Bears

Fantasy Football: 2015 defense sleepers and busts

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Fantasy Football: 2015 defense sleepers and busts

Defenses can be so frustrating some times. 

You can watch your opponent's defense give up 500 total yards and only 13 points and post a solid score, while your defense gives up more points and less yards because of a few pick-sixes. 

Ugh.

Right, Napoleon?

[RELATED - Fantasy Football: 2015 tight end sleepers and busts]

But while most defenses are necessarily worth targeting until the later rounds, there are a few that are worthy of a slightly earlier draft pick. And there are also some defenses that could really hurt you this year. There's also a way to win leagues by streaming your defense every week. We throw the book at you (top targets, sleepers and busts) with our defense primer in 2015.

Top Targets

Dolphins: I love everything about the Dolphins this season. Ryan Tannehill is going to return QB1 numbers, Lamar Miller is a steal in the third round, Jarvis Landry is going to make “the jump” in Year 2 and Jordan Cameron is woefully underrated. So it’s no surprise that I love this defense as well. Yes, they had four negative-point outings in the last six games of the year, but bringing in a future Hall of Famer in his prime (Ndamukong Suh) to anchor an ugly run defense a year ago, combined with Cameron Wake and Olivier Vernon on the edge make this one of the most fantasy-friendly defensive lines in football. That pressure will help them add to their numbers from a year ago (14 INTs, 39 sacks) which were middle of the pack. The only hesitation I have is their brutally tough schedule down the stretch - they’ll play the Giants, Chargers and Colts in the fantasy playoffs - but I’m all in on them and have no problem making them the fourth defense off the board (after Seattle, Buffalo and Houston). - Mark Strotman

Texans: The foundation of any D/ST unit that you want to target is a defensive line. That's where it all starts, from turnovers to getting the defense off the field quickly to accumulating points with sacks and forced fumbles. Is there a better defensive line in the game right now than the Texans? J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the game without any comparison, and then you also have Vince Wilfork eating up space in the middle and the huge upside of both Whitney Mercilus and Jadevon Clowney. That's a great gamble to take. - Tony Andracki

Vikings: Mike Zimmer’s crew is flying so far under the radar it’s not funny. Their linebackers are outstanding with Anthony Barr, Eric Kendricks and Chad Greenway. The defensive line has its “sack guy” in Everson Griffen (12 last year). Xavier Rhodes is one of the more underrated corners in the game and Harrison Smith is great at patrolling the middle. The Vikings have the right pieces to take the next step as a team toward the playoffs and should be able to rack up some points in fantasy this year. They’re also in the middle of most rankings, allowing you to focus in the mid-to-late rounds on drafting quality backups. - John "The Professor" Paschall

Sleepers

Chiefs: What do you need to be a successful fantasy defense? Sacks and turnovers. The Chiefs have two of the best pass rushers in the NFL with Justin Houston and Tamba Hali (maybe even Dee Ford can improve?). Sean Smith and rookie stud Marcus Peters will hold down the edge while Eric Berry makes his emotional return to the middle of the field. Also, don’t forget that you get special teams points with these units and the Chiefs have to electric returners in De’Anthony Thomas and Knile Davis. - JP

Eagles: Everybody thinks they can't do it again, and you know what? They probably can't. But it's worth a shot to draft them and see how it plays out. The Eagles have most of the same playmakers in place as last season, plus they traded for Kiko Alonso, one of the best middle linebackers in the league coming off injury. With Darren Sproles still in the return game, there are a lot worse bets you can make than drafting the Eagles D/ST with one of your last two picks. - TA

[MORE: Top targets, sleepers and busts at wide receiver]

Packers: Dom Capers’ group finished eighth in fantasy points a year ago, but I’ve got them in the sleeper category because of what they added this season. They spent their first two draft picks on secondary playmakers in Demarious Randall and Quentin Rollins to replace Tramon Williams and Devon House. Casey Hayward is healthy and Morgan Burnett, Ha-Ha Clinton-Dix and Micah Hyde make this a secondary that could improve on their 18 interceptions from a year ago. A lot will depend on Clay Matthews’ health and Julius Peppers’ performance at age 35, but I’ll call them a sleeper as a team that flirt with a top-5 finish that won’t cost you more than a second-to-last round pick. - MS

Busts

Cardinals: Lose Todd Bowles. Lose Antonio Cromartie. Lose Darnell Dockett. Yikes. There are still some nice pieces on that unit but they are going to go through some rough patches this year for sure. They don’t have an elite pass rusher (Alex Okafor led the team with eight sacks) and don’t offer much on special teams returns. Count me as one who expects some regression from the Cardinals’ D/ST. - JP

Jets: On paper New York’s defense is certainly start-worthy on a weekly basis. They’ll probably return top-10 results, especially adding Darrelle Revis and Antonio Cromartie in the offseason. But the reason I’ve got them in the bust department is because their playoff schedule pits them on the road against the Cowboys in Week 15 and against the Patriots in Week 16. With an offense that could struggle to move the ball, it’d be a shame to roll with a unit that’s going to be on the field plenty all year and then have to stream elsewhere in the playoffs. Defenses are hit-and-miss past the top-3 units, so if you select the Jets be aware that you’ll probably drop them once you hit the fantasy postseason. - MS

Seahawks: The only number you need to know here is 61.8. That's where the Seattle defense/special teams unit is going. That's in the sixth round in 10-team leagues and the fifth round in 12-team leagues. ARE YOU KIDDING ME? For a defense?!!??! I feel like I've lost all faith in fantasy owners seeing that. Seattle wasn't even the best defense last year! They scored 150 points in standard leagues, third behind the Eagles and Bills. They are a fantastic real-life defense, but fantasy is not real life. Far from it, actually. I can't believe anybody would take a defense over a second/third WR or RB or even a starting TE or QB. Get your heads in the game, people. Take your D/ST with one of your last two picks and monitor the waiver wire early in the season to find the next 2014 Eagles defense that relies on opportunity and special teams tuddies. - TA

*Stream D/ST*

You know that one person in your fantasy league that pulls the trigger on a defense way too early and everybody laughs at them? Yeah, there's a good reason for that. If 2014 was any indication, there is absolutely no reason to draft a defense any earlier than your second to last pick — your final selection better be a kicker. The Buffalo Bills led the NFL with 170 total fantasy points, which was the worst number in any non-strike year since 1959 as ESPN's Tristan H. Cockcroft pointed out.  Year in and year out the NFL has shown that it's turning into a quarterback-driven league, with point totals going up each season. And In today's NFL, at least from a fantasy standpoint, it's nearly impossible for a defense to dominate for an entire 16-game stretch of the season. The consensus No. 1 D/ST this season is the Seattle Seahawks with an ADP of 54th overall. That same point in the draft is when you should be searching for your flex player, starting QB or shoring up your bench depth — not reaching for a D/ST that's going to average less than 10 points per game. Play the matchup each week with your D/ST and look for a defense to feast on a week opponent à la any team that's playing either the Cleveland Browns, Jacksonville Jaguars or Tennessee Titans. You'll reap the benefits with this strategy. - Scott Krinch

Report: Bears could be a potential landing spot for Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry

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USA TODAY

Report: Bears could be a potential landing spot for Dolphins WR Jarvis Landry

The Bears are looking for an upgrade at wide receiver this offseason, and there may be one available.

The Dolphins used the franchise tag on wide receiver Jarvis Landry on Tuesday, in a move that many believe signals the team's desire to deal him instead of losing him in free agency for nothing.

Landry put up excellent numbers last season, catching 112 passes for 987 yards and nine touchdowns. He led the league in catches and was fourth in touchdown receptions but was just 17th in yards. His yards per reception ranked 108th of 139 qualifying players.

Still, it's no secret he'd be an upgrade for the Bears at wide receiver. Though they'll get Cam Meredith and Kevin White back from injury, the corps largely struggled and didn't give rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky much help.

Luckily, they may be interested in Landry, per NFL.com's Ian Rapoport.

"There are a couple teams that we should keep an eye on as far as a potential Jarvis Landry landing spot......the Chicago Bears are looking for receviers," he said.

Rapoport also mentioned the Titans, Panthers and Saints as options for Landry. The franchise tag will pay Landry about $16 million before he becomes a free agent in 2019 (or has the franchise tag used on him again).

 

2017 Bears position grades: Management

2017 Bears position grades: Management

2017 grade: D+

For these purposes, “management” encompasses the coaching staff and front office. We don’t need a lengthy re-litigation of the failures of the John Fox era, so briefly: The offense was unimaginative, predictable and unsuccessful; there were too many head-scratching coaching decisions, punctuated by that backfiring challenge flag against Green Bay; the defense was solid but not spectacular; special teams had plenty of highs (three touchdowns) and lows (Marcus Cooper’s gaffe against Pittsburgh, Connor Barth’s missed field goal against Detroit). Fox didn’t win enough games to justify a fourth year, even if he left the Bears in a better place than he found them back in 2015. But that 5-11 record drags the management grade down. 

But the larger thing we’re going to focus on here is the hits and misses for Ryan Pace in the 2017 league year. The hits: 

-- Drafting Mitchell Trubisky. Will this be a long-term success? That’s another question. But Pace hitched his future in Chicago to a quarterback last April. For a franchise that hasn’t had a “franchise” quarterback in ages, what more can you ask for? If Trubisky pans out, nobody should care that Pace traded up one spot -- effectively losing a third-round pick for his conviction in his guy -- to make the move. 

-- Moving quickly to hire Matt Nagy. As with Trubisky, Pace identified his guy and made sure he got him. The Bears hired Nagy just two days after the Kansas City Chiefs’ season ended with that playoff collapse against the Tennessee Titans, and with the Indianapolis Colts -- who eventually got burned by Josh McDaniels -- sniffing around Nagy, Pace made his move to hire a young, energetic, offensive-minded coach to pair with Trubisky. It’s tough to argue with any of the coaching hires made by Nagy, who had a head start on the competition: He retained defensive coordinator Vic Fangio and that entire defensive staff, kept Dave Ragone to be Trubisky’s quarterbacks coach and hired Mark Helfrich to bring some different concepts as offensive coordinator, and hired a special teams coach in Chris Tabor who must’ve been doing something right to survive seven years and a bunch of coaching changes in Cleveland. Like with Trubisky, it’s too early to say if Nagy will or won’t work out long-term, but it stands out that Pace had conviction in getting a franchise quarterback and a head coach who will make or break his tenure in Chicago. 

-- Drafting Tarik Cohen and Eddie Jackson in the fourth round. In Cohen, the Bears found an offensive spark (who was nonetheless under-utilized) who also was a key contributor on special teams. In Jackson, the Bears added a plug-and-play 16-game starter at safety who looks to have some upside after a solid rookie year. Both picks here were a triumph for the Bears’ amateur scouting department: Cohen wasn’t on everyone’s radar (special teams coach Chris Tabor, who previously was with the Browns, said Cohen’s name never came across his desk in Cleveland), while Jackson was coming off a broken leg that prematurely ended a solid career at Alabama. These were assuredly two hits. 

-- Signing Akiem Hicks to a four-year contract extension. The Bears rewarded Hicks a day before the season began; Hicks rewarded them with a Pro Bowl-caliber season (despite him only being a fourth alternate) and was the best player on the team in 2017. 

-- Signing Charles Leno to a four-year contract extension. Leno may not be an elite tackle, and still has some things to clean up in his game, but he’s 26 and his four-year, $37 million contract is the 14th-largest among left tackles (for what it’s worth, Bleacher Report ranked Leno as the 20th best left tackle in the NFL). The Bears believe Leno is still improving, and could turn that contract into a bargain in the future. But this is important to note, too: Players notice when a team rewards one of its own, especially when that guy is a well-respected former seventh-round draft pick. 

-- Signing Mark Sanchez to a one-year deal. This wasn’t a miss, certainly, and while it’s not much of a “hit,” Sanchez was exactly what the Bears wanted: A veteran mentor to Trubisky. While Sanchez was inactive for all 16 games, he and the No. 2 overall pick struck up a good relationship that makes him a candidate to return in 2018 as a true backup. 

-- Releasing Josh Sitton when he did. Whether or not the Bears offensive line is better off in 2018 is a different question, but file cutting Sitton on Feb. 20 -- when the team had until mid-March to make a decision on him -- as one of those things that gets noticed by players around the league. 

-- Announcing the expansion to Halas Hall. The plan has Pace’s fingerprints on it, and should help make the Bears a more attractive destination to free agents in 2018 and beyond. 

And now, for the misses:

-- Signing Mike Glennon. That completely bombed out. While the Bears weren’t hurting for cap space a year ago, and Glennon’s contract essentially was a one-year prove-it deal, his play was so poor that he was benched after only four games -- when the initial plan was for him to start the entire season to give Trubisky time to develop. The wheels came off for Glennon on his seventh pass in Week 2, when after completing his first six he threw the ball right to Tampa Bay’s Kwon Alexander for an interception from which he never seemed to recover. He’ll be cut sometime soon. 

-- Signing Markus Wheaton. After signing a two-year, $11 million deal in the spring, Wheaton struggled to stay healthy, with an appendectomy and finger injury limiting him in training camp and the early part of the season, and then a groin injury knocking out a few weeks in the middle of the season. When Wheaton was healthy, he was ineffective, catching only three of his 17 targets. That places him with eight other players since 1992 who’ve been targeted at least 15 times and and caught fewer than 20 percent of their targets. He’s another one of Pace’s 2017 free agent signings who’s likely to be cut. 

-- Signing Marcus Cooper. The Bears thought they were signing an ascending player who picked off four passes in 2016 and would be a better scheme fit in Chicago than he was in Arizona. Instead, Cooper was a liability when he was on the field and didn’t live up to his three-year, $16 million contract (with $8 million guaranteed). Dropping the ball before he got in the end zone Week 3 against Pittsburgh was a lowlight. The Bears can net $4.5 million in cap savings if he’s cut, per Spotrac. 

-- Signing Dion Sims. Sims isn’t as likely to be cut as Glennon and Wheaton, and even Cooper, but his poor production in the passing game (15 catches, 29 targets, 180 yards, one touchdown) puts a spotlight on how the Bears evaluate how he was as a run blocker in 2017. If that grade was high, the Bears could justify keeping him and not garnering a little more than $5.5 million in cap savings. If it was low, and the Bears are confident in Adam Shaheen’s ability to improve, then Sims could be cut as well. 

-- Signing Quintin Demps. The loss here was mitigated by the strong play of Adrian Amos, but Demps didn’t make much of an impact on the field before his Week 3 injury besides getting plowed over by Falcons tight end Austin Hooper in Week 1. He’d be a decent guy to have back as a reserve given his veteran leadership -- he was a captain in 2017 -- but given how well Amos and Eddie Jackson worked together last year, he’s unlikely to get his starting spot back in 2018. 

-- The wide receiver position as a whole. Kendall Wright led the Bears in receptions and yards, but his numbers would’ve looked a lot better had he been surrounded by better players. The cupboard was bare at this position, and after the worst-case scenario happened -- Cameron Meredith tearing his ACL in August, and Kevin White breaking his collarbone in Week 1 -- the Bears were left with an overmatched and underperforming group of receivers. For Trubisky’s sake, Pace has to work to make sure 2018 isn’t a repeat of 2017. 

-- The kicker position as a whole. Since we’re focusing solely on Pace’s 2017 moves, the decision to release Robbie Gould and replace him with Connor Barth doesn’t fall into this grade. But Barth had struggled with consistency prior to this season, and Roberto Aguayo didn’t provide much competition in his short-lived stint in training camp. The Bears eventually released Barth after he missed a game-tying kick against Detroit in November, then replaced him with a guy in Cairo Santos who was coming off an injury and, as it turned out, wasn’t completely healthy yet. So the Bears then had to move on from Santos and sign Mike Nugent to get them through the rest of the season. Better consistency from this position will be important to find in 2018. 

A couple moves fall into the neither hits nor misses category:

-- Drafting Adam Shaheen. Tight ends rarely make a significant impact as rookies, but Shaheen was only targeted 14 times last year. He did catch three touchdowns and flash some good chemistry with Trubisky before suffering an injury against Cincinnati that wound up ending his season. The gains he makes with a year of experience under his belt and during his first full offseason as a pro will be critical in determining his success in Year 2, and whether or not taking him 45th overall was a hit or a miss. 

-- Signing Prince Amukamara. This was neither good nor bad, with Amukamara playing solidly in coverage but not making enough plays on the ball and committing a few too many penalties. 

Pace still has decisions to make on a few other potential cuts, including right tackle Bobby Massie ($5.584 million cap savings per Spotrac) and linebackers Willie Young ($4.5 million cap savings) and Pernell McPhee ($7.075 million cap savings). Whether or not to place the franchise tag on Kyle Fuller and potentially pay him $15 million in 2018 is another call Pace has to make before the official end of the 2017 league year. 

But for Pace, did the hits out-weigh the misses in 2017? The Glennon signing imploded, but Trubisky showed signs of promise during an average season for a rookie quarterback. Cooper was a bust, but Fuller emerged as a potential long-term option to cover for that. The most glaring misses, then, were at wide receiver and tight end where, after injuries sapped those units of Cameron Meredith and Zach Miller, there weren’t reliable targets for Trubisky. 

We’ll probably need more time to determine if Pace’s “hits” on Trubisky and Nagy truly are “hits.” But if they are, the misses of 2017 -- Glennon, Wheaton, Cooper, etc. -- will be nothing more than amusing footnotes to a successful era of Bears football.