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2014 Fantasy Outlooks: Chicago Bears

Senior Fantasy Writer
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As an organization, the Bears made swift moves this offseason to improve their defense. Jared Allen and LaMarr Houston were swiped in free agency to bolster the pass rush, Shea McClellin was moved back to the linebacker group to add depth and a pair of big defensive tackles (Ego Ferguson, Will Sutton) were drafted. Additionally, Charles Tillman was re-signed, Ryan Mundy found his way via free agency and rookie cornerback Kyle Fuller and safety Brock Vereen (brother of Shane) were drafted to stabilize what became a shaky secondary. All told, the Bears should have five or six new starters for Week 1 compared to Week 1 last season.

Of course, the Bears were able to focus on the defensive side of the ball because the offensive side of the ball was sensational. The arrival of head coach Marc Trestman along with a much improved offensive line proved to be the magic combination to turn the Bears offense from good to great. The Bears tied for second in the NFL in points per game (27.8), finished fifth in the league in passing (267.6 yards per game) and 16th rushing (114.2 yards per game, most of which went to Matt Forte). They also set seven franchise records including most net passing yards in a season (4,281) and passing touchdowns (32).

So while the Lions are tinkering a little bit and the Vikings are rebuilding their offense, the Bears are upping the ante in their arms race with the Packers in the NFC North. The biggest focus they have is staying healthy. It's no secret that the Bears' offense did so well because the O-line did its job and kept Matt Forte motoring for 15 games. Cutler's health is also a priority -- he's put on more weight in an effort to become more durable. He was sacked just 19 times last year, 1.7 times per game on average, the best he's done since arriving in Chicago. The better protection he gets, the better this offense will be. To that end the team added center Brian De La Puente via free agency to compete for a starting job. After protecting Drew Brees for years, De La Puente should come in handy as at least quality depth. Just another very good player on a very good playoff contending team.

Top 10 Fantasy receiver ... Alshon Jeffery

Remember when Chicago used to be Fantasy Siberia for wide receivers? Holy cow, the Bears now have two Top 10 Fantasy receivers worth your consideration. Brandon Marshall is a gimme but Jeffery deserves attention after he led the Bears in receiving yards, posting 126 more than Marshall on 11 fewer grabs. But what about the Marshall-Cutler bromance that could take targets away from Jeffery? In a detailed dig into the Bears' stats, Cutler attempted exactly 89 passes in Jeffery's direction with the wideout catching 50 of them (56.2 pct. conversion) for 773 yards and three touchdowns. It's not amazing but it certainly suggests that Cutler knew to throw to Jeffery, a trend he should continue doing in 2014 (he wants to win games, right?). Jeffery had eight or more targets in seven games with Cutler. He knows he's there. Jeffery should be there for you in Round 4 of your drafts.

Not a Top 12 tight end ... Martellus Bennett

September's a great month for Bennett. Over the last two seasons he's tallied 36 catches for 412 yards and six touchdowns in eight September games. Then he's been lousy, combining for 973 yards and four touchdowns in the other 24 games in October, November, December and January. Maybe Cutler can be a difference-maker for Bennett's post-September stats but even with Cutler he didn't do a lot over the course of 2013, snaring 46 passes on 65 targets for 555 yards and those three early-year scores. Bennett has ultimately disappointed over the past two seasons and it feels like there's just not a lot of upside with him. That's why the smarter Fantasy pick on Draft Day is on a younger tight end with a more optimistic outlook. Eric Ebron, Zach Ertz and even Ladarius Green all have more to hang your hat on than Bennett. If anything, Bennett is a desperation pick late to start the season with, but get rid of him before the Bears' Week 5 game in (gasp!) October.

Great mid- to late-round value ... Jay Cutler

You've already read up on just how prolific the Bears passing offense was last year. You might have even heard us spout off that if Cutler had received all of Josh McCown's stats in 2013 that he would have been last year's third-best Fantasy quarterback. But perhaps the most inspiring stat we can give you from the past season is that Cutler's rate of getting 20-plus Fantasy points was at 60 percent, good for ninth-best among all quarterbacks. So it's safe to say that had Cutler stayed healthy he would have had another big year. The problem? Cutler's track record for staying on the field is about as healthy as a slice of stuffed sausage Chicago-style pizza, which is to say it's not very good (but delicious nonetheless). Drafting Cutler as a starting Fantasy quarterback in 2014 is a grand idea, particularly because you can find him after Round 8 or 9. But he can't be your only quarterback because of that injury history, and that means committing to two passers on your Fantasy roster. Pairing Cutler with Philip Rivers or Cam Newton or Russell Wilson or Carson Palmer is a fine plan, even if you're bound to mess up starting the right one from week to week.

Schedule analysis

2013 Touches Leaders
777 total touches
Matt Forte 363 (289 car., 74 rec.) 46.7%
Alshon Jeffery 105 (89 rec., 16 car.) 13.5%
Brandon Marshall 100 rec. 12.9%
Michael Bush 67 (63 car., 4 rec.) 8.6%
Martellus Bennett 65 rec. 8.4%
All others 77 9.9%

It's a tale of two halves for the Bears. Their first eight games are tough including their first three road games over Weeks 2 through 5 against the 49ers, Jets and Panthers with a home game vs. the Packers mixed in. They also play at New England in Week 8 which should be an absolute chess match between Trestman and Belichick. After their Week 9 bye, though, they're in awesome shape. Five home games in their last seven and the toughest matchup in the second half of the season might be at Detroit. Overall the schedule-makers wanted to put the Bears in front of a national audience as they have six such games (five in prime time, one on Thanksgiving afternoon). They're also one of two teams to play two Thursday games, though they're in consecutive weeks. If several Bears players begin the year slowly, do not panic. In fact, trade for them since the second half of the year should be great.

Training camp battles

Who's backing up Matt Forte? If only for Fantasy handcuff purposes, owners need to keep tabs on whether or not rookie Ka'Deem Carey can earn the No. 2 role or if Michael Ford or Shaun Draughn (or someone else) swipes it away. It's always a good idea to handcuff your first-round pick and Forte will be a top pick for someone in every league.

Who's the third receiver? This is more of a Bears roster thing than a Fantasy thing since the total number of receptions for receivers not named Marshall or Jeffery last season was a massive 35. If you're in a dynasty league keep an eye on how second-year receiver Marquess Wilson looks in camp. The 6-foot-3, 207 pounder is the odds-on favorite to win that third job and could be a decent stash for down the line.

Who's backing up Cutler? In what might be the least anticipated camp battle in the history of the National Football League, Jordan Palmer and Jimmy Clausen headline a four-man race to back up Cutler. Exhilarating. One of the names in the chase is rookie David Fales, who should get the backup job by this time next year. It's important to note who's backing up Cutler since the starter hasn't played 16 games in a season since 2009.

Bold prediction

Everyone has come to love Matt Forte in Fantasy. The 28-year-old is entering his seventh NFL season with an excellent track record that reached new heights last season in Trestman's offense. Forte totaled over 1,900 yards in 16 games with 12 total scores, all career-bests.

And he's going to do it again.

In time, the Bears will have to reel in Forte's workload -- he has over 1,500 career carries and 300 career catches already. But unless the rookie Carey plays like a Forte clone, the Bears won't be comfortable going with an inexperienced rusher in an offense that asks so much from them. Forte has a huge advantage being where he is without a single challenger to his throne. And so long as he stays healthy, he'll continue to rack up over 20 touches from week to week. Throw in that pretty second-half schedule and we should see Forte get real close to matching his totals from 2013.

In Kansas City, Jamaal Charles lost a number of offensive linemen but still will dominate the workload there like Forte. But in Philadelphia, the Eagles added Darren Sproles and got bigger and brighter at receiver, potentially taking a little bit too much off of LeSean McCoy's plate. That's enough of a reason to call Forte a better candidate for the No. 2 overall pick in Fantasy drafts this summer instead of McCoy. Count on him to finish very, very well once again -- better than McCoy.

Injury report

Chris Conte (shoulder), questionable for start of training camp. ... Jordan Mills (foot), probable for start of training camp.

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Player News
Vikings CB Terence Newman has familiarity with Mike Zimmer
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(8:06 pm ET) Vikings cornerback Terence Newman won't have a steep learning curve now that he's with his new team. 

Newman played under Vikings coach Mike Zimmer when he was the defensive coordinator with the Cowboys. Drafted in 2003, Newman learned Zimmer's defense from his rookie season through 2006, before Zimmer left to take the same position with the Falcons. 

“I just know exactly what to expect from him as a coach, as well as everybody else in this locker room,” Newman told the Vikings' website. “You play your best football under him.”

In his career, Newman has recorded 741 tackles and 37 interceptions. Entering his 13th NFL year, Newman has already impressed his teammates with voluntary workouts underway. 

“I met with him and he seemed like a great guy,” cornerback Xavier Rhodes said. “Like he’s going to come in and teach us what we need to know about the technique of the game and about the defense because he’s been in it before, so he’s going to help us out a lot. He’s a big asset to this team and the defense.”


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The 350-pound Poe has earned the money. He racked up six sacks and contributed to 46 tackles in 2014.


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(5:39 pm ET) Safety James Ihedigbo was the lone absence from voluntary workouts this week for the Lions. But general manager Martin Mayhew understands. After all, Ihedigbo's agent has stated that he would not work without a new contract.

"I look forward to talking with James," Mayhew told ESPN. "I understand what he's going through. I've been through that myself as a player, when I felt that a time in my career that I was underpaid and I had to deal with that.

"So I have empathy for him. I understand what he's going through and I look forward to sitting down and talking with him. I have great respect for him as a player, as a man. I've gotten to know him a little bit away from football and I understand how he feels."

Mayhew declined to discuss whether the Liins will rework Ihedigbo's contract.

The 31-year-old Ihedigbo contributed 71 tackles and two sacks with a career-high four interceptions in 2014 despite missing three games at the start of the year with a nerve injury. He earned Pro Bowl alternate status.


Eagles withdraw qualifying offer to RB Chris Polk
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(5:24 pm ET) Running back Chris Polk is now a free agent. 

According to the NFL transaction wire, the Eagles rescinded their $1.6 million tender they offered this past March. The Eagles placed the tender on Polk, previously a restricted free agent, before signing both DeMarco Murray and Ryan Mathews in free agency. 

With Darren Sproles on the roster, it didn't make much sense for Polk to stay with the Eagles. 

In 2014, Polk ran for 172 yards and four touchdowns. 


RB Bobby Rainey signs qualifying offer with Buccaneers
by Marty Gitlin | CBSSports.com
(5:04 pm ET) The Buccaneers have announced that running back Bobby Rainey has signed a one-year qualifying offer the team extended to him before the free agency period. He was a restricted free agent and was given an opportunity to negotiate with other teams.

Rainey will compete for playing time with Tampa Bay. He rushed for 406 yards in 2014, but faded at the end of the season with just two carries in the last six games combined.


Jaguars planning to play 2015 season without Justin Blackmon
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(4:50 pm ET) As far as the Jaguars are concerned, Justin Blackmon will not be lining up at receiver for them this season. 

At least that's the approach Jacksonville is taking. Blackmon has been indefinitely suspended since Nov. 1 2013 for three violations of the substance-abuse policy under the old CBA.

"Our process hasn't changed," Caldwell said, via ESPN.com. "[We] plan to go without him, but if he emerges, he emerges, and he's going to go in with those top guys and compete with those other guys. Hopefully we're able to get some news, but if not we weren't planning on [having Blackmon]. We're just going to go [without him]."

Before he can re-join the Jaguars, he'll need to file an application for reinstatement, with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell making a decision within a 60-day window. The application letter would include details of the treatment he's received. 

Since being selected with the fourth overall pick in the 2012 draft, Blackmon has only played in 20 games. He has 1,280 yards and six touchdowns in his career. 


Cowboys' Greg Hardy called 'woman beater' by teammate
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(4:19 pm ET) Cowboys defensive end Greg Hardy got into an altercation with teammate Davon Coleman during a voluntary offseason workout, according to a report from Yahoo! Sports

Hardy reportedly questioned Coleman's work ethic during a conditioning drill, which led Coleman to call Hardy a "woman beater."

Hardy was accused of domestic abuse and was found guilty by a North Carolina judge. On the subsequent appeal, prosecutors dropped charges against Hardy and the case was never presented in front of a jury. 

Hardy has been suspended by the NFL for 10 games due to what transpired in that case. According to FOX Sports, the confrontation between Hardy and Coleman remained verbal


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(3:31 pm ET) The Lions need a left guard and Rob Sims would be a solid option if the two sides can strike a deal for the veteran to return. 

However, talks have stalled between the Lions' front office and Sims' representation. Speaking to reporters on Friday, Lions general manager Martin Mayhew said it's been nearly a month since he's spoken to Sims' camp. 

"We've had some discussion with Rob," Mayhew said, via MLive.com. "I spoke to his agent probably about three weeks ago and we had an offer out to him. That's kind of where we are right now. We'll have to kind of wait and see what happens."

The Lions could still opt to draft a lineman early to fill the position, too. 

Sims, who entered the NFL in 2006, has been with the Lions for the past five seasons. 


Andre Ellington OK with Cardinals drafting another running back
by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(3:20 pm ET) If the Cardinals decide to draft a running back in one of the higher rounds, running back Andre Ellington would be OK with it. 

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That's something that wouldn't bother Ellington. 

“It’s whatever will better our team,” Ellington told the team's website. “That’s most important. No one is going to hate any decisions. I’m sure those guys will make the best decisions to help the team. We’ll accept any guy who comes in.”

Another quality runner could help Ellington, who dealt with numerous injuries a year ago, in the long run. His season ended last December after undergoing hernia surgery. 


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by Jason Butt | CBSSports.com
(2:32 pm ET) Dolphins executive vice president of football operations Mike Tannenbaum said the club has yet to decide if it will extend quarterback Ryan Tannehill, according to the Palm Beach Post

The Dolphins could decide to pick up Tannehill's fifth-year option and wait on an extension. The deadline for doing so is May 3. Doing that would cost the Dolphins $15 million for the 2016 season. 

Previously, NFL.com reported that the Dolphins were hopeful that they could strike a long-term deal with Tannehill before Week 1 of the 2015 season. 

In 2014, Tannehill threw for 4,045 yards with 27 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.


 
 
 
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