Bears

Fantasy football stock watch

Fantasy football stock watch

By David Ferris
CSNChicago.com

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Danny Amendola, WR, Rams: His average route isn't much deeper than a phone booth, but there's something to be said for finding holes in zones and keeping the chains moving. And with Sam Bradford looking sharp again, the Rams passing game is no longer a toxic waste dump. We obviously can't chase Amendola's 15 receptions from last week, but he should be good for 5-7 grabs against Chicago's effective-but-predictable Cover 2.

Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Lions: His push off to the year has been solid if unspectacular - eight grabs, 95 yards, one touchdown, one egregious TD drop. But we mention Pettigrew here because he's taking dead aim at a Tennessee secondary that's allowed five tight end touchdowns through two weeks, including a Donte Rosario hat trick in Week 2. Go where the matchup steers you.

Brian Hartline, WR, Dolphins: There's nothing special to his skill set, but Hartline runs precise routes and catches just about anything in his neighborhood. More importantly, he's been the receiver quickest to adjust to rookie quarterback Ryan Tannenhill. if anyone is going to snag 60-70 downfield passes here, it's Hartline. Consider him a deep WR3 or a shallow WR4 in standard leagues.

Martellus Bennett, TE, Giants: Big Blue has to play without Hakeem Nicks and Ahmad Bradshaw in Carolina this week, which clears the deck for Bennett. The jumbo-sized tight end has already surprised us with nine catches for 112 yards and two scores, and the Panthers linebackers and safeties can be leaky in coverage. Eli Manning knows a good thing when he sees it.

Donnie Avery, WR, Colts: We're already on board with Andrew Luck and Reggie Wayne - the 2012 Colts remind us of the 2011 Panthers, a fantasy carnival - and Avery might be the third amigo in the group, especially if Austin Collie can't shake his concussion problem. Avery had a strong 9-111 run against the Vikings (on just 10 targets), showing the ability to find open space and cut aggressively after the catch. You'd never guess he had several knee injuries back in his St. Louis days.

Vernon Davis, TE, Niners: The Maryland product finally grasped the Jim Harbaugh offense late last year, and a ballistic run in the playoff followed (four touchdowns, 292 yards). Small-sample fluke? Not on our clipboard. Davis already has three spikes in 2012, showing he's the most dynamic receiver in the 49ers scheme. And while Alex Smith isn't an elite quarterback, he's very good with seam throws - and his pre-snap reads have improved dramatically.

Brandon LaFell, WR, Panthers: Although he doesn't have sprinter speed, you love that LaFell managed 17.0 YPC last year, a combination of usage patterns and the ability to adjust to the ball in the air. The Panthers have expanded LaFell's responsibilities this year, resulting in 155 yards and a score through two weeks. From watching the film to this point, you can see how much the club likes LaFell - he was a deep specialist last year, but he's running a variety of routes this season. LaFell also appreciates the constant double coverage that opponents throw at teammate Steve Smith.

Brandon Meyers, TE, Raiders: Carson Palmer isn't a deep or sideline thrower at this stage of his career, so it makes sense that Meyers is making plenty of hay over the middle. The unheralded Iowa product has a snappy 11 grabs for 151 yards through two weeks, securing each target in his direction. That's how trust is built.

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Chris Johnson, RB, Titans: His blocking has been terrible, the play-calling is ordinary and predictable, and Tennessee's defense can't keep the games close through four periods. Other than that, everything's fine. Johnson might find some lanes in Week 3 against an overrated Lions defense, but after that the matchups tighten up (Houston, Minnesota, Pittsburgh).

David Wilson, RB, Giants: The opening-night fumble landed him in Tom Coughlin's expansive doghouse, and even the Ahmad Bradshaw injury in Week 2 didn't rescue Wilson - Andre Brown came out of obscurity and took over in the backfield. Brown was also a big part of Big Blue's comeback last week, so he'll get the rock at Carolina. Wait your turn, rookie.

James Jones, WR, Packers: While he has good size for a wideout and adequate speed, Jones has trouble separating downfield and his ball skills in the air leave a lot to be desired. Jones couldn't secure what should have been a Week 2 touchdown at Chicago, and you can't blame Aaron Rodgers for focusing on other receivers. The Packers don't want to promote Jones past the WR3 tag, and he might not even be that important by this time next year. Even in deeper pools, we'd rather spend our lottery ticket elsewhere.

Ryan Williams, RB, Cardinals: He was the snappier runner in the win at New England, but he also put the ball on the ground late - his second fumble of the year. Even if Williams fixes the ball-security problem, he's still running behind the NFC's worst run-blocking line. Let someone else chase the dream. We don't see a 1,000-yard rusher in the desert.

Jared Cook, TE, Titans: A seven-catch, 87-yard start might not seem that bad, but it's going to get worse before it gets better for Cook. More mouths are around to feed in the offense - Kendall Wright is emerging, Kenny Britt is back - and we're not going to bet our fantasy lives on scattershot second-year QB Jake Locker (who's been running for his life through two weeks).

Charles Leno dubbed Bears' best-kept secret

Charles Leno dubbed Bears' best-kept secret

Chicago Bears left tackle Charles Leno, Jr. deserves a lot of credit. After starting his career as a seventh-round pick and something of a longshot to ever earn a starting job, he's become an irreplaceable fixture at the most important position along the offensive line.

The four-year, $38 million contract extension he signed last offseason is evidence of that.

Despite his value to the Bears, Leno is still somewhat underrated across league circles. That may be about to change.

Leno was recently named Chicago's best-kept secret.

Leno has consistently improved as a pass protector since he was drafted in the seventh round in 2014 and is now one of the team's top 10 players. If he hit the open market, Leno might be a $60 million player with the way the offensive line market is exploding. Over the next four years, the Bears should save about $20 million on the market price for their starting-caliber left tackle.

Leno has enjoyed steady improvement since his rookie season. His grades from Pro Football Focus reflect that: 53.6 (2014), 56.3 (2015), 71.2 (2016) and 80.4 (2017). 

The Bears' offensive line is poised for a big season in 2018. Leno and Bobby Massie are back as starters at tackle. Rookie second-round pick James Daniels will pair with Kyle Long at guard and third-year pro, Cody Whitehair, will get back to focusing on being the team's starting center.

If Leno's trend of improved play continues, he's a great candidate to go from best-kept secret to league star in 2018.

The trade rumors aren't going away, but that hasn't changed Cubs' faith in Addison Russell

The trade rumors aren't going away, but that hasn't changed Cubs' faith in Addison Russell

How much do the Cubs really need Manny Machado? 

They entered play Tuesday leading the National League in runs per game, on-base percentage, slugging percentage and run differential.

That doesn't sound like a team desperate for another bat and would trade future assets to go all-in for only a few months of a player, even one as good as Machado.

Of course, the Cubs went out and got walloped 10-1 by the Indians Tuesday night at Wrigley Field, but that had more to do with awful pitching and Machado won't do a thing to help that area of the game. In fact, Machado would actually hurt the team's run prevention given he's a worse defensive shortstop than Addison Russell.

All that being said, the Machado rumors probably won't be going anywhere until the Baltimore Orioles deal their shortstop to either the Cubs or another team, so Russell will have to get used to hearing his name included in such conversations.

Any Cubs package headed to Baltimore for Machado likely has to start with Russell, the Cubs' 24-year-old shortstop who won't become a free agent until after the 2021 season.

"He would be robotic if it did not [affect him]," Joe Maddon said. "I think honestly if he was 7, 8, 10 years into the league and something like this was being bandied about, probably not nearly as much. But the age that he's at, the experience level that he's at, I think it just can't help but have an impact.

"So we just gotta continue to nurture him here. I talk to him all the time. There's certain things you can't control. You can't control what's being said, but you can control how you react to it. That's about the best thing we could encourage him to do and he'll get our support."

Maddon said he gives Russell a hug and reminds him of "something" before every game as he tries to massage the confidence of a player that is currently the shortstop of a Cubs team with World Series expectations.

Russell doesn't turn 25 until next January, yet many people act like he's already peaked as a player. 

He's two years removed from hitting 21 homers and driving in 95 runs as part of the 2016 championship season.

2017 was a lost year for so many reasons — from off-field issues to shoulder and foot problems — and Russell has only 1 homer in the first quarter of the 2018 season, but he's taken other strides this year.

He currently boasts career best marks in walk percentage, strikeout percentage, line drive percentage, groundball percentage and is using the opposite field more than ever.

The power hasn't come yet this year, but a .343 on-base percentage is a pretty solid complementary piece to one of the best all-around defenders in the game.

Russell ranks 10th in baseball in Defensive Runs Saved among all players, tied for second among shortstops. Fielding metrics are not perfect, but Machado is 133rd in DRS among qualifed fielders and 24th among shortstops, so there is clearly a gap between the two players' glovework.

Maddon has never shown any outward sign of altering his belief in Russell becoming a dynamic player.

"Addy's gonna continue to progress to the point where all his game is gonna become consistent," Maddon said. "And even beyond that, who do you like better at shortstop [defensively] right now? ... His throwing's dramatically improved. His baserunning decisions — I know he had a gaffe in Cincinnati, but for the most part, he's gotten better.

"So what we're really talking about is his hitting. That's where people get hung up about this game all the time. I see absolute progress in that, also. He just came off a hot week and he had a couple tough days and then all of a sudden, it becomes exaggerated. Why? Because he's 24.

"I think the sky is the limit for this guy. He's a confidence guy like most of us are. As he's feeling good about himself, that's when the line drives start to occur. I mean, one of the biggest hits so far was the ball over the centerfielder's head in Atlanta [last week].

"And he always has this tendency to do some really good work when it matters most. He's been that guy already. So just be patient. He's just gonna keep getting better."

Remember, Russell is the same guy that hit a grand slam and drove in 6 runs in Game 6 of the World Series in Cleveland and started every game at shortstop that postseason. Every year Russell has been the Cubs' shortstop, the season has included a trip to the National League Championship Series.

"Our front office has always been one to make moves and they’re not afraid to do things and we’ve seen that," Kris Bryant said. "We won a world series because of that, getting [Aroldis] Chapman and some of the other guys we got, but we don’t put one ounce of thought into that because we’re happy with the guys we have here.

"The effort that everybody puts forth day in and day out when they’re on the field is spectacular. You know we have a great group of guys here and until someone is gone, we’re going to play with what we’ve got and continue to play the way we have. So, not much thought about [trade rumors]."

Russell has also quietly been very productive over the last month after a slow start to the season. Since April 26, he boasts a .306/.386/.444 slash line (.830 OPS).

It's still hard to see the Cubs willing to give up the next 3.5 years of Russell for 3 months of Machado and MAYBE a slightly better chance of re-signing the superstar this winter.

"I was talking about a 24-year-old hitter, what about a 24-year-old human being having to process all of that?" Maddon asked. "Whether he's hearing it or not from anywhere here, it's just mom, dad, brother, friend, former coach on the phone — 'What's that all about?' 

"He's gotta be inundated with that conversation. He didn't ask for that. He's just doing his job."