Antonio Bryant to the Bengals
Antonio Bryant hoped to parlay his big 2008 campaign (83-1,248-7) into an equally large contract; instead, he got a $9.9 million franchise tag and produced pedestrian 39-600-4 numbers in an injury-marred 2009 season in Tampa.
Unshackled this offseason, Bryant secured a four-year, $28 million deal with the Bengals. In Cincinnati, home to Chad Ochocinco, Bryant will return to the role of wingman, or at least WR1A to #85. That shouldn’t be an issue; Bryant started his career playing a similar role to Joey Galloway in Dallas and rolled up a solid 44-733-6 as a rookie.
And it’s not as if Bryant has competition to start opposite Ochocinco, with the likes of Jerome Simpson, Andre Caldwell, Matt Jones, Jordan Shipley, and Dezmon Briscoe rounding out the depth chart. Last season, Ochocinco’s supporting cast—Caldwell along with Laveranues Coles, Quan Cosby, and the late Chris Henry—accounted for 110-1,237-10, compared to 72-1,047-9 for the main attraction. Give Bryant Coles’ 2009 numbers, as well as a portion of Caldwell’s, and he’s well on his way to being a fantasy factor.
The key as to whether Bryant is merely a solid fantasy wideout with numbers in the 800 and 7 range (the Mike Sims-Walker neighborhood) or something more substantial is just how committed the Bengals are to their newfound beloved running game. Last year Carson Palmer’s numbers (3,134 yards, 21 touchdowns) were 20-25% off his pre-elbow injury stat lines. If both Ochocinco and Bryant—along with whatever emerges from the peloton of tertiary wideouts, not to mention rookie tight end Jermaine Gresham—are dipping into that reduced pool of stats, Bryant is fated to be a fringe fantasy starter.
If, on the other hand, Marvin Lewis doesn’t ride Cedric Benson quite as hard as in 2009 and Palmer’s elbow moves him closer to the elite QB we saw in 2005-2007... well, as the saying goes, a rising tide lifts all boats. Even if Palmer only earns back half of the productivity his injury and Cincy’s ground game sapped, that increase could provide enough stats to push Bryant off the fringe of starting—maybe even to the verge of being a borderline fantasy WR1 in larger leagues.