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2012 Fantasy outlooks: Chicago Bears

Senior Fantasy Writer
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The first thing that comes to mind when you think of a team getting rid of Mike Martz is not that they would become more offensive. But that's where we are with the Bears.

Martz is gone as the offensive coordinator, taking with him his deep-drop passing system that nearly got Jay Cutler killed, and he will be replaced by Mike Tice. Cutler is not going to take many seven-step drops this year behind a porous offensive line, and the Bears gave him some new weapons in Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Michael Bush.

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Cutler has the chance for a solid year, especially being reunited with Marshall, and we like him as a No. 2 Fantasy quarterback with upside. Marshall also projects as a No. 2 Fantasy receiver with the chance to be a No. 1 option even though former Bears receiver Muhsin Muhammed once said that "Chicago is where receivers go to die." Marshall is worth drafting in Round 4 in most formats.

A big key for the Bears on offense will be what happens with Matt Forte and his contract. He was designated as the franchise player this offseason, but he wants a long-term extension. The Bears covered themselves by signing Bush, but Forte is the best player on Chicago's offense and a Fantasy star when healthy.

If Forte has a long holdout then his Fantasy value will plummet and the Bears could struggle. But if he signs a new deal prior to training camp then he can again shine, and the Bears could be tough to stop.

Fantasy Value Chart
Player Draft Day value Estimated round
Quarterbacks
Jay Cutler 10
Running Backs
Matt Forte 2
Michael Bush 6
Kahlil Bell ND
Wide Receivers
Brandon Marshall 4
Alshon Jeffery 12
Earl Bennett ND
Devin Hester ND
Johnny Knox ND
Tight Ends
Kellen Davis ND
Kickers/Defense
Robbie Gould 14
Bears DST 13
ND - not expected to get drafted

Bust ... Matt Forte, running back
Forte's Fantasy value would be in trouble even if he wasn't dealing with a contract situation. The addition of Bush, who had 1,395 total yards and eight touchdowns last year for the Raiders, would already hinder his production. Bush is expected to share carries with Forte, and he will likely work at the goal line. Forte only has one year with double digits in touchdowns, which was as a rookie in 2008 with 12 (he has two seasons with only four), so scoring would be limited. Factor in less rushing yards, and we're talking about his receiving skills having to carry him. On top of that, factor in a potential holdout, and Forte is not looking too attractive as an elite Fantasy option. We saw what happened to Chris Johnson last year with his holdout, but Johnson didn't share carries. If you want to draft Forte in standard leagues then you should probably select him in Round 2, but it's better to wait until Round 3 if possible. His value is higher in PPR formats because he does have at least 51 catches in every year of his career, but I would avoid drafting Forte with an early-round pick because he seems to have more cons than pros this year.

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Impact rookie ... Alshon Jeffery, wide receiver
The Bears plan to start Devin Hester opposite Marshall, but we expect Jeffery to be the No. 2 receiver for the Bears, especially with Johnny Knox (back) possibly out for the season. Jeffery has plenty of upside thanks to his size, hands and opportunity. With the Bears likely to lean on Marshall, Jeffery should have plenty of single coverage. The 6-foot-3, 220 pound former standout at South Carolina totaled 179 career receptions for 2,894 yards (16.2 yards per catch) and 22 touchdowns in college. He'll probably take a while to be that productive in the pros, but expectations are growing for him. He's worth a late pick in deeper seasonal drafts, a mid- to late-round pick in dynasty/keeper leagues and a second-round choice in rookie-only formats.

Sleeper ... Kellen Davis, tight end
If you were to guess who led the Bears in receiving touchdowns in 2011 you likely wouldn't have thought of Davis. But he had five touchdowns while playing in an offense that didn't utilize tight ends as receivers on a regular basis, and he finished with just 18 catches for 206 yards. This year, the Bears have a new offense, and Davis should be much more involved. Davis has tremendous size at 6-foot-7, 267 pounds, and he's a big target for Cutler in the red zone. He could emerge as a Marcedes Lewis-type receiver with minimal catches and yards but a decent amount of touchdowns. Davis isn't worth drafting in the majority of leagues, but he is someone to put on your radar. If he starts off the season playing well then he is someone to add off the waiver wire.

Schedule breakdown

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17
IND @GB STL @DAL @JAC bye DET CAR @TEN HOU @SF MIN SEA @MIN GB @ARI @DET
The Bears shouldn't be any worse than 3-2 going into their bye (they might even be 4-1). It's a great early first-half schedule for their offense. Things will get worse starting in Week 10, but they should still be productive. Some quirks: They play the Vikings twice in three weeks, with their second meeting the first of three road dome games they'll play over the final four weeks. Getting their Thursday game out of the way early helps.

Training camp topics

The last time Cutler played with Marshall was 2008 in Denver, which was the best season of his career. He passed for 4,526 yards, 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Likewise, Marshall had 206 catches for 2,590 yards and 13 touchdowns during the two years Cutler was his starter. It also helps that joining them will be former Denver coordinator Jeremy Bates, who is an assistant now with the Bears.

2011 Touches Leaders
Player Touches
Matt Forte 203 carries, 52 catches
Marion Barber 114 carries, 5 catches
Kahlil Bell 79 carries, 19 catches
Johnny Knox 37 catches
Roy Williams 37 catches

We hope they pick up where they left off, and this passing game has the chance to shine. It should be fun to watch the different wrinkles in the offense with the change from Martz to Tice.

Of course, having Forte in camp will be huge, and Fantasy owners will continue to monitor what develops with his contract. The longer he stays out the worse his value will be and the more owners will start to focus on Bush. If Forte is not a holdout then plan on drafting Bush with a mid-round pick as a No. 3 Fantasy running back.

Injury update

Cutler (thumb; probable for the start of training camp) ... Jeffery (leg; probable for the start of training camp) ... Johnny Knox (back; doubtful for the start of training camp) ... Brian Urlacher (knee; questionable for the start of training camp)

Stay in touch with the most passionate Fantasy staff in the business by following us via Twitter @CBSFantasyFB . You can also follow Jamey at @JameyEisenberg and on Facebook .

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Player News
QB struggles begin to impact Cardinals DST
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:13 am ET) The Cardinals DST scored just one Fantasy point in standard CBSSports.com leagues Week 16 against Seattle, interrupting a stretch of 10 games in which it averaged 15.1, and the Cardinals' offensive woes may have had something to do with it.

Specifically, they've been unable to find a decent quarterback since losing Carson Palmer to injury in Week 10. Backup Drew Stanton at least mounted some kind of threat, but with him sidelined by a sprained knee in Week 16, the Cardinals had to turn to third-stringer Ryan Lindley. He turned the ball over twice without once leading his team into the end zone, completing less than half of his passes in the process.

The quick trips back to the sideline gave the Seahawks more chances to pile up points and yards, and they did, finishing with 35 and 596. Only one other time have the Cardinals allowed more than 30 points in a game, and the 596 yards were a season high. Worse yet, they were lacking in big plays, recording one sack with no takeaways.

Fortunately, the Cardinals will take on a struggling 49ers offense in Week 17, so even if Lindley is back under center, the DST at least has a chance of a respectable performance. Still, if you've been relying on it all season, you might want to make sure there isn't an appealing matchups play on the waiver wire.


Seahawks DST can't be stopped
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(2:04 am ET) The Seahawks DST had another dominant performance Week 16 at Arizona, continuing a nine-week run that has made it once again arguably the top unit in Fantasy. During that stretch, it has averaged 16.2 Fantasy points, allowing 11.9 points on 231.3 yards.

It allowed only six points on 216 yards in Week 16, recording four sacks and one interception. Of the Seahawks' 33 sacks this season, 20 have come in their last five games.

Clearly, they had a favorable matchup in this one, but they also shut down the Eagles in Week 14. You don't have any reason to shy away from the Seahawks DST against St. Louis in Week 17.


Kenbrell Thompkins comes out of nowhere
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:58 am ET) After making only modest contributions since coming over from the Patriots in Week 6, Raiders wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins suddenly emerged as quarterback Derek Carr's favorite target Week 16 against Buffalo, catching five passes for 90 yards. He hadn't caught even one pass since Week 13, and his previous high in yardage was 47.

Of course, you should know how this goes by now. Fellow wide receivers James Jones and Andre Holmes have both had their stretches of Fantasy relevance this season, as has tight end Mychal Rivera. The Raiders have a multitude of viable receiving targets, but their roles aren't so clear, which makes the task of picking the most impactful from week to week next to impossible.

In other words, you'd need to play in an especially deep league to take a flier on Thompkins for the season's final week.


Latavius Murray trustworthy up to a point
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:51 am ET) If his 23 carries Week 14 against San Francisco didn't convince you, Latavius Murray's 23 carries Week 16 against Buffalo should make the message loud and clear: He is the Raiders' top running back, and they're putting more faith in him than they ever did Darren McFadden.

Granted, it hasn't translated to much production yet, but the 49ers and Bills are two of the toughest defenses against the run. Unfortunately, Denver, the Raiders' Week 17 opponent, is ranked even higher at both.

Can you trust Murray to get his carries? He's gotten them two of the last three weeks, so most likely, yes. And with 20-plus chances, there's always the chance he breaks a long one. But the matchup will make it difficult.

You'd like to start him given his ever-increasing role, but you shouldn't force him into your lineup if you have two (or maybe three) respectable running backs already.


One way or another, Fred Jackson gets his
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:44 am ET) Trailing early Week 16 at Oakland with their playoff hopes on the line, the Bills didn't stick with the running game for long, attempting only three runs in the second half. But in a way, that worked to running back Fred Jackson's advantage. He's such a good pass-catcher out of the backfield that he still topped 100 total yards, doing so for the first time since returning from a groin injury in Week 12.

Even with the return of C.J. Spiller from a long-term shoulder injury, Jackson still led the Bills in carries, but with only six for 10 yards. He also led the team in catches with nine for 93 yards. He had 10 catches just two weeks ago, so clearly, he's a PPR stud.

Is he worth starting in standard leagues as well? Well, he's also gotten 20 carries twice in five games since returning. He hasn't been as effective on the ground as through the air, but yards are yards, however he gets them.

Their matchup Week 17 at New England will probably force the Bills to go pass-heavy again, so unless you're stacked at running back, you can find a spot for Jackson in your lineup.


Desperation fuels Kyle Orton's performance
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:35 am ET) Bills quarterback Kyle Orton didn't have the most efficient day throwing the ball Week 16 at Oakland, but from a Fantasy perspective, it was a productive one. He threw for 329 yards and three touchdowns but also had two interceptions.

What's crazy, though, is that 196 of those yards came in the second half. The Bills were trailing a winnable game with their playoff hopes on the line, and their desperation showed. Unfortunately, that desperation also contributed to the second of Orton's interceptions.

The Bills have been eliminated, so no matter how much they're trailing Week 17 at New England, they probably won't be quite as desperate. You can expect more typical numbers from Orton -- maybe about 250 yards with one or two scores -- even if the matchup appears to be a favorable one, making him a player better left for two-quarterback leagues.


Kenny Britt clearly better with Shaun Hill
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:27 am ET) Rams wide receiver Kenny Britt caught a season-high nine passes on a season-high 11 targets Week 16 against the Giants, but his 103 receiving yards actually weren't a season high.

That's because he had 128, along with a touchdown, Week 11 against the Broncos.

That was Shaun Hill's first game back under center. Week 16, obviously, was his latest one. In the six games since Hill reclaimed the role, Britt has averaged 3.8 catches for 66.3 yards. In the nine games before then, he averaged 2.3 catches for 34.7 yards.

Britt has been especially good lately, averaging 73.3 yards in his last three games. Hill has also been fond of Stedman Bailey, but he doesn't seem to have a clear preference for one or the other.

Of course, the Rams passing attack isn't prolific enough to sustain both, so if you're going to target Britt or Bailey off the waiver wire, make sure it's in a deeper league. You wouldn't want to roll the dice on either in the season's final week if you can help it.


Andre Williams showing more ability
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:19 am ET) Carrying the load for the third straight game with Rashad Jennings sidelined by an ankle injury Week 16 at St. Louis, Giants rookie running back Andre Williams delivered his second 100-yard effort during that stretch, picking up 110 yards on 26 carries. Of course, just like in Week 14, it wasn't the steadiest performance. He had a 50-yard run in that one en route to a career-best 131 yards. He had a 45-yard run en route to his 110 yards in this one.

But that's true for most 100-yard rushing performances. The best backs break long runs occasionally, which makes up for all the 2- and 3-yard gains in between. It's easy to discount Williams' performance because of a long run here or a long run there because he's been so bad on a per-carry basis this season (take that 45-yard run away, and he averaged only 2.6 yards per carry -- oh noes!), but the fact is those long runs count, too. And he barreled over a couple of tacklers to complete it, which was nice to see.

Because Williams is short on receiving ability, his numbers don't look so great when he doesn't break a long run, but with all the carries he's getting now, his chances are better than not of breaking one. He's worth starting in standard leagues Week 17 against Philadelphia.


Rueben Randle not overshadowed for once
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(1:08 am ET) Since the emergence of rookie Odell Beckham in Week 9, and especially since his even bigger emergence in Week 12, wide receiver Rueben Randle has been an afterthought in the Giants passing game, averaging 2.3 catches for 31.8 yards in the four games leading up to Week 16 at St. Louis. But quarterback Eli Manning finally had enough yards to go around in that one, delivering Beckham his usual eight grabs for 148 yards and still finding Randle on six passes for 132 yards.

Randle even caught a touchdown pass, his first since Week 5. Of course, Beckham caught two and is now up to eight in his last five games, averaging 9.6 catches for 131.4 yards during that stretch.

You see the problem here, don't you? Manning was able to sustain both Beckham and Randle in this one, but that's only because he threw for a season-high 391 yards. If he regresses to a more modest total Week 17 against Philadelphia, we all know Randle is the one taking a back seat. Beckham has other-worldly talent, and Manning is smart enough to deliver him the ball as often as possible.

Of course, the Giants will probably have to throw a lot to keep pace with the Eagles, which bodes well for Randle, but you should still treat him as no more than a No. 3 wide receiver in Fantasy.


Odell Beckham making Eli Manning a stud
by Scott White | Senior Fantasy Writer
(12:58 am ET) Giants rookie wide receiver Odell Beckham had another eight catches for 148 yards and two touchdowns Week 16 at St. Louis, which has become par for the course for him. It was his second straight game and third game in five with more than 140 receiving yards and multiple scores.

What you may not have noticed, though, is that quarterback Eli Manning has taken off during that same stretch. He had a season-high 391 yards and three touchdowns in Week 16, completing 25 of 32 passes. Over his last five games, he has averaged 297.2 yards with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions.

It stands to reason, of course. Beckham couldn't be putting up all those numbers without someone throwing him the ball. This may be one of those rare cases of the wide receiver making the quarterback as opposed to the other way around. Beckham is clearly a special talent, and Manning has made a point to deliver him the ball as often as possible.

It's reason enough to give Manning another chance Week 17 against Philadelphia if you've been suffering with Matthew Stafford or Colin Kaepernick and are somehow still alive in spite of it.


 
 
 
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