By The Hudsonian, Joshua Hudson (with Contributions from Joe Zollo and Chris Tyler)
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If not for their defense and Jordan Howard, I imagine a scenario where the Bears pick in the top three of the 2018 NFL Draft. Their underrated defense finished 10th in total defense and 9th in fantasy points with 190 points. Howard regressed some in his sophomore campaign, rushing for 1,122 yards (he had 1,313 yards in 2016). The plus side? His rushing TDs went from 6 in 2016 to 9 in 2017, en route to an RB11 finish. Another bright spot was rookie RB Tarik Cohen. He shot out of a cannon in the early weeks, scoring 52.3 fantasy points over the first three weeks of the season (RB10 numbers). He would finish the year as RB27. He has great hands as a receiver and is small enough to get lost behind his offensive linemen. He had 53 receptions and averaged 4.3 yards per carry.
And now for the bad. They inexplicably gave a 3-year contract to Mike Glennon, who managed 8 turnovers in four games before giving way to rookie 1st rounder Mitchell Trubisky. While Trubisky was hardly exciting, he was a first round pick and he has nowhere to go but up. His leading receiver, Kevin White, found himself injured yet again and missed 15 games. Free agent acquisition Kendall Wright became Trubisky’s go-to guy, but only managed 59 catches for 614 yards. And his starting TE Zach Miller suffered a gruesome, possibly career-ending leg injury midway through the season. Needless to say, the Bears offense needed a serious boost last year.
|(Projected Starting Lineup)|
|QB2||Chase Daniel (w/ NO)||-0.20||QB68|
|QB3||Tyler Bray (w/ KC)||N/A||N/A|
|WR1||Allen Robinson (w/ JAX)||2.70||WR182|
|WR3||Taylor Gabriel (w/ ATL)||81.70||WR75|
|WR4||(R) Anthony Miller||N/A||N/A|
|WR5||Bennie Fowler (w/ DEN)||72.40||WR83|
|TE1||Trey Burton (w/ PHI)||77.90||TE26|
|K||Cody Parkey (w/ MIA)||81.00||K20|
Rookies and Undrafted Free Agents to Watch: WRs Anthony Miller & Javon Wims
The Chicago Bears finished 2017 with the worst passing offense in the NFL. Going from career backup Mike Glennon to rookie Mitchell Trubisky didn’t help as much as the Bears had hoped, but at least Trubisky didn’t turn the ball over as much per game as Glennon. Over 12 games, Trubisky had 7 INTs and 5 fumbles (1 turnover per game). Over 4 games, Glennon had 5 INTs and 3 fumbles (2 turnovers per game). Glennon is gone and it’s now Trubisky’s job to lose. Two moves that should ultimatley help Trubisky’s ascension are the additions of backup QB Chase Daniel and new head coach Matt Nagy. (As well as some new offensive weapons, but we’ll touch on those in a bit.) We know how bad Trubisky’s season was — QB30 finish, a 59.4% completion percentage, 7 TDs to 7 INTs, and only 2,193 passing yards. If there’s one thing Trubisky did well, it was throw the deep ball. In his 30 attempts on passes over 20 yards, he completed 10 of them, with 3 touchdowns and no interceptions.
It’s clear there is potential with Trubisky. And the Bears have worked to surround him with playmakers: new wide receivers, a new tight end, and hopefully a former 1st round pick returning from yet another injury. The Bears even added C/G James Daniels to help on the interior of the line. Trubisky was sacked on 22.1% of his dropbacks last year and was 25th in QB rating when under pressure. A lot of the buzz this offseason is that Nagy will have the same type of effect on Trubisky that Sean McVay had on Jared Goff. I’m not willing to go that far. I would definitely invest in Trubisky in Dynasty leagues, but I’m thinking we’ll see an incremental improvement, not a dramatic one. Trubisky should get around 3,600 passing yards, 22 TDs and 13 INTs. He’s athletic enough to also chip in between 250 to 300 rushing yards and 2 scores. He’s a QB2 with upside, and that’s not a bad thing to have on your bench.
The other QBs on the roster, Chase Daniel and Tyler Bray, aren’t exactly names to perk up your ears. Both are career backups who know Nagy’s system from their time in Kansas City. In the event of a Trubisky injury, be worried. VERY worried. Bray has attempted one pass in five seasons and Daniel has thrown exactly three passes in three years and 78 over his nine year career. Trubisky looked plenty healthy last year, but did succumb to 31 sacks. Hope for the best, otherwise his receivers won’t look near as appealing in fantasy.
Jordan Howard finished his rookie season as the second leading rusher in the league in 2016. He finished 6th in 2017. Howard did more pass catching in 2016 as well. The Bears offense essentially relegated Howard to a 1st and 2nd down back in 2017. He had only 32 targets last year and had 125 receiving yards. In PPR leagues, Howard still finished as RB11, but it was hardly an inspiring season. He did however have 15 runs go for more than 15 yards, tied for 4th in the NFL. Former head coach John Fox was a defense/run game kind of coach with little imagination on offense. Bringing in Matt Nagy to lead the offense (and the team) was designed to provide a spark. Just look at what rookie Kareem Hunt was able to do for the Chiefs if you want a glimpse as to what Howard can do in 2018. Hunt led the league in rushing and chipped in an additional 455 yards receiving. Howard isn’t that type of pass catcher, but he can easily come away with 30 receptions for 270 yards. He should easily eclipse 1,000 yards and fall somewhere between his rookie year average of 5.2 yards per carry and last year’s 4.3. If Nagy is anything like his mentor, Howard probably won’t see the 276 carries from a year ago so the YPC needs to improve for him to be a top 10 RB. He’s certainly top 15, but I’d rather have him as my RB2 than my RB1.
Then there is his running mate, Tarik Cohen. Cohen has the speed and receiving prowess to be an elite 3rd down back in this league. Many feel Cohen will play a similar role in Nagy’s offense as Tyreek Hill. Hill electrified in 2017, finishing as WR3. While Cohen is more runner than Hill, both possess the talent to excel as a rusher/receiver. Cohen’s RB27 finish last year was just the beginning. I’d put money on Cohen having more receiving yards than rushing yards. Cohen finished 10th in the league among RBs with 1.8 yards per route run. He finished with 53 catches for 353 yards in 2017 and I firmly expect those receiving yards to increase exponentially. Cohen is a top 25 RB simply because of his pass catching skills. I think he can approach 1,100 total yards with 60 receptions and 5 TDs. A change in offensive philosophy can do wonders for a man’s career.
After those two, there’s nothing overtly sexy at the RB position. Benny Cunningham has bounced around the league for a few years and Taquon Mizzell saw zero carries in 2017. Cunningham is talented as a receiver, so if Cohen goes down, there’s potential there, but neither of these two are legit fantasy options without injuries occurring.
The Bears decided that, after a season in which their wide receiving corps had the fewest receiving yards in the NFL in 2017, they would step into the salon for a makeover. I think it’s safe to say some fantasy owners will be swiping right in 2018 as a result. Okay, lame analogy, but you get my point. Let me start with their biggest acquisition, Allen Robinson. I covered Robinson’s prospects earlier in the offseason, but here’s a summary. Three years ago, Robinson became a household name. The Jaguars were an eye sore, but they sure knew how to rack up the fantasy points. Robinson scored 290.20 fantasy points, good for WR6. Translation: 80 receptions for 1,400 yards and 14 TDs. Good stuff. He fell off in 2016 with roughly the same amount of targets but more attention from defenses. Then he tore his ACL in 2017, in a contract year no less. Bad stuff.
Robinson has the makeup of a number one receiver. The Bears certainly hope so since they gave him a 3-year deal for $15 million a year. One thing Robinson does better than most is go deep. During his breakout 2015 season, he led the league in yards gained and receptions over 20 yards — 19 for 672. Robinson should provide young Mitchell Trubisky with a reliable target because he can get open despite mediocre speed. But he needs to work on those hands. From 2015 to 2016, Robinson dropped 17 dropped passes. But hey, Terrell Owens dropped plenty of passes and he did okay, right? Look for a healthy Robinson to be in the WR2 discussion in 2018. Robinson’s potential lies in the hands of Trubisky’s growth.
Another free agent signee, Taylor Gabriel, brings with him a set of wheels that Indy cars would envy. He runs a 4.4 40 — ask him and I’m sure he thinks he’s faster — and really blossomed during the Falcons’ Super Bowl appearence run, with 35 catches for 579 yards and 6 TDs. He also averaged 16.5 yards per reception. In the transition from Kyle Shanahan to Steve Sarkisian, Gabriel’s numbers diminished but that hardly negates his talent. Nagy’s system has room for receivers with game-breaking speed and Gabriel should move his yards per reception back up to his 2016 numbers. Gabriel is a top 50 WR, so nothing more than WR5/6 on your roster. He’ll take a few trips to the waiver wire, but depending on the matchup, he could pay dividends.
And then there are the young guys. Kevin White was taken 7th overall in the 2015 draft and has played a grand total of 5 games in three seasons and has shown zero glimpses of the talent that made him a 1st round pick. White averaged 13.6 yards per reception in college. He’s averaged 9.2 in the pros. Is this finally the year White remains healthy and makes good on his talent? Even if he plays all 16 games, how polished will he be after missing all these games over his 1st three seasons? I wouldn’t be opposed to stashing him in Dynasty (you just know he moves on to a new team after 2018 for a fresh start) or taking a very late round flier on him, but White won’t be starting for me until I see consistency in his production.
Then there’s rookie Anthony Miller. The Memphis product was a 2nd round pick who lit up the American Athletic Conference, posting back-to-back seasons over 1,400 yards receiving and 31 TDs. He finished 4th among draft prospects in yards per route run, but also had one of the worst drop rates in the country, tied for 2nd among incoming WRs with 12 drops. Miller will see playing time in 2018, especially if White finds himself on IR again. Stash Miller in Dynasty and keep him on your radar as a rookie who has the ability to make some noise this year.
As much as it hurt to lose him — if you don’t know by now, I’m an Eagles fan — Trey Burton couldn’t have landed in a better spot during free agency. Nagy brings with him the Andy Reid philosophy that has created productive TEs in the NFL. During his time in Kansas City, he’s had the benefit of Travis Kelce terrorizing defenses. And Kelce has never had fewer than 67 catches in a season, all with Andy Reid as head coach. Trey Burton showcased elite athleticism in Philadelphia while playing on special teams and filling in for Zach Ertz a few games last year. I detailed Burton’s outlook earlier this offseason so I won’t drag this on. I’m a huge believer in Burton’s potential and view him as a top 7 option at the TE position, approaching 60 catches for 725 yards and 6 TDs. Basically, the only guys I’m drafting in front of him are Gronkowski, Kelce, Ertz, Greg Olsen, and Evan Engram. Jimmy Graham has the potential to move up, but I’m skeptical given the offense he’s now in.
2nd year man Adam Shaheen showcased some skills last season, making him a viable option in the event Burton suffers an injury. He put up only 12 receptions for 127 yards, but had 3 TDs. So basically, 25% of his receptions went for six. Those are numbers to love, however unsustainable they may be. Shaheen is nothing more than waiver wire fodder, but a solid fill in if Burton catches a bad break.
Rookie to Watch
Roquan Smith was a freak athlete at Georgia, collecting 146 solo tackles and 6.5 sacks. Chicago had a top ten defense in 2017 and inserting a tackling machine in the first round means they want to be even better. Smith is someone to watch because his resume speaks for itself and is gonna be a great addition to the Bears defense. – Chris Tyler
What if I told you he has 1 completion…for 1 yard…and 1 touchdown…would you know who I am talking about? Well, Trey Burton served up the Philly special in Super Bowl 52 and that’s all he really did in that game. For the 2017 playoffs, his stat line was bad: one reception on four targets for 12 yards. So why do I like him so much? He is now in the windy city playing with a young QB surrounded by good young talent. His regular season numbers last season weren’t his best but 5 of his 6 career receiving touchdowns came last season. Burton replaces Zach Miller, who was used a lot in this offense and I expect he will be used the same amount as Miller was. – Joe Zollo
2018 Loose Ends
The Bears sport a very intriguing offense for fantasy owners. I say intriguing because absolutely nothing is guaranteed. Trubisky has one year under his belt and was underwhelming, but he was the 2nd overall pick so he should ascend. Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen are an exciting one-two punch, but one ultimately keeps the other from the upper echelon at the position. Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel are sexy additions at WRto help a young QB, but will they find rhythm and timing with Trubisky? Same goes for Burton. Lots of unknowns. As The Commish likes to point out, fantasy is all about minimizing risk. It’s sound advice, but it’s okay to take chances if you feel you have a solid backup plan. You want to grab ARob as your WR2? Find great value at your WR3 and WR4 spots. Trotting out Burton as your TE1? Don’t be shy about snatching up someone like Jake Butt or Jordan Reed who could also put up solid numbers in his steed. The Bears are a team to watch and you should not be shy about investing prime draft stock on them.
Here are some other interesting facts I found while researching:
- Last year, Tyreek Hill had the most yards receiving on passes over 20 yards downfield. Why is that important? His offensive coordinator is the Bears new head coach. RB Tarik Cohen and new WR Taylor Gabriel should have plenty of opportunities down field to ignite the Bears offense.
- Jordan Howard finished tied for 13th in the NFL in missed tackles on rushes with 34.
- Tarik Cohen forced 23 missed tackles on receptions by a RB, tied for 3rd in the NFL.
- Chiefs TE Travis Kelce led the NFL in TD receptions on passes traveling more than 20 yards downfield. Travis Kelce runs a 4.63 40. Trey Burton runs a 4.62 40.
|2||9/17 (Mon)||vs SEA|
|5||** BYE WEEK **|
|12||11/22 (Thurs)||@ DET|