Chicago Bears Fantasy 2014
The Chicago Bears have five fantasy-relevant players: Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Matt Forte, Jay Cutler and Martellus Bennett. The first three are the moneymakers on Chicago’s offense. Each one of them merits an every-week start in a 10 or 12-man league and each one of them offers production that will help you secure a playoff spot.
Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery
Marshall will almost certainly be taken in the second or early third round of your draft this year, as he was last year. Predicting Alshon Jeffery’s draft spot will be a little trickier. The rise of Jeffery might scare off less savvy fantasy owners from Marshall, but you’re a diehard, you know better.
Marshall still reigns as the undisputed champ of Chicago’s receiving duo. Josh McCown’s stint as the starter in Chicago was great for Jeffery, but Marshall’s production did not fall-off. In McCown’s weeks as a starter, Marshall averaged 12.1 points per week. Jeffery averaged 13.9 points per week across the same time span, about an 18-yard difference. In the three weeks after Cutler’s return, Marshall put up scores of 15, 9 and 13. Jeffery had 13, 7 and 6.
Of course we must take Jeffery’s breakout into account, but the targets under Cutler are consistent across that breakout. Jeffery averaged about eight targets per game from Cutler before McCown’s brief reign and the same in the three games after Cutler’s return. Marshall averaged a little over 9.5 per game in Cutler’s first six starts and just over 10 per game in the three starts after.
This is not to say that Jeffery is not someone you want on your team. He was a top-10 receiver in standard leagues last year and has a great chance to repeat in 2014. If the hype dies down enough, Jeffery could be an excellent value pick in your draft. Unless you’re in Chicago, in which case he’s likely going to go right after Marshall.
Brandon Marshall should be taken somewhere among the elites, along with Calvin, Demaryius, Dez, A.J., and Josh Gordon. At this level, you’re really going off of instinct, as any one of these guys could end the season as the top scorer. Marshall is one of the safest locks to finish in the top five or six at his position as you’ll find in fantasy football. He’s an asset you can depend upon is a valuable asset indeed.
Jeffery will and should be among the top 12 or so receivers taken in your draft, but don’t make the mistake of taking him alongside the elite tier quite yet. Jeffery should be taken among guys like Jordy Nelson and Antonio Brown and likely after both of them. If you can grab him in the fourth round, do it, especially if you go RB early. Despite his big showings, he’s not a boom-or-bust guy as some would lead you to believe. He will offer stability with big-game potential on any given Sunday.
There are only two running backs who should go above Forte next year and those two guys are Adrian Peterson and Jamaal Charles. You could make an argument for McCoy or Lynch in the third spot, but Forte is a versatile and explosive player in an offense that values him and the Bears offense will be humming in its second season under Marc Trestman.
Consistent production gets you to the playoffs. Big games win you the championship. Forte will give you both.
Some fantasy owners still have lingering doubts about Forte’s durability, especially those who owned him in 2011 and 2012. Rest assured, Forte is as durable as any RB1 you’re going to find and the two aforementioned campaigns are the only years in which Forte failed to play all 16 games in his six-year career.
This year has the potential to be Forte’s biggest before he enters the territory of the oft-discussed running backs in decline. He touched the ball 363 times in Trestman’s first year at the helm; Forte’s largest workload since his total of 379 touches in his 2008 rookie year. He caught 74 balls this year, 11 more than his previous high of 63 in 2008.
Matt Forte is an automatic first-round pick in 2014, even in 2QB leagues. In PPR, only Charles should be taken higher. Put him on your roster and stop worrying – you’re starting a bona fide stud every week.
Here’s where things get interesting… In 2014, quarterback is going to be stupidly deep, as it was in 2013. Cutler is not going to be one of the top 10 QBs off the board. Manning, Rodgers, Stafford, Brady, Romo, Wilson, Newton, Brees, Luck, Kaepernick, Rivers and Foles will all be taken over him, as they should be. If you’re the last guy to get a QB though, Cutler is someone you’re definitely going to want to pick-up, even if he’s one part of a two-man rotation.
You’re not getting Cutler for the week-in, week-out production you expect from the top guys. You’re getting him because he is an above-average fantasy quarterback with an elite stable of fantasy weapons. Two top-10 receivers, a top-five running back and a top-10 tight end… What’s not to like?
Cutler isn’t what you’d call injury-prone, but he’s had a recent history of being unavailable from time to time in a season. In the last four years, Cutler has played 15, 10, 15 and 11 games. The first three years here were partly a reflection of Chicago’s poor offensive line play, but his line was significantly improved last year.
All it takes is one good shot to take out a quarterback and what happened to Cutler could have happened to anyone under center. Expect him to play a full 16 games if his line maintains the improvement it showed this year, but keep an eye on what the Bears do with their big guys up front this off-season. If there’s discontinuity among that group, bump Cutler down a couple spots on your board.
If you’re starting one of the big guys every week, you should feel great keeping Cutler around as your back-up. He’s a borderline starter with stud potential from game to game. If Trestman’s offense continues to mesh and improve, he could crack the top 10 in 2014.
He is fantasy relevant in most league formats, even if he hasn’t been the most exciting plug-and-play guy. Bennett finished 10th among tight ends in 2013, and 14th in 2012 when he was with the Giants. His 759 yards in 2013 was a modest improvement over his 626 the year before and marked the end of the every-week starter tier at TE in 2013 fantasy play. If you’re looking for stability with upside, Bennett has what you need.
The Bears top tight end played with his third team in three years in 2013 and had his best season yet in catches (65), yards (759) and touchdowns (5, tied with 2012). Continuity in 2014 will do the big man good, as will the defensive headaches caused by his more notorious teammates. A little extra time with Trestman hasn’t hurt many offensive players yet and you shouldn’t expect that to change with Bennett.
Which round Bennett comes off the board depends heavily on how much you value the TE position. I rank him as the seventh best tight end in 2014 fantasy, below Graham, Gronk, Witten, Cameron, Davis and Thomas, but above Olsen and players like Charles Clay.
Unfortunately, you’re probably not going to get great value out of Bennett, as his name recognition is higher than some of the lesser-known players who had a good season in 2013. Still, if you believe in his potential this year, you should get fair value from Bennett around the ninth round. If you look at the facts (27 years old, just had his best season and will be in his second year with an offensive-minded coach), Bennett looks like a solid mid-round value pick if you miss out on one of the big names.