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Bengals backfield

Brown competing for passing downs role

I've talked a little bit about Zack Moss, who I think is being underappreciated in early drafts. The Bengals signed him to a contract averaging $4 million per season, which to me signifies starter. But second-year back Chase Brown should also be a factor.

The Bengals selected Brown in the fifth round a year ago. He didn't play a ton behind workhorse Joe Mixon, averaging just over 4 touches in his 12 games -- 3 carries, 1 reception in those contests. But he should have a role in year 2, perhaps in the passing game. He was very effective with his chances a year ago, catching all but one of the 15 passes sent his way for 156 yards and a score.

Moss can catch it, but hasn't been nearly as efficient in his career. Last year he caught 27 passes on 37 targets for the Colts, which is 73 percent. Even if I'm right about Moss being the lead back, that passing game usage could be key to Brown's value, if he emerges as the main player in those situations.

A recent story in The Athletic notes that Cincinnati running backs have been more active in the passing this offseason than in the past. The Bengals have a new offensive coordinator, Dan Pitcher, although he's been with the team as an offensive assistant and quarterbacks coach for the past eight years. He was promoted to replace Brian Callahan, hired by the Titans.

The hope for those considering Brown is not only that he wins the passing downs job (if not beats out Moss), but that Pitcher's usage of the backs in the passing game is a little more than Callahan's was. A year ago, Cincinnati sent a modest 89 passes to running backs, or just 18 percent of its targets. That low rate was in the bottom quarter of the league. (Table below is sorted by targets to running backs.)

TEAM RUNNING BACK RECEIVING, 2023
TeamTgtNoYdsTD
Denver1531318514
NY Jets1491168014
New Orleans1281096781
Miami125956647
Atlanta124887516
New England119926092
Pittsburgh114925510
San Francisco112907289
Washington108897826
Kansas City108896577
Tennessee106805991
Chicago106754712
Detroit102754961
Dallas100825132
Las Vegas99725370
NY Giants98724494
Cleveland96684715
Tampa Bay94826413
Green Bay94685261
LA Chargers94675151
Philadelphia93744541
Carolina92724320
Jacksonville91696221
Minnesota90694463
Cincinnati89745414
Buffalo86716455
Seattle86684941
Houston84634072
Arizona84663713
Indianapolis83624243
Baltimore79616232
LA Rams69483443

New coordinators bring in new emphasis, and since keeping Joe Burrow healthy is critical, maybe there will be more passes going to backs this year; get the ball out of his hands quicker.

Personally, I'm looking at drafting Moss in plenty of leagues, but I'll probably use an earlier pick than necessary to secure Brown in those same drafts. Maybe he beats Moss out, but more likely he just gets used a little more in the new offense. Whether he'll be used enough now to be viable in PPR leagues is less certain. But having him around to protect the selection of Moss is worthwhile, either way.

--Andy Richardson

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