Bears

Fantasy Football: 11 targets after a nutty NFL trade deadline

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USA TODAY

Fantasy Football: 11 targets after a nutty NFL trade deadline

Finally: An NFL trade deadline with some action!

Before the 2017 deadline, the league made several impactful moves after years of mostly-boring inaction. 

Everybody loves a good trade and the league did not disappoint, with guys like Jay Ajayi, Jimmy Garoppolo and Kelvin Benjamin on the move while the Seattle Seahawks bolstered their offensive line and Ezekiel Elliott was suspended (again). 

Here are the fantasy implications of a nutty week in the NFL:

Jay Ajayi, RB, PHI

While it's impossible to predict exactly how Ajayi will be utilized in Doug Pederson's notoriously-fickle backfield, this trade is a clear win for Ajayi's fantasy owners. Even if he doesn't get 25 touches a game like he did in Miami, Ajayi is running behind a much better offensive line on the best team in football that figures to be running to close out leads late in games as opposed to passing to try to eliminate deficits (like the Dolphins). Ajayi should be able to have much more of an impact in Philadelphia even if he sees a noticeable decline in snaps and touches. (Tony Andracki)

Kenyan Drake/Damien Williams, RBs, MIA

With Ajayi out, the Dolphins have announced they will roll with the guys they have going forward. Those guys are Drake and Williams, though you can forgive any football fan if they didn't know that given the two have combined for just 33 touches through seven games. Neither guy is worthy of a "must-add" and there are serious question marks about each guy moving forward: They don't have a proven track record, the Dolphins offense is a complete mess and the offensive line is a huge reason for the struggles. Williams figures to be the passing down back, but Drake is only 23 and in his second season, so he has higher upside and is the most likely of the two to break out and be a legit fantasy contributor down the stretch. (TA)

Jimmy Garoppolo, QB, SF

Let's just get this out of the way first: unless your league allows you to play a quarterback in the flex spot, Garoppolo needs to remain on the waiver wire for the time being. Garoppolo is expected to be eased into action with his new club and should be up to speed to start against the Giants in Week 10. However, with a lack of options in the passing game and not being the type of quarterback who will gather points with his legs, Garoppolo will have a hard time posting high fantasy totals in San Francisco. The only thing to look forward to about this move, from a fantasy perspective, is that the 49ers may have found a quarterback who can help Pierre Garcon find the end zone for the first time in 2017. (Scott Krinch)

Kelvin Benjamin, WR, BUF

Benjamin has been one of the most frustrating fantasy players for years now and his insertion into a new offense will almost assuredly come with a learning curve. That offense also features an inconsistent passing game that has yet to promote consistent WR fantasy value given their propensity to spread the ball around and play ground control — Tyrod Taylor ranks 29th in the NFL with only 192 pass yards per game. This move does nothing to help Benjamin's value and really only hurts the value of fringe fantasy players like Jordan Matthews and Zay Jones. (TA)

Jamison Crowder, WR, WAS

The Redskins were rumored to be interested in acquiring a receiver before the NFL deadline but no deal was made. That's fine for Crowder fantasy owners or anybody else searching for a receiver (he's still available in nearly half of ESPN leagues). Crowder was a popular breakout candidate heading into 2017 and after a slew of injuries sapped his early-season potential, he tallied 123 yards on 9 catches and 13 targets in Week 8. Terrelle Pryor and Josh Doctson have both been big-time busts, leaving the door wide open for Crowder to emerge as the clear No. 1 threat in that passing game, especially with Jordan Reed once again flashing his complete inability to stay on the field. (TA)

JuJu Smith-Schuster, WR, PIT

The guy with the best name since Jim Bob Cooter is still somehow owned in less than 30 percent of leagues. He's on a Bye this week, but after exploding for 7-193-1 in Week 8, the NFL's youngest player is officially on the fantasy map. Not saying he's a must-start from here, but he absolutely needs to be owned in every format and moving forward could provide huge dividends for both your fake team and the Steelers. (TA)

Marlon Mack, RB, IND

Mack was another popular sleeper entering 2017 and despite a Week 1 touchdown was a fantasy non-factor until Week 5. In the four games since, his PPR point totals: 16, 1, 10, 14. Frank Gore is like a million years old and Mack is young, fresh, spry and showing he can be a productive NFL back. Look for more Mack as the season goes on, especially if the Colts continue to fall out of it even more and wind up looking toward 2018 and beyond. Plus, the dude is owned in only 30 percent of leagues, so go grab him on waivers or look to acquire him in a trade if you can pull it off. (TA)

Alfred Morris/Darren McFadden/Rod Smith, RBs, DAL

Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension is back on after a United States District Judge dissolved his temporary restraining order. So what does that mean going forward for the Cowboys running back situation? Your guess is as good as mine. And we probably still haven't seen the last of Elliott trying to fight the suspension. If Elliott does remain sidelined, the most likely benefactor will be Alfred Morris with Darren McFadden nipping at his heels. Both players are must-adds on the waiver wire this week. Through seven games, Morris has served as Elliott's backup, while McFadden has been inactive for every Cowboys game this season. The upside for both players running behind that offensive line is relatively high, but it's a fluid situation right now and it could vary week-to-week with even Rod Smith being a player who owners should keep an eye on in deep leagues. (SK)

Jack Doyle, TE, IND

Doyle has been a target machine this season, accumulating 55 through seven games. Doyle had his best game of the season in Sunday's loss to the Bengals as he hauled in 12 receptions on 14 targets for a season-high 121 yards and his first score of 2017. Doyle is now fantasy's seventh-highest scoring tight end and should see his numbers continue to climb on a team that will be playing from behind the majority of Sundays for the remainder of the season. (SK)

Robby Anderson, WR, NYJ

There haven't made been many positives from a fantasy football outlook when it comes to the Jets offense, but one emerging player who needs to be on your radar is Anderson. The second-year wide receiver has seen a minimum of five targets in each of his last six games. Anderson has reached in the end zone in consecutive weeks and has become a favorite target of quarterback Josh McCown. (SK)

Paul Richardson, WR, SEA

Who would've predicted that Richardson would be the Seahawks' No. 1 fantasy wide receiver through seven games? Definitely not this guy. Over the last two games, Richardson has eight receptions for 166 yards and three touchdowns. With the Seahawks showing zeo interest in running the football, Richardson is a legitimate flex option this week and the rest of the season. (SK)

Will Devin Hester wind up being the last great kick returner in football history?

Will Devin Hester wind up being the last great kick returner in football history?

Devin Hester announced his retirement from the NFL last fall, and on Monday, signed a ceremonial one-day contract to officially retire as a member of the Chicago Bears. This was not an easy decision for the 35-year-old, who had to fight back tears while talking about saying no to football Monday at Halas Hall — Hester said the Philadelphia Eagles reached out to him after Darren Sproles suffered a season-ending injury last September.

But Hester firmly remained retired, opting to spend more time with his family in Orlando. And with Hester officially out of the game, it raises this question: Does he retire as the last great return man in NFL history?

“He changed the game,” said former teammate Matt Forte, who also signed a ceremonial one-day contract to retire with the Bears on Monday. “I mean, literally, changed the game. If you can affect the game like that, he’s gotta be a first-ballot Hall of Famer. The definition of a Hall of Famer is somebody who changed the game — like defenses and coaches had to carve out certain time to assess that particular guy. There’s not going to be another Devin Hester ever, I don’t believe.”

Hester himself was a special player, returning an NFL record 20 punts, kicks and missed field goals for touchdowns. Forte may be right in that there will never be another player like him, even if the NFL stays the way it is now.

But no player may ever get the opportunity to be the next Devin Hester as the sport continues to evaluate the serious issue of head trauma. Kickoffs, in particular, are among the most dangerous plays for player safety, and the sport has continued to work on finding ways to increase touchbacks and decrease returns since moving kickoffs from the 30 to 35-yard line prior to the 2011 season.

The Ivy League, for example, saw a significant decline in concussions on kickoffs when it moved the kicking spot from the 35 to 40-yard line. But increasing touchbacks is an imperfect solution, as many around the league have pointed out, as some players may run at half-speed thinking there will be a touchback while others are still going full speed in case there isn’t.

While the NFL hasn’t considered banning kickoffs yet, it’s entirely fair to wonder if they’ll still be part of the sport’s highest level in the next five years. And that doesn’t sit well with Hester.

“It’s one of the key aspects to this ballgame, man,” Hester said. “This is football. You gotta let these guys play football and that, at the end of the day, brings a lot of excitement to a lot of fans out there.

“… This is a position. It’s how a lot of kids make a living, and at the end of the day it’s football, man. They’re trying to find ways to eliminate injuries but the moment you step on the field, you’re bound to get hurt somewhere. You can’t avoid injuries. That’s just the nature of the beast. And I think taking that out of the game, it’s big. I (wouldn’t) like to see it happen.”

For everyone invested in the sport, it’s a difficult topic: On one hand, a kick return touchdown is one of the more exciting things that can happen in a game (and it certainly was the highlight of the Bears’ last Super Bowl appearance). On the other, concussions are a serious threat to the game, and the NFL continues to try to create and enforce rules that are designed to limit them.

So Hester may wind up being the last great kick returner in NFL history, maybe football history. That should — emphasis on should, not will — be enough to get him inducted in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, right?

“Sometimes you gotta put guys in the Hall of Fame for being the most dangerous person on the field,” Hester said.

And he could be the last person to be, as a kick returner, the most dangerous person on the field.

“It’s a big part of football, it’s one of the most exciting plays when you’re playing this game of football,” Hester said. “At the end of the day, if I’m the last, if I’m the one to be the best at the return game, it’s an honor. But at the same time, I want to continue to see it play out.”

Ranking the Bears' draft needs, from No. 13 to No. 1

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Ranking the Bears' draft needs, from No. 13 to No. 1

For all the positive vibes around Halas Hall during the dawn of the Matt Nagy era, the Bears still have plenty of needs as Ryan Pace enters his fourth draft as the team's general manager. And those needs provide a rough outline of what Pace's draft strategy from round one through round seven this week. 

Just because a position is a need doesn't mean Pace will use a high draft pick on it, given his larger strategy of taking the best player available. But the top needs on this list should be addressed by the time the draft wraps up on Saturday. 

13. Placekicker

Current depth: Cody Parkey

The Bears guaranteed $9 million to Parkey in his four-year, $15 million contract and don’t realistically have an out for him until 2020, according to Spotrac. He’s their kicker, and we won’t see any realistic competition for him come training camp. 

12. Tight end

Current depth: Trey Burton, Adam Shaheen, Dion Sims, Daniel Brown, Ben Braunecker, Colin Thompson

Given the investment in this position — a second-round pick in Shaheen and about $12 million against the cap for Burton and Sims — there’s not much room for another tight end near the top of the depth chart. The Bears value Brown and Braunecker’s contributions on special teams, too, so this depth chart looks relatively set in stone. 

11. Running back

Current depth: Jordan Howard, Tarik Cohen, Benny Cunningham, Taquan Mizzell, Michael Burton

The big question here is what the Bears would do if Saquon Barkley were still on the board at No. 8. But no team is spending less money on running backs than the Bears are in 2018 ($1.96 million), and that’s with a 1,000-yard rusher in Howard and an explosive weapon in Cohen on the depth chart. Cunningham’s leadership and special teams skills are valued by those in the organization, from the front office to the locker room. 

To tie it back to Barkley: While Howard may not be a “complete” running back in the way Barkley could be, he has plenty of NFL tape and should benefit from running the ball in a less predictable offense this year. The guess is the Bears are fine with their running back depth chart, and would pass on Barkley unless there’s a consensus in their draft room that he’s a Hall of Famer. 

10. Quarterback

Current depth: Mitch Trubisky, Chase Daniel, Tyler Bray

Nagy likes having Daniel and Bray in place to work with Trubisky, given both those backups know the intricacies and language of his offense well from their time in Kansas City. The Bears could opt to draft a developmental quarterback with one of their final picks, or could target an undrafted free agent. Either way, the Bears will probably look to bring in at least one more quarterback, though we’re talking about a battle to be a third-stringer/practice squad guy at this point. 

9. Punter

Current depth: Pat O’Donnell

The Bears re-signed O’Donnell to a one-year deal with only $500,000 guaranteed, so they could look to bring in a punter — either via the draft or the undrafted free agent pool — to compete with him over the next few months. 

8. Defensive line

Current depth: Akiem Hicks, Eddie Goldman, Jonathan Bullard, Roy Robertson-Harris, John Jenkins, Nick Williams

Bullard is entering his third year in Vic Fangio’s defense, and showed flashes in 2017 of growing into the player the Bears hoped he’d be when they invested a third-round pick into him in 2016. Not re-signing Mitch Unrein — who was highly valued by Fangio and defensive line coach Jay Rodgers — could be taken as a sign that the Bears are ready to give Bullard a bigger role. But even if that’s the case, Bullard will have to earn it, and drafting some competition for him (and Robertson-Harris) could be part of the Bears’ draft plans. 

7. Cornerback

Current depth: Kyle Fuller, Prince Amukamara, Bryce Callahan, Marcus Cooper, Cre’von LeBlanc, Jonathan Mincy, Sherrick McManis, Doran Grant

The Bears invested quite a bit of money into keeping Fuller and Amukamara, and given the structures of their contracts are all but locked into that pairing until at least 2020, per Spotrac. Unless the Bears absolutely love someone like Ohio State’s Denzel Ward or Iowa’s Josh Jackson, the No. 8 pick won’t be used on a cornerback. But while there are plenty of bodies at this position, the Bears could use better depth here and could find that in the middle-to-late rounds of the draft. 

6. Safety

Current depth: Adrian Amos, Eddie Jackson, Deon Bush, DeAndre Houston-Carson, Deiondre' Hall

The solidity of the Amos-Jackson pairing means the Bears don’t have a pressing need at safety, but Amos is entering the final year of his rookie contract and is probably second in line behind Eddie Goldman to be signed to an extension, if he gets one at all. Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick and Florida State’s Derwin James both profile as big-time playmakers, which this defense still lacks. Pace has drafted a safety in the fourth round (Jackson, Bush) or fifth round (Amos) in every one of his drafts, and doing the same in 2018 would make some sense either to add depth or try to find an eventual replacement for Amos. 

5. Offensive tackle

Current depth: Charles Leno, Bobby Massie, Bradley Sowell, Brandon Greene, Travis Averill

Massie is entering the final year of his contract, and while he’s still on the roster now the Bears could still release him before, during or after training camp for a palatable cap hit of $1.5 million, per Spotrac. The No. 8 pick may be a little too rich for any of the tackles in this draft class, unless Harry Hiestand is pounding the table for Mike McGlinchey, his former Notre Dame left tackle. But a tackle could be in play in a trade-down scenario or as early as the second round to compete with Massie, who — it should be noted — was solid enough in 2017. 

4. Wide receiver

Current depth: Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Kevin White, Josh Bellamy, Bennie Fowler, Tanner Gentry, Demarcus Ayers

Do the Bears need at least one more wide receiver? Absolutely. Is it the most pressing need on the team? No. Think of it this way: The Bears signed their Nos. 1 and 2 receivers in Robinson (X) and Gabriel (Zebra), and Burton will spend plenty of time lined up in the slot. If that’s how the Bears were thinking, it would fit with the decision to let Cameron Meredith sign for $9.6 million with the New Orleans Saints over medical concerns (in short: That might’ve been too much money to commit to a No. 3/No. 4 target with knee issues). Whether or not that’s the right thinking is another question, but it could be a signal that the Bears don’t view wide receiver as a desperate, significant need. 

That being said, the Bears have invested so much into building the best structure possible around Trubisky that finding a “Z” receiver who can play both in the slot and outside is important in the draft. A second-round pick isn’t out of the question if the Bears identify someone worthy of that pick (like, perhaps, Memphis’ Anthony Miller). 

3. Inside linebacker

Current depth: Danny Trevathan, Nick Kwiatkoski, John Timu, Jonathan Anderson

Fangio likes Kwiatkoski and Trevathan is one of the most important players on the Bears’ defense. But that pair combined to miss nine games in 2017, and with Christian Jones signing with the Detroit Lions there’s a baseline need for more depth at this position. But Georgia’s Roquan Smith and Virginia Tech’s Tremaine Edmunds both would represent upgrades here and could fit Pace’s best-player-available strategy. 

2. Interior offensive line

Current depth: Cody Whitehair, Kyle Long, Eric Kush, Earl Watford, Hroniss Grasu, Jordan Morgan, Cameron Lee

The Bears like Kush and Watford, but both players have spent their respective four seasons in the NFL largely as backups. They’re both good pieces to have, especially with Long missing 14 games in the last two years, but may be better served as backups. Notre Dame guard Quenton Nelson would very much be in play if he’s on the board at No. 8, especially as the league may be moving away from devaluing interior positions in favor of valuing quality offensive line play no matter the position, which is becoming harder and harder to find. 

If not Nelson at No. 8, the pool of guards and centers who could still be available with the 38th pick is deep. The Bears unearthed Whitehair in the second round of the 2016 draft, and given the prominence in Nagy’s offense of inside zone runs — which go off the outside hip of a guard — could opt to use a top-40 pick to solidify the interior of their offensive line. 

1. Outside linebacker

Current depth: Leonard Floyd, Sam Acho, Aaron Lynch, Isaiah Irving, Howard Jones

As if the Bears needed a wakeup call here, Aaron Lynch’s ankle injury during Wednesday’s minicamp practice brought about this scenario: What if he and Floyd, who’ve combined to miss 28 games in the last two seasons, are out at the same time? Right now, that would put Acho and either Irving or Jones in starting roles, and it’s unlikely that pairing would result in much of a consistent pass rush. 

The gulf between the need for outside linebackers and interior offensive linemen is significant. This is a position that needs to be successfully addressed in the draft, otherwise there’s the potential that the Bears’ outside linebacker depth resembles last year’s wide receiver depth. 

Could Pace be aggressive for the third straight year and trade up to draft North Carolina State’s Bradley Chubb? Would Boston College’s Harold Landry or UTSA’s Marcus Davenport be “overdrafted” at No. 8? Could Edmunds actually be an outside linebacker? Those are all significant questions for the Bears in the first round, but identifying and drafting other edge rushers is a must throughout the rest of the draft.