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2014 Fantasy Preview: Chicago Bears

Continuing with the team by team previews of the NFC North, Robert gives his outlook on the Chicago Bears.

Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor

Offseason Losses: Josh McCown, Earl Bennett, Devin Hester, Michael Bush

Offseason Additions: Josh Morgan, Domenik Hixon

Drafted: Ka’Deem Carey, David Fales

Going into the 2013 season, there were a few uncertainties with the change in culture.  Lovie Smith was no longer the coach, and was being replaced with Marc Trestman, a guy who had been known as a QB guru and was previously coaching in the Canadian Football League.  At the end of the year, the Bears finished with an 8-8 record missing out on the playoffs by half a game to the Packers.  The bright spots for Chicago last year were on the offensive end, which is different than in years past.  Gone were the days of an amazing Bears defense that would carry them through the season, and cover the lack of creativity on the offensive end.  Let’s take a look a positional look at some of the Chicago players who could be relevant for fantasy owners in 2014.

Quarterbacks: Jay Cutler, David Fales

One of the bigger questions for the Bears going into last year were seeing if Trestman could work his magic on Cutler.  Well we were not able to get a full year out of Cutler, but the combination of him and Josh McCown was fantastic.  If you combine the stats from those two, they would have finished as the number three QB last season behind Peyton Manning, and Drew Brees.  Now enter 2014 where Josh McCown is no longer a member of this roster, and Jay Cutler can try to reap the benefits of another year under the Marc Trestman offense.  I seem to be the only person though that is not a firm believer in a breakout season from Cutler.  Last season Cutler only played in 11 games, one in which he had to leave in the first quarter during.  This was the fourth consecutive year that he was unable to play in all 16 games.  Over the past three years, he has averaged 12 games played per year.  That is not a trend you like to see out of a guy you are expecting to start.  Now factor in that he averaged about 14.5 points per game, which prorated over a full season gives him just under 232 fantasy points, which would have placed him in 16th among QB’s.  The big reason why Cutler and McCown combined for so many points, is because of the output McCown brought.  Cutler is a better QB, which is what actually hurts him for fantasy purposes.  If Cutler were to play the QB position like McCown did, not worrying about making the mistakes and throwing the ball up to your two big targets by any means necessary, then I would agree that Cutler would have a big season.  I do not see him changing his style of play, because he knows what he can do, and that is what will help the Bears win more games.  Brad Duffendock had him rated as his number 7 QB early this offseason, which I think is too high considering the injury risk, paired with his average fantasy output last season.  I would personally rate him as my 16th QB, behind guys like Ben Roethlisberger, and the aforementioned Josh McCown.  If it were a 16 team league, I would rate him ahead of McCown because of the safety he brings over the pure upside of McCown.  A lot has already been said about a guy who isn’t even on the roster anymore, and taking his spot is new draftee David Fales.  Fales may one day down the road become a serviceable QB, but if he were to have to play in 2014, a situation I think is very likely, he would decrease the values of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery.  A Cutler injury, if history is any indication, will happen, and when that does leave Fales on the waiver wire as he would only be asked to become a game manager.

Running Backs: Matt Forte, Ka’Deem Carey

Well Matt Forte proved last season that he is still that guy from the beginning of his career.  Finishing as the 3rd best RB in fantasy last year, he was able to produce a season like this because of the increase in touches.  Not only the increase in touches, but more of the touches were designed to put him in space where he is tough to bring down.  Forte played in all 16 games last year, proving that he had a fluke injury once, and is able to take a heavy workload and still stay standing.  Maybe he is unable to take 289 carries again this season, but that number shouldn’t fall too far.  At the least he should have 270 carries to go along with somewhere in the range of 65-75 catches to go along with them.  That is roughly 340 touches, which in today’s NFL, is few and far between.  After the top three RB’s go in drafts this summer, it is hard to argue that Forte isn’t in the conversation to be the number four player off of the board.  That is currently where I have him ranked, ahead of Marshawn Lynch because of the added receiving ability, and less competition for carries as well.  Michael Bush was the backup the last two seasons, and that was a role that became meaningless last season.  In 2012 it was take Bush for any team, but for 2013, he strictly became handcuff material only.  Now Ka’Deem Carey, the rookie out of Arizona, will be taking over the duties as backup running back.  His game tape back in college showed a guy who can be a downfield runner by finding open holes and exploding threw them.  His draft stock was decent, but then he went to the NFL combine and everything imploded on him.  He ran a 4.70 40 time, which is too slow for someone trying to become a feature back in the NFL.  Maybe he had an off day when running at the combine, or maybe that is truly who he is.  I tend to believe the game tape more than the combine, because it takes into account more than a couple of factors into consideration.  I still believe that Carey can handle the lead back duties for a roster, but for the Chicago Bears, he is handcuff material only.  If Forte does get hurt and Carey becomes the starter, expect a lot of 20 carries, and 70-85 yards possibly with a TD, but nothing more.

Wide Receivers: Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Marquess Wilson

Talking about the receivers for the Chicago Bears is a short and simple task.  Brandon Marshall has been fantasy gold when he plays with Jay Cutler, and a consistent 100 catch guy you should be grateful to have as your number one WR.  It is very unlikely that he would finish the season as the number one receiver, but it also seems highly unlikely he would finish outside the top ten.  Currently ranked as the number 7 receiver by Jordan Cable, which is about the right range for him, although I would personally have him at number 4, but that is just splitting hairs between those four guys.  The more interesting receiver going into the 2014 season will be Alshon Jeffery.  He broke out in a big way last year finishing as the 9th best fantasy WR.  He was viewed as a top talent when entering the draft in 2012, and someone who may take a full year to develop his skill set.  That was exactly how it happened for him.  Amazing ball skills and leaping abilities make him a QB’s dream target.  Not only a deep threat, but he also ran precise routes in the short and intermediate range for Cutler and McCown.  2013 may have been his career year already, but if he were to go something like 1250 receiving yards, and 7-8 TD’s, that is still a remarkable borderline top ten guy.  Jordan Cable had him as his number nine WR, and I would have him at number ten, so we agree on how these top two receivers on the Bears should be valued going into the 2014 season.  The number three wide out for the Chicago Bears will not be fantasy relevant this season, unless there is an injury to either of Marshall or Jeffery.  The guy I would predict to step in for one of those two guys would be Marquess Wilson.  He ran a 4.51 at the combine, and stands at 6’3" about 200 pounds.  This is another receiver that would fit that flanker role in the Bears’ offense with his natural athleticism, and already a year practicing with Cutler.  Wilson should be the first guy to get a crack at the number three receiver spot in the offense, which means he is one injury away from major playing time.  Draft him in deep 14 or 16 team leagues on the off chance he is able to get value from as the third WR, or that he has to fill in for an injured Marshall or Jeffery at some point.

Tight Ends: Martellus Bennett

The free agent signing of Martellus Bennett proved to be a smart move for the Bears organization, as he provided some much needed value from the TE position for the first time since Greg Olsen left to join the Carolina Panthers.  A modest season of 759 yards and 5 TD’s were good enough for him to finish as the number 10 TE in standard scoring systems.  The best games that Bennett played last year, were with Cutler behind center, but don’t expect too much out of him this season.  The upside is limited with a guy like Bennett because he is the fourth option on this offense behind Forte, Marshall, and Jeffery.  Even because of that though I still believe he finishes as a top ten guy again this year.  I ranked him as my number 8 TE previously, and that is a rank I am standing by.  He should be able to creep towards 800 yards again, but this time maybe with 6 or 7 TD’s.  Those numbers are not elite, but they are serviceable numbers from the Tight End spot that can be drafted in the late rounds as you stock up on lottery pick players.

Showing a much improved offense in 2013, expect them to keep that up, while improving on that horrendous defense they displayed.  A 10-6 record while taking one of the two wildcard spots is how I envision there season going, with Cutler playing in 13 games, and winning in 9 of them.  With two top ten WR’s on their roster and a top five RB as well, the Bears offense is loaded with top end guys who will be drafted in the first few rounds as backbones to their respective fantasy squads.  I may be the only person on this Cutler won’t be great bandwagon, but it is one I firmly believe in, and I will have to go down with the ship if it is proven that I am wrong.  Check back on Thursday as I take a look at the last team in the NFC North, the Green Bay Packers.