Bears

Fantasy Football: 15 bold predictions for the 2015 season

julio-jones-bold-predictions-fantasy-slide.png

Fantasy Football: 15 bold predictions for the 2015 season

Go big or go home.

What's the fun of fantasy football if you don't take risks every now and then?

With that in mind, we've compiled some bold predictions for the 2015 fantasy season.

[MORE: Get more Fantasy Football coverage here]

Consider these predictions like needing only an extra point to tie the game, but deciding to go for two anyways. Sometimes, it's just more fun to go against the grain, even if the odds are stacked against you.

1. Alshon Jeffery will not be a Top 15 fantasy WR this year.

I'm just really lukewarm on Jeffery this year. When Brandon Marshall went down last year and was lost for the season, it was a chance to see what Jeffery could do on his own. I wasn't impressed. I get it that it was a lost season but over the last three games, he only went for 12 catches for 184 yards and two touchdowns. That doesn't make me feel good about him being a WR1. (John "The Professor" Paschall)

2. Julio Jones will have 130 receptions this season. 

Predicting Julio Jones will be the No. 1 fantasy wide receiver in 2015 is way too easy. I'm taking a different approach with this prediction and stating that Jones will finish with the second-most receptions in a single season in NFL history (Marvin Harrison had 143 with the Colts in 2002). Jones hauled in 104 passes on 164 targets last season and with Roddy White on a decline and minimal options for Matt Ryan to target in the passing game, I expect Jones to have a monster year in Kyle Shanahan's system. (Scott Krinch)

3. Jameis Winston will return QB1 value.

Hey, we're supposed to be bold with these things. Ryan Tannehill was the 10th best fantasy quarterback a year ago, averaging 22.8 fantasy points per game. I don't know about Winston's offensive line holding up, but assuming Winston plays all 16 games, he's going to reach those numbers. Mike Evans and Vincent Jackson are absolute workhorses, both Doug Martin and Charles Sims can catch out of the backfield and Winston has shown some ability to scramble. I've got Winston replacing Matt Ryan in the Top 10 this season. If you took Winston late as your QB2, there's going to be some controversy in your lineup later in the year. (Mark Strotman)

[Fantasy Football Podcast: Draft recap and Week 1 preview]

4. Michael Crabtree catches 90 balls for 1,200 yards and 10 scores.

Crabtree has always left something to be desired, both in fantasy and in real life, even during his best season in 2012 (85 rec, 1,105 yds, 9 TD). I'm betting he surpasses those numbers this year with the Oakland Raiders. He's highly motivated (as CSN Bay Area Raiders Insider Scott Bair recounted for our podcast last month), the talent is still there and he's in an up-and-coming offense where teams will undoubtedly be focusing on highly-touted rookie Amari Cooper. Watch Crabtree explode back onto the fantasy scene in 2015. (Tony Andracki)

5. There will be a Seahawks wide receiver to own by the end of the year: Tyler Lockett.

In past years, it's been a situation to stay away from. Percy Harvin disappointed, Doug Baldwin isn't more than a week-to-week flex option and Jermaine Kearse comes up with one clutch catch and that's about it. Lockett has impressed so far on special teams and should see the field a lot more on offense as the year goes along. He will become a favorite target of Russell Wilson. Keep an eye on the speedster so you aren't too late to snatch him up. (JP)

6. Doug Martin will be a Top 10 RB again. 

Is Doug Martin back? You better believe it. The artist formerly known as the "Muscle Hamster" is once again running with authority, and showing that patience and vision that made him a Top 3 running back in 2012. Without any competition behind him (Charles Sims is merely a third-down specialist), Martin - as long as he stays healthy - should post a Top 10 season at his position. (SK)

[Fantasy Football: 2015 wide receiver sleepers and busts]

7. Davante Adams will fail to impress.

I don't necessarily have any projected numbers for the Packers' new No. 2 WR, but it's asking a whole lot for a second-year wideout to post numbers on where he was selected - his ADP is higher than Brandon Marshall, Jeremy Maclin and Sammy Watkins, just to name a few. I expect him to be a borderline WR2, but Randall Cobb is going to post monster numbers and the Packers will rely even more on Eddie Lacy. One of James Jones, Ty Montgomery or Jeff Janis will emerge as Green Bay's No. 3, and while that won't hurt Cobb any, it may hurt Adams. I get why his stock rose so drastically; it just rose way too quickly for the biggest question mark of any WR2. (MS)

8. Tevin Coleman will be the top rookie RB to own. 

Last season, it was the year of the rookie wide receiver. In 2015, it could be the year of the rookie running back. The likes of Tevin Coleman, Melvin Gordon, Ameer Abdullah, Todd Gurley and TJ Yeldon were all Top 100 fantasy picks. The one that slipped the furthest, Coleman, is the player that I believe will have the biggest fantasy impact this season. The only competition Coleman has in Atlanta is Devonta Freeman, who isn't a serious threat to unseat the rookie. Coleman has breakaway speed and plus skills in the passing game, and has already been named the Week 1 starter. Go out and get him in your perspective leagues before it's too late. (SK)

[Fantasy Football: 2015 running back sleepers and busts]

9. This year's Odell Beckham Jr. will be Todd Gurley.

If you remember, Beckham missed a chunk of the first half of the season and then put up mind-blowing numbers. Gurley will reportedly miss at least the first three games but then comes back to presumably be the top back with the Rams. Tre Mason may get in his way a little, but Gurley's talent will shine immediately like OBJ and will take the league by storm. Get your popcorn ready. (JP)

10. Jeremy Hill will finish as a Top 3 running back.

The Bengals' feature back from Week 9 on finished 11th last season despite rushing 50 times in his first seven games. From Week 9 on, he led running backs in fantasy points, racking up five games of 100+ yards and scoring six touchdowns. He's going to get all he can handle this season with Hue Jackson running the show - and Andy Dalton doing his best impression of a quarterback - and is primed to continue his breakout, much like Eddie Lacy did last season in his Year 2. Fantasy prospects are all about having an opportunity; Hill has a perfect one, and he's going to make the most of it. Congrats if you snagged Hill anywhere in the second round; you've got a steal. (MS)

11. Alfred Morris owners will outright release him before the fantasy playoffs begin.

I've never been a big Morris fan and things are trending in the wrong direction for him. He's never missed a game, but his yards and yards per carry have dropped every season and he almost never catches the ball, so his entire value is weighted on his rushing production. Last season, Morris notched just one game over 92 rushing yards and had six games where he racked up 54 or fewer rushing yards without a tuddie. That kind of inconsistency is maddening and we've heard report after report about how much the Redskins love Matt Jones. I'm betting Jones will be the Washington running back to own by about Week 10 or so. (TA)

12. Antonio Gates misses four games and is still a Top 5 TE by end of season.

He hasn't really shown any signs of slowing down. Philip Rivers is still there. Can Keenan Allen be counted on for a bounce back year? Rivers' favorite target with thrive when he gets back. (JP)

13. Jarvis Landry will finish in the Top 10 in receptions.

If you read any of our previews, I'm all aboard the Dolphins bandwagon this season. And a lot of it has to do with Landry, who tallied 84 receptions on 111 targets a year ago. While the Dolphins spent a first-round pick on DeVante Parker (who's coming along slowly after a foot injury cost him the preseason) the wide receiver depth in Miami isn't great. It's going to be Landry who continues to rise in Year 2, and he's going to be an absolute steal in PPR leagues. He finished 17th in receptions a year ago. I expect 90+ catches in 2015. (MS)

14. Tyler Eifert will be a Top 5 tight end. 

Primed for a breakout season, Tyler Eifert broke his elbow in Week 1 in 2014 and missed the remainder of the year. Now, with expectations lowered, Eifert is the 13th-ranked tight end heading into the 2015 season. With the tight end position so shallow, Eifert has a great chance of climbing up the rankings. The former first-round pick has the ideal size and speed combo and a quarterback that loves the intermediate passing game. Don't be surprised if Eifert finishes second behind wide receiver A.J. Green in targets on the Bengals. (SK)

[Fantasy Football: 2015 tight end sleepers and busts]

15. Travis Kelce will be the No. 1 fantasy tight end.

I haven't hid my love for Kelce over the last two seasons, but all the signs are pointing to a breakout season for the Chiefs tight end if he can stay healthy. Even with Anthony Fasano stealing playing time from Kelce at TE in KC last season, Kelce still finished as the No. 6 fantasy tight end. With healthy/suspension questions around Antonio Gates and Julius Thomas, new environments for Jimmy Graham and Martellus Bennett and a lack of other options around him (Greg Olsen), Kelce could easily jump all those guys and be the No. 2 tight end. I'm betting he's even better than Gronkowski. (TA)

After loss to Patriots, Bears' defense searching for answers — but not confidence

10-21tombradyadrianamos.jpg
USA Today

After loss to Patriots, Bears' defense searching for answers — but not confidence

A year ago, had the Bears come within one yard of tying the New England Patriots in a game in which they allowed two special teams touchdowns, the vibe in the Solider Field locker room might’ve been different. Sort of like, hey, that was pretty good that we were able to hang with one of the league's best teams and nearly tie and/or beat them despite our own mistakes. 

The operative term, then, after Sunday’s 38-31 loss to the Patriots may be confident frustration. The Bears know they’re a good team, better than they’ve had in recent memory. And that makes losing a game this team felt it was close to winning that much more frustrating. 

“We still had confidence last year that we could go in and win games (last year), but I would say this year we know what type of team we have,” defensive lineman Akiem Hicks said. “We know we got a quarterback that’s developing and throwing the ball down the field really well. We know we have a great wide receiver corps. We know we have rushers that can get to the quarterback. We have a really good team and we’re going to have to figure out how to capitalize on that big play momentum and finish games out.”

Perhaps this is a picture of a talented team still trying to figure out how to win. The Bears’ defense entered Sunday allowing an average of 8.8 yards per play in the fourth quarter and allowed 6.5 yards per play in the final 15 minutes Sunday, including a critical 96-yard touchdown drive. 

And while Mitch Trubisky’s Hail Mary to Kevin White came up one yard short, that the Bears were even in that situation to begin with was the problem. New England was able to chew up 3:49 off the clock before punting the ball back to the Bears' offense with 24 seconds remaining. Get a stop earlier and the Bears might not have to rely on a nearly-converted heave with time expiring to tie the game. 

“In games like this, your room for error is slim in all phases,” cornerback Kyle Fuller said. “No matter what we did (well), there are still a couple things that we have to clean up against a team like that."

The Bears’ defense is remaining confident despite scant pressure on Brady — he was sacked once (by Roquan Smith) and hit only three times (by Smith, Bilal Nichols and Roy Robertson-Harris). Khalil Mack barely showed up on the stat sheet, registering only one tackle while being dropped into coverage far more frequently than he made an impact as a pass rusher. How much he was affected by his injured ankle, or how much defensive coordinator Vic Fangio felt he had to gameplan around it, is unclear (Mack did not speak to the media following the game). 

Leonard Floyd, too, was picked on by Brady, who frequently got the ball out quick in a successful effort to mitigate a pass rush that’s struggled to make an impact after recording 18 sacks in four games to begin the year. But the confidence is still there, despite seemingly few reasons for optimism since the second half in Miami kicked off last weekend. 

“We definitely don’t feel like (we’ve hit a wall),” safety Eddie Jackson said. “That’s probably the greatest quarterback in the NFL right now. We just gotta come in, we left some things on the field, we left some plays on the field. Like I said, it’s tough trying to put this one behind you but, you know, it’s a long season. We’re not getting down on ourselves, we’re still going to play with confidence. That confidence is still there.” 

Games against two of the league’s worst offenses in the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills, then, should help the Bears’ defensive production match its confidence, if that line of thinking is to be believed. But as the first four games of the season get farther and farther in the rearview mirror, this is a defense that has to prove itself again in the coming weeks. 

“(The Patriots) came to play all together, and not saying we didn’t but we didn’t make the plays when we needed to make the plays,” outside linebacker Aaron Lynch said. “It’s on us. Defense, we got it though. We’re not worried about it. It’s another game we lost. We got how many other games, we got 10 games left? Yeah. I’m not worried about it. I don’t think anybody is.”

Bears set “a new standard here” even in 38-31 loss to Patriots

bears_moon_patriots.jpg
USA TODAY

Bears set “a new standard here” even in 38-31 loss to Patriots

One yard. Less than one, really. That’s all that separated the Bears and the New England Patriots on Sunday, after Kevin White’s efforts to tug a Hail Mary into the Patriots end zone came up just that short in a 38-31 loss to the NFL’s greatest team over the better part of the past two decades.

And normally, a team under a first-time head coach (the Bears’ fifth coach since Bill Belichick and Tom Brady started their run in 2001) would feel good about nearly overcoming giving up two special-teams scores and two turnovers of their own, all against one of the NFL’s elites.

But feel-good was hard to find after a second straight loss of a winnable game to a good team.

“’Close’ doesn’t cut it,” said quarterback Mitch Trubisky, who set career highs in pass attempts (50) and rushing yards (81) on his way to two passing touchdowns and one rushing. However, Trubisky had his lowest passer rating (69.8) of the season after throwing two interceptions.

“There’s a new standard here, and coming up one yard short and not tying the game and going to overtime, that’s not good enough anymore.”

Perspective isn’t particularly easy with a young team that dropped to 3-3, still its best scorecard after six games since 2014. The Bears are now back behind Minnesota and idle Green Bay (both at 3-2-1) in the NFC North and are tied with Detroit (3-3). 

Still, with their best individual player (Khalil Mack) hobbled with an injured ankle and a pass rush that got virtually no pressure on Brady, the Bears did find themselves at the Chicago 45 with a chance to tie with two seconds to play.

Maybe the marvel was that they were even that close to the Patriots, after special teams allowed a punt-block return for a touchdown and a 95-yard kickoff return for a touchdown.

“We were right there. I think our offense is growing and I like where we are right now, I really do,” Nagy said.

More than that, as he told the players in the locker room afterwards, “With everything that happened to us and we were a yard away from tying the game. Take that and think about that a little bit.”

The ebbs and flows of the game notwithstanding – the Bears led 17-7 early in the second quarter, and were down 38-24 midway through the fourth – the game was arguably another small indicator that the Bears are the cliché’d “for real.”

Whatever that actually means.

The defense, which failed to protect leads in the fourth quarter in two of the Bears’ first four games, was unable to deliver a stop in the final minutes Sunday, allowing New England to drive 96 yards for score to go up 38-24 midway through the fourth quarter.

They “held” Brady and the New England offense to 24 points without Mack, the linchpin of their defense. But the Patriots were without Rob Gronkowski, the perennial Pro Bowl tight end and favorite target of Brady.

"I think it just comes down to knowing that if you are going against a good team, your room for error is slim, so you have to be on point the whole game," said cornerback Kyle Fuller, who intercepted his third pass in the past two games, “

And after some shaky handlings of in-game situations this season, Nagy was not out-coached by Belichick, who routinely takes an opponent’s strength away and who effectively took leading receiver Taylor Gabriel out of the offense. Nagy and Trubisky turned to tight end Trey Burton for nine catches for 126 yards and a touchdown.

Trubisky hurt himself and the offense with a handful of bad misses of open receivers, including Anthony Miller in the end zone in the first half. New England forced him into quick-react decisions with an array of blitzes alternating with eight-man zones, and Trubisky was able to make the Patriots pay with short and mid-range targets of Burton.

Accuracy cost Trubisky when he underthrew wideout Josh Bellamy, who was two steps behind cornerback Stephon Gilmore, in the third quarter for another missed touchdown opportunity. A subsequent sloppy throw on the run to Bellamy was intercepted when the ball was thrown to the defender’s side of Bellamy instead of toward the sideline, costing the Bears a chance at at least a field goal. A misplaced fourth-quarter pass toward Miller later in the fourth quarter was intercepted at the New England four-yard line.

But Trubisky’s 333 yards marked the third straight time he has passed for 300 or more yards, and Nagy cited a number of throws that Trubisky didn’t make as evidence of improved decision-making.

“I came away pleased with how he played,” Nagy said.

Added Gabriel: "He's a playmaker, man. A guy that wanted to win. You can see that out of him. He's the leader of this team and I would go to battle with Mitch any day."