What kind of numbers will Cedric Benson produce?
Let me get this out of the way right off the bat: My name is Eric and I, just like many of you, have been burned in the past by the underachieving Cedric Benson. The Chicago Bears thought enough of the Texas product to select him fourth overall in 2005, and that endorsement of a high draft position fooled fantasy owners into believing the guy had huge upside and would eventually reach it. We all fell for it, but it's time to get over this. All the running back did for the Bears was struggle through inconsistency, fumbles and a general lack of productivity. The Cincinnati Bengals of 2008 were pretty much desperate and figured someone had to run the ball for them and -- voila! -- Benson did the job, kind of.
The Bengals were even impressed enough to give Benson a two-year contract this offseason and present him with little to no competition for carries. Really, they could have brought other options in, but apparently liked this one, then didn't bother to draft some enticing young buck to challenge him. Not that fantasy owners should trust anything the Bengals franchise believes, but still, someone believed. Basically, it appears that when Carson Palmer isn't throwing the football, he'll be handing it off to Benson. It probably won't result in the Bengals moving the ball a great deal, but one of the things fantasy owners look for in running backs is a startling lack of other options to ruin the party.
All that said, I'm actually here to defend Benson. I feel a little dirty about doing so, but it seems that fantasy owners have such a grudge against the guy that they're forgetting he is likely to get a crazy percentage of the carries in Cincy, and even at something less than 4 yards per carry, that should result in 1,000 yards and the occasional touchdown. Sure, Benson probably is nowhere near as good as everyone thought he was a few years back, but ability is only part of the picture. Felix Jones has ability. Darren Sproles has ability. Cedric Benson has opportunity, which in this case might be more important.
Benson ran for 747 yards in only 12 games, which might have resulted in better than 1,000 yards for an entire season. He was probably better than you think. He did produce a trio of 100-yard rushing games, by the way, which is more than LaDainian Tomlinson, Maurice Jones-Drew and Kevin Smith. Despite scoring only two times, Benson was actually just outside the top 40 for running backs in fantasy points, aided greatly by his strong finish, when he scored 15, 15 and 18 points the final three weeks. If you had Benson active for those weeks, I'm not sure whether to congratulate you or call you a liar, but he was productive in that period.
Last year's Bengals were pretty much a joke once Carson Palmer bowed out of the lineup with elbow problems. Don't even look at what surrounded Benson, since there was no passing game at all and the offensive line suffered myriad injuries and was a sieve to poor quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. Honestly, it's amazing Benson was as "effective" as he was, though remember, he wasn't all that effective: He was merely the guy getting all the carries, and he broke through the final two weeks against other pitiful teams in the Browns and Chiefs. Now the Bengals get Palmer back, and he says he's healthy, and at least for now the offensive line isn't, well, as offensive. Laveranues Coles was brought in; Chad Ochocinco has his new name on his jersey; all is temporarily well with the Bengals.
This is an important season for the Bengals, as Palmer, Ochocinco and coach Marvin Lewis are clearly on the spot. Benson is so forgotten -- not just by fantasy footballers but seemingly in general -- that he's become a fashionable value pick. What pressure does he have to perform? Nobody expects anything! In the second ESPN Fantasy mock draft, Benson was selected in Round 8, after quite a few backup running backs, and his new and excited owner proclaimed he had just drafted a starter. Well, faint praise or not, he had.
Thus, we get to the reason the overrated Benson has become a bit underrated, and his fantasy value stands to gain as a result. Benson will get so many carries this season that he probably can't help but have the occasional decent game, score a touchdown per month and end up with statistics that might make him look quite a bit like others you select an hour earlier in your draft. You know there will be some early-round busts.
However, consider where you'll be drafting Benson. The Bengals do have some attractive defenses on the schedule, like the Lions, Chiefs and a pair of matchups with the Browns. Benson doesn't have to be good to do what Jamal Lewis did in 2008, when he reached 1,000 yards but wasn't overly productive, but he's likely to do so. Call it an Ohio thing and be happy -- OK, satisfied -- with your value pick when he runs for 1,000 yards.
Eric Karabell is a senior writer for ESPN.com who covers fantasy football. He has twice been honored as fantasy sports writer of the year by the Fantasy Sports Writers Association. His book, "The Best Philadelphia Sports Arguments," was published by Source Books and is available in bookstores. Contact Eric by e-mailing him here.