The Bears are the next team up for our 2014 fantasy outlook series. The team here at XN Sports was quite affectionate for the Bears after they brought Marc Trestman back to the NFL as their head coach. Just like we assumed he would be, Trestman was a fantasy football godsend in 2013. The Bears had two top-eight receivers, a top-ten tight end, a top-three running back, and their quarterbacks combined for nine top-12 weekly finishes.
2014 Bears Schedule
|2||@||San Francisco 49ers|
|3||@||New York Jets|
|4||Green Bay Packers|
|8||@||New England Patriots|
|10||@||Green Bay Packers|
|12||Tampa Bay Buccaneers|
|15||New Orleans Saints|
As usual, take any strength of schedule outlook with a grain of salt. Chicago does have a pretty tough slate through their bye week, especially in terms of facing secondaries that I project to be good. You’re not fading this passing game though on a weekly level. It’s also hard not to like the Bears playing three consecutive home games in the fantasy playoffs against teams that project to bring moderately high scoring offenses to the party.
The Bears high school level defense aided our fantasy cause plenty in 2013. Chicago finished 30th or lower in rushing yards, total yards, and opponent punts per touchdown. With all of their defensive additions this offseason, especially in run defense, should we expect a jump in offensive snaps for the Bears this season?
Trestman Career Play Calling Splits
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Despite allowing top fantasy weeks to likes of Benny Cunningham, Brandon Jacobs, Edwin Baker and Roy Helu, the Bears offense remained in line with previous offenses under Trestman. The Bears were the third best offensive team in terms of points per snap, behind Denver and Dallas. League average for overall snaps per game has jumped a bit since Trestman was last in the league in 2003, which made their total only good for 23rd in the league.
The biggest reason is due to the fact that the Bears were second to last in the NFL in points allowed per play (Washington) at .468. Chicago ranked 13th in offensive snaps allowed per game, but they gave up nearly a half a point per play. Drives were short and constantly put them in a hole, which is why they were able to run a solid amount of plays despite not being able to stop anyone, unlike the Dallas Cowboys. If their defense is improved, don’t anticipate a large boon in offensive snaps, more just pushing them closer to the middle of the pack. That’s all that fantasy fans need to take full advantage of this offense every weekend.
The Cutty Zone
Despite being outplayed by backup journeyman Josh McCown when he went down, Trestman was able to make Jay Cutler fantasy relevant once again. Even with a wide range of outcomes, Cutler finished in both the top 12 in adjusted yards per aimed attempt (AY/AA) and fantasy points per aimed attempt (FPAT). On a weekly level, Cutler was as good as Drew Brees in terms of giving you startable fantasy weeks, just without the lofty ceiling.
He was still the same quarterback in terms of peripherals, posting the same interception rate (3.4 percent) and yards per attempt (7.4), but he increased his touchdown rate (5.4 percent) to his best total since his rookie season when he only started five games and posted the second highest completion percentage (63.1 percent) of his career.
In the offseason he deservedly inked a new seven year, $126M deal, which is really a three year, $54M deal with four team option years. His job is safe, the increased passing volume is there, and his ADP will likely remain neutral all summer long. No matter what you think about Cutler, there’s no other quarterback in fantasy that you can invest in after round eight that is an arbitrage play on three different players inside the top-15 selections this summer.
Though he’s often credited for being a quarterback guru, Trestman’s real fantasy plus comes to aiding running backs in the passing game. Out of the top 30 scoring running back seasons in PPR since 2009, the only back that was over the age of 27 was Matt Forte from last season. At age 28, he tallied career highs in rushing yardage, receptions, receiving yardage, and matched his rookie mark of 12 combined touchdowns. He also played more in 2013 than ever before in his career.
[table id=76 /]
*Snap Data Courtesy Pro Football Focus
Even though he will be turning 29 in season and coming off of the most touches since his rookie year, pass catching backs can add longevity to their careers. With his age, hefty contract that the Bears can get out of after the season, and inexperienced depth behind him, don’t expect much of a falloff in terms of usage if Forte is healthy for this upcoming season.
Ka’Deem Carey isn’t much of an athlete, but he is a workhorse that can catch the ball out of the backfield. This really was the perfect destination for his abilities, because Trestman has made fantasy studs out of far lesser backs despite Carey’s physical profile. Michael Ford is likely to only compete for kick return duties, so the main handcuff to Forte is Carey. Combine the aforementioned workload nuggets and he’s a potential waiver wire goldmine should Forte go down, and Carey may just be the ultimate handcuff in 2014.
The New Monsters of the Midway Play on Offense
Both Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery fit the profile as what a lead receiver should look like, and both were amongst the top eight overall last season. Both were identical in terms of weekly consistency, but Marshall was utilized effectively more often and had the second highest target share of any receiver in the league last season when his offense was on script. He was also much more effective in the red zone than Jeffery last season, converting 40 percent of his targets for scores while Jeffery was at 16 percent.
Marshall and Cutler have always produced fantasy magic together, and he’s a value again this year, even at his cost. Using the Game Split App available at Rotoviz, you see that Marshall is a supernova when Cutler is feeding the rock to him.
Jeffery had nine top-24 PPR weeks in 2013, with six coming when McCown played the bulk or entire amount of snaps. Even with Cutler behind center, he produced at a lesser pace, but was still just fine for fantasy production. In those games, he averaged 13 points, including a 10-catch, 218-yard performance versus the Saints. With his talent level and only entering his third season, we can still expect his relationship with Cutler to continue to grow.
He also carried the ball in 11 different games for 105 rushing yards last season, and at least once per game during weeks six through 15. For both Marshall and Jeffery, the volume coupled with ability will carry each into 2014 as top end receivers once again under Trestman.
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We only have target data from 1999 forward, but in three of the five seasons listed, two receivers have each seen at least one fifth of the total targets in a season. Outside of them leaning on their two big receivers, things get pretty interesting.
Left off at that table is that the RB1 averages 15.4 percent of the total targets, so Forte is definitely the third option, which we knew anyways. The only times the third receiver has ever really been involved is when there was hardly any tight end presence to speak of. Jerry Porter produced the only relevant fantasy season and that came when he scored nine touchdowns to the two of Tim Brown in 2002.
Marquess Wilson isn’t stealing that number of scores away from either of the big dogs. After playing just 76 totals snaps as a rookie, that third receiver job is his after the release of Earl Bennett. Wilson will only be 22 years old when the season starts, and has had phenomenal production to date for his age as Jon Moore has stated. His involvement will shave targets from everyone, but with the Bears still tied into Martellus Bennett. It’s hard to see Wilson as more than just a late round lottery ticket that will need an injury to see significant burn in your 2014 lineup, but if I’m spending a top 15 pick on Marshall or Jeffery, I want to handcuff them with Wilson at his current redraft cost. Now that Wilson has suffered a broken clavicle during training camp, he could miss anywhere from four to eight weeks. Monitor the situation as the season grows closer for an exact timetable, but he should still be viable if an injury occurs elsewhere in season.
Bennett deserves his share of the targets, too. Bennett caught 65 passes for 759 yards and five touchdowns, the single best season of any tight end under Trestman, and the best season of his six year career in 2013. Bennett was also another player who benefited big time with Cutler rather than McCown. In his games with Cutler, Bennett averaged 9.5 PPR points per game as opposed to seven points with McCown. Also, five of his six top 12 weeks came when Cutler played the entire game.
2014 Fantasy Relevant Projections
Best Option to Crash through their projection without injury: Jeffery – it’s easy to get lost in some of the QB noise surrounding what he did last season, but we should remain focused on what he did himself. Entering his third NFL season, Jeffery has everything to be a WR1 mainstay for the next several seasons.
Biggest Risk to fall through their projection: Forte – Things are great, until they aren’t. While I anticipate Forte’s pass catching ability to keep him among the best fantasy options, there’s still something uncomforting in using a top seven selection on a 29-year old running back.
Best Waiver Wire Option: Wilson – The Bears are tough to get a break out from, because they rely so heavily on their starters for production. He’ll likely get snagged late in drafts, but Wilson could find his way to the wire if he’s still the fourth spoke in the wheel once owners hit the bye weeks. If an injury occurs to Marshall, Jeffery or Bennett, he’ll have an impact.
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