A Look Inside: 2021 Chicago Bears

It has been quite some time since teams actually feared the “Monsters of the Midway”. The Chicago Bears hired Matt Nagy as the head coach in 2018; he was the offensive guru from the Kansas City Chiefs that was supposed to come in and guide the franchise back to its winning ways. Turns out that running an offense is more difficult without Patrick Mahomes throwing the ball to Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. The defense has had solid showings under Nagy but the Bears have been in the Bottom 10 of scoring for two out of his three years in Chicago. He’s going into 2021 equipped with a new QB for a crucial season that will likely decide his future with the team.

Note: You can follow the entire Look Inside series with this link and you can watch the full No Punt Intended episode on Youtube below with special guest Drew Metcalfe, one of Club Fantasy’s own writers!

Quarterbacks

We see this story play out at least once every year: First, a team drafts a quarterback early in the first round. Then, they tell the media all summer long that the incumbent veteran will remain atop the depth chart. Finally, by the end of September, they are rolling out the rookie to start. Matt Nagy has not publicly named Justin Fields the starter, but I expect him to get the nod over Andy Dalton sooner than later.

Chicago traded up to the 11th overall pick of the 2021 draft to select Ohio State’s Justin Fields. This time last year, we never would have imagined Fields falling outside of the top-10 picks. Other prospects emerged and allowed the 2021 Big Ten’s Offensive Player of the Year to fall far enough for the Bears to scoop him up. In a shortened Big Ten 2020 season, Fields looked the part of a future stud NFL quarterback. Over eight games, he threw for 2,100 yards with 22 touchdowns and six interceptions. Most impressive was his College Football Playoff victory over the reigning National Champion Clemson Tigers. Fields had 385 yards passing and six touchdowns, showing off his ability to perform on the biggest stages.

Fields is a risky pick in redraft leagues since we aren’t sure exactly when he will make his first start. If you are willing to gamble though, the upside is huge. Even though he has the tools to succeed as a pocket passer in the NFL, his rushing ability gives him a major fantasy boost. I project similar production to rookie Robert Griffin III, who was a top-10 quarterback before the injury that prematurely ended his first season.

Running Backs

Going into 2020, very few analysts would have pegged David Montgomery as a league-winner. He was coming off a below-average rookie season and did not impress as a runner. Backup Tarik Cohen tore his ACL in Week 3 and the second-year running back took advantage of his increased opportunity. Montgomery put up over 1,500 total yards and scored 10 touchdowns. This includes catching fire during the final stretch of the season, as he was the best running back in fantasy from Weeks 12-17.

Most will chalk up Montgomery’s performance to just his increase in volume without Cohen and an easy schedule to end the year. While these factors contributed to his success, not enough credit is given to his personal improvement. Montgomery tied with Antonio Gibson for having the second-best broken tackle rate last season. He was the only running back with both 200+ carries and a top-5 broken tackle rate. We also saw a more efficient runner in Montgomery, improving his yards per carry from 3.67 as a rookie to 4.33 in 2020.

The Chicago depth chart was underwhelming behind Montgomery and Cohen. So, they signed Damien Williams as an upgrade from Ryan Nall. With the addition of Williams and the return of a healthy Cohen, Montgomery should see a dip in touches this season, but how much will his load decrease? Williams is a 29-year-old running back that only has one season over 100 carries. I view him as only a depth option to spell Montgomery when needed. Cohen has always been their primary receiving back, but Montgomery was highly effective in that area last year. While Cohen has been one of the least efficient tailbacks in the league over the last two years, Montgomery had the ninth-most yards per target among running backs in 2020 (better than D’Andre Swift, Austin Ekeler, and Nyheim Hines).

David Montgomery showed us his absolute ceiling last season and there is a slim chance for him to find himself in the Top 5 again. He’s being drafted near his floor, as a low-end RB2 right now. Cohen might have some PPR appeal, as an RB4. He’s not a bad target for Zero-RB drafters in the late rounds.

Wide Receivers

You won’t find a more tragic NFL storyline than the history of Allen Robinson’s quarterbacks. It features names such as Blake Bortles, Mitch Trubisky, Nick Foles, and Chase Daniel– all guys that are currently professional clipboard holders while they watch their teams’ starting QB from the sidelines. Despite the parade of bad pass throwers, Robinson has done nothing but produce when he’s on the field. His two seasons in Chicago have both resulted in top-10 WR finishes. Whether it’s Dalton or Fields under center, Robinson is a bonafide alpha receiver that should be drafted as a fantasy WR1 with confidence.

One of the most popular Day Three rookies from the 2020 draft class is Darnell Mooney, the fifth-round pick out of Tulane. Going into the season, Anthony Miller was a common preseason breakout candidate, but Mooney stole the show from him and established himself as the number two wideout. Now, 631 yards and four touchdowns isn’t the most impressive stat line, but Twitter is filled with video montages of Nick Foles/Mitch Trubisky airmailing a wide-open Mooney on what WOULD have been big chunk plays. We can only try to guess what his numbers would look like with competent quarterback play.

There will be several players fighting for the third receiver spot, including Marquise Goodwin, Damiere Boyd, rookie Dazz Newsome, and Anthony Miller (who has been on the trade block for months). Things could potentially clear up quickly if Miller is traded to another team and Newsome struggles to return from his broken collarbone suffered in June. Regardless, I don’t see much 2021 fantasy value outside of Robinson and Mooney.

Tight Ends

Cole Kmet was the first tight end selected in the 2020 NFL draft, going to the Bears in the second round. It was a slow start to the season for him, as with most rookies at the position. He rotated in behind Jimmy Graham for most of the season, until he began receiving starter snaps in Week 12. From that point, he saw an average of 5.5 targets per game. That’s a 16-game pace of 88 targets (17-game pace: 93.5 targets) which would have tied him for the tenth-most among tight ends last season. Kmet also had an impressive true catch rate of 93.3%, good for fourth-best (true catch rate divides receptions by catchable targets, credit: Player Profiler).

The expectation was for Jimmy Graham to become a cap casualty this off-season, as the Bears can save $7 million by releasing the 34-year old tight end. For whatever reason, the team is still holding onto him (as of early July). We already saw a mini-breakout from Kmet with Graham there, so I wouldn’t be overly concerned by his presence. I would have a more positive outlook for Kmet though if Graham were let go. Until that happens, Kmet is a low-end TE1 which is not a difference-maker for your fantasy team. He’s a strong streaming option for those applying a “late tight end” draft strategy.