.
However, when Healthy Green’s an elite talent—a player who has been a top-10 receiver in either fantasy points or fantasy points per game in six of the past seven seasons. He has a new offensive head coach. His best running mate in years.
And millions of reasons to give it his all and then some in 2019.
Unless you believe Green’s going to miss substantial time in the upcoming season, he’s an excellent bet to at the very least justify his early ADP at Football Diehards of the last pick in Round 3 (and 14th wide receiver selected. If Green stays healthy, he could easily obliterate it.
And if you go RB/RB with your first two fantasy draft picks, it’s hard to imagine a better target as your WR1.
A.J. Green might be getting old, but he’s not dead.
A member of the Fantasy Sports Writers Association and Pro Football Writers of America who resides in Columbus, Ohio, Gary Davenport has been featured on a number of fantasy websites and in nationally circulated publications, including the USA Today Fantasy Football Preview and the magazines distributed by Fantasy Sports Publications Inc., for whom Gary is both a contributing author and associate editor. Gary is an eight-time FSWA Award finalist and two-time winner who has been a finalist for that organization’s Fantasy Football Writer of the Year award each of the last three years. He won the honor in 2017. Gary also appears regularly on Sirius XM Radio (including live from Radio Row at Super Bowl XLIX) and over-the-air stations across the country. He knows football. Or so he’s heard.
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