By Evan Silva
For the next 32 days, Rotoworld.com Senior Football Editor Evan Silva is breaking down every NFL team from a fantasy perspective heading into the 2015 season. Next up is the Bears.
Bears Year in Review
2014 Pass Attempts Rank: 7th (609)
2014 Rush Attempts Rank: 30th (355)
2014 Total Offensive Plays Rank: 23rd (1,005)
2014 Yards Per Play Rank: 22nd (5.2)
Check out the team-by-team fantasy preview schedule.
Projected Starting Lineup
Passing Game Outlook
Under the direction of rookie GM Ryan Pace and new coach John Fox, the Bears spent the offseason trying to send Jay Cutler a message. Cutler was never going anywhere because of his contract, but Pace and Fox were publicly noncommittal on Cutler's 2015 whereabouts at their introductory press conference, before a draft-day story was leaked to ESPN's Bob Holtzman that the Bears had suddenly entered trade talks with the Titans involving Cutler. (Again, never happening.) At OTAs, new OC Adam Gase insinuated the offense could run just as smoothly with Jimmy Clausen under center. Cutler has never lacked for talent, and his weapons are as strong as ever following the additions of No. 7 overall pick Kevin White and trusty slot receiver Eddie Royal. Even with only Clausen and David Fales behind him, however, it's fair to question Cutler's 2015 job security under a regime that did not make the move to invest in him. Cutler will have QB1 fantasy upside whenever he's in the lineup this season, which could very well be for all 16 games, but might only last a month or so if Cutler's "rogue" tendencies reappear. Historically, Cutler has refused to play within offensive structure, resulting in major offensive breakdowns, turnovers, and overall team discord.
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Alshon Jeffery has posted consecutive top-12 fantasy receiver seasons, showing the ability to handle heavy volume efficiently, excel in a legitimate No. 1-receiver role, dominate at all three sections of the field, and stay effective even when his health isn't at 100 percent. He recorded 70-plus yards and/or a touchdown in 13 of the 15 fantasy-relevant weeks last year, showing remarkable consistency amid quarterback woes and team turmoil while battling a nagging hamstring injury. Still only 25, Jeffery enters his contract year as the Bears' X receiver, the position at which Demaryius Thomas ranked first and twelfth among NFL wideouts in targets under new OC Adam Gase in Denver the past two seasons. Jeffery is in the first-round discussion in Dynasty start-ups and a locked-and-loaded WR1 for 2015.
I'm pretty sold on Kevin White as a Terrell Owensian long-term talent, but there are concerns to consider when evaluating him from a re-draft standpoint. Although there have been exceptions, new coach John Fox has a history of limiting the playing time of his rookies. White himself was slow to transition from junior college to Division I at West Virginia, essentially operating as a rotational receiver his first year as a Mountaineer. He's now jumping from the Big 12 into the NFL. The Bears have a lot of passing-game mouths to feed in an offense Fox hopes to make more committed to the run. Jay Cutler recently told reporters he believes White is competing to be Chicago's "No. 4 receiver," behind Jeffery, Eddie Royal, and Marquess Wilson. It's entirely possible that many of those factors are rendered irrelevant by the start of the season, but I think they are worth noting at this stage of the process. At his late-sixth-round Average Draft Position, White is currently going ahead of Roddy White, Mike Wallace, Charles Johnson, Steve Smith Sr., Allen Robinson, and Larry Fitzgerald.
Is Eddie Royal a better value pick than White this season? Royal's ceiling is obviously lower than Chicago's first-round rookie, but Royal also has an ADP of undrafted, and his role in the passing game may be more stable. Cutler was Royal's quarterback when the ex-Bronco established career highs in targets (129), receptions (91), and yards (980) as a rookie in 2008. Gase was Royal's position coach in 2009 and 2010. The Bears were the only team to host Royal in 2015 free agency, eventually signing him to a three-year, $15 million deal with $10 million guaranteed. Royal was efficient with his 2014 targets, ranking top 16 among 110 qualifiers in PFF's catch-rate metric, top 20 in yards-after-catch per reception, and 30th in fantasy points among receivers despite ranking 55th in targets. I tend to doubt Royal will be a strong week-to-week WR3 play in re-draft leagues, but he's an excellent WR7 or WR8 in best balls.
Cutler talked up Marquess Wilson recently, but I'm not buying the third-year receiver as a legitimate 2015 fantasy contributor. Wilson wasn't very effective when he got late-season chances to play in 2014 -- no matter what Drew Dinkmeyer tells you -- and ultimately Wilson is a former seventh-round pick who's been inherited by a new regime. Wilson is 6-foot-3 with plus athleticism, and is not yet 23. He's worth an end-of-roster stash in Dynasty leagues. Wilson simply faces long odds of making re-draft noise as the Bears' likely fourth receiver.
Martellus Bennett's contract dispute was short lived. After sitting out OTAs, Bennett reported to minicamp in timely fashion and confirmed he'll attend training camp on time, as well. Last year, Bennett parlayed Brandon Marshal linjuries into career highs in receptions (90) and yards (916), finishing as the overall fantasy TE5. The additions of Royal and White, as well as Fox's plan to reduce team pass attempts indicate Bennett won't match last year's raw stats. Still only 28 years old, Bennett could compensate for a usage dip with more touchdowns. Julius Thomas was a scoring machine in Gase's system with the Broncos, hitting pay dirt 24 times in 27 games. "Black Unicorn" obviously won't reach those heights with Cutler rather than Peyton Manning at quarterback, but Bennett is just as good an athlete as Thomas and considerably bigger. I think he's priced fairly at his current mid-seventh-round Average Draft Position. I'd only rank Rob Gronkowski, Jimmy Graham, Travis Kelce, and perhaps Greg Olsen over him.
Running Game Outlook
Outgoing Bears coach Marc Trestman's track record of feeding tailbacks in the passing game extends too far back and with too many beneficiaries for it to be chalked up as a fluke. The loss of Trestman is a concern for Matt Forte's receiving outlook, though the bigger worries are age, fast-declining efficiency, and past workloads. Forte turns 30 late this season. His yards-per-carry average dipped from 4.63 in 2013 to 3.90 last year. Forte has been a true NFL workhorse, piling up 1,817 carries across seven seasons following an 833-carry college career. Volume should keep Forte on the RB1 cusp, but he is overvalued at his 1.09 overall ADP.
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No. 2-back duties will be decided by a camp battle between ineffective retreads Daniel Thomas (career 3.62 YPC) and Jacquizz Rodgers (career 3.66 YPC), old-regime holdover Ka'Deem Carey, and fourth-round rookie Jeremy Langford. Langford arguably has the most talent of the group, but Fox historically defers critical jobs to veterans. Either way, the Bears would likely resort to a multi-back committee in the event of a Forte injury. Langford holds the most Dynasty value as a player drafted by the current front office with 4.42 speed at 6-foot and 208 pounds. One of Carey, Thomas, and Rodgers probably won't make the team.
Vegas Win Total
Coming off a five-win disaster, the Bears' 2015 Win Total is seven games. Chicago has serious theoretical firepower on offense, but big question marks on the line and a defense that may be coached more effectively by Vic Fangio than outgoing DC Mel Tucker, but remains badly starved for talent. The Bears are essentially a rebuilding team married against their will to a quarterback they essentially must embrace. They also have a brutal schedule and play in one of the NFL's toughest divisions. While I don't doubt the Bears' potential to surprise, my sense is this will be a tough year in Chicago. I would take the under on seven wins.