With the 2016 NFL season officially in the books, talk of free agency and the draft has begun. Before moving on to discussing future Bengals players, it’s worth analyzing one of the more interesting decisions the front office made. That decision was letting go of two of the team’s better receivers: Marvin Jones and Mohamad Sanu.
Since A.J. Green came into the league in 2011, he has been the unquestioned number one receiver for the Bengals. However, during most of the Bengals best seasons, Marvin Jones and Mohamed Sanu proved to be solid pieces of the passing game. Letting go of both of them at the same time was a bold move that might seem like it didn’t pay off given Cincinnati’s dismal season. While there may have been a slight negative impact this season, when looking at stats, it may not be such a bad move in the long run.
Bengals fans watched in horror as Marvin Jones had an amazing start to the 2016 season. In the first three games of the year, Jones amassed 408 yards including a 205-yard performance in week three. It seemed to be another classic case of the Bengals letting a gifted player go too soon. Jones cooled off as the season went on but still finished with decent numbers. Jones ended the year with a career-best 930 yards and an average amount of touchdowns with four.
Taking over as the number two receiver for the Bengals was Brandon LaFell. As a former Panther and Patriot, LaFell was serviceable but never became the top target he was expected to be coming out of college. With the Bengals, LaFell ended up with 862 yards six touchdowns. When looking at a comparison of Jones to LaFell, there wasn’t much of a drop off in yards (68 fewer) and even a slight rise in touchdowns (two more).
Given the statistics, a case could be made that LaFell performed just as well as Jones and even outperformed him. Either way, replacing Jones with LaFell was not a large enough drop in talent to be responsible for the poor season.
Mohamed Sanu had a relatively average year playing for the Atlanta Falcons. Sanu spent the year with one of the most prolific offenses in the NFL and didn’t blossom into a top-tier talent. He caught 59 balls for 653 yards and four touchdowns. Sanu’s presumed replacement in Cincinnati, Tyler Boyd, caught 54 passes for 603 yards and one touchdown.
This means that between Jones and Sanu, they produced only 118 yards and one touchdown more than LaFell and Boyd.
Looking To The Future
Ever since the beginning of the Marvin Lewis era, the Bengals have prided themselves on drafting and developing talent. Their strategy has been to cycle in young players and build them up while letting average veterans get larger contracts elsewhere. While letting go of Jones and Sanu was something of a gamble, the impact of their departure was actually minimal. LaFell and Boyd filled in nicely and will continue to grow.
The future of the Bengals offense likely hinges on whether they can get a playmaker opposite A.J. Green. In 2017, they will count on LaFell to improve upon his 2016 efforts. They will also hope for Boyd to have a strong sophomore campaign and even challenge LaFell for the role of number two receiver.
The fact of the matter is that the Bengals thought Jones and Sanu were replaceable. Even though they were solid players during their time in Cincinnati, the stats back up the fact that they were simply average. The Bengals are looking for above average playmakers that won’t hurt their salary cap. Whether Brandon LaFell or Tyler Boyd can be that player has yet to be seen.
Even though the decision to let two dependable receivers go seemed questionable at the time, when looking at the stats, the move doesn’t look terrible. Hopefully, in the future, it will look like an even better move, but only time will tell.