There hasn't been this much fantasy football hype in Chicago... ever? Even when Devin Hester emerged as a return jedi, his fantasy value was limited because of most scoring systems. But now that the Bears made the incredible, unthinkable trade to bring Jay Cutler to Chicago, the fans (and many major media outlets) are thinking the sky is the limit in Chicago.
Quarterback: Jay Cutler
2008 Numbers: 384-616 (62.3%) 4,526 yards 18 TDs 11 INTs
2009 Projections: 300-500 (60%) 3,800 yards 24 TDs 10 INTs
In case you haven't read or heard, Cutler doesn't have a big time, number one receiver in Chicago like Brandon Marshall was for him in Denver. But that doesn't mean the cupboard is bare by any means. Eddie Royal's skill set is very similar to that of Hester, and Cutler did a good job of incorporating the tight end in Denver and now has a very good, athletic Greg Olsen to work with in Chicago.
The Bears will continue to be a "run-first" offense, but Cutler is certainly the best quarterback Bears fans have seen in over 20 years. He won't be asked to carry the Bears' offense as he was in Denver because of the Broncos' miserable running game last year, either. His overall points should come down some from last year, but he's still a solid fantasy play.
There are a number of items that need to be considered with Cutler. First, the Vikings will get two cracks at him this year and they have a great run defense. That being said, their pass defense has been vulnerable and could lead to Cutler being asked to put the ball up more. There are also very valid questions about the Bears receivers and their offensive line.
Running Back: Matt Forte
2008 Numbers: Rushing - 316 att 1,238 yards 3.9 yds/carry Receiving - 63 rec 477 yards 12 total TDs
2009 Projections: Rushing - 310 att 1,350 yards 4.3 yds/carry Receiving - 45 rec 400 yards 15 total TDs
In a league that is becoming more specialized with more teams opting for a two-back attack, the Bears have a rare running back in Forte that can play all three downs. Forte was one of the elite running backs in the entire NFL last year, and should benefit from Cutler's presence by seeing fewer crowded running lanes. It is doubtful, though, that the Bears will ask him to handle the ball nearly 380 times like they did in 2008.
You should expect Forte's receptions to drop, but that doesn't mean he'll disappear from Cutler's radar. He's still a very good back coming out on routes and should still be a dangerous weapon through the air. Also consider that Forte only fumbled once in 379 touches last year... amazing.
Forte's receptions should drop some and the Bears, realizing they have a stud work horse running back, have committed to backup Kevin Jones getting more touches this year. In a competitive division, though, the Bears aren't going to win games with backups handling the rock too many times per week.
Tight End: Greg Olsen
2008 Numbers: 54 rec 574 yards 5 TDs
2009 Projections: 90 rec 1,000 yards 10 TDs
Olsen has emerged at Cutler's favorite target and should see a significant jump in his production this season. Indeed, Olsen could become an elite fantasy player this year if he's effective in the red zone. Considering the Broncos two tight ends split 72 catches and seven touchdowns last year, and the Bears don't have a vertical threat like Brandon Marshall, Olsen could easily eclipse the Broncos' 2008 numbers alone this year.
The Bears will need to find someone on the outside to stretch the field or opposing safeties will begin sitting on Olsen in the second half of the season. That means either Earl Bennett or Hester is going ot need to emerge early in the season as an effective option in the passing game.
Wide Receiver: Devin Hester
2008 Numbers: 51 rec 665 yards 877 return yards 3 total TDs
2009 Projections: 50 rec 650 yards 600 return yards 5 total TDs
Last year was Year One of the Bears' great experiment: moving the greatest return man since Deion Sanders into a receiver. There was certainly a learning curve, and with Orton having limited abilities in a vertical passing game Hester had to work underneath routes more than the Bears, or Hester, were probably comfortable.
This year in the preseason, Hester has shown a little of that learning curve remaining as he's misjudged a number of throws from Cutler and is still learning about Cutler's strength. Against Denver, though, Hester broke a punt for over 50 yards and he still has the ability to take any kick to the house.
Hester could see his role transition back into a game-changing punt returner more than as a number one receiver. Olsen's development as a threat could hurt Hester's receiving production. However, because of how Hester's contract is structured, and the Bears need for someone to stretch the field to open up lanes for Olsen and Forte to work underneath, Hester will continue to be a key part of the Bears offense.
Wide Receiver: Earl Bennett SLEEPER
2008 Numbers: n/a
2009 Projections: 55 rec 850 yards 5 TDs
Bennett is the sleeper on the Bears this year, with a lot of the focus from Chicago's media being placed on the Bears receivers not named Hester. He was Cutler's favorite target at Vanderbilt and has shown enough in the preseason to make the Bears, their fans, and the Chicago media think this guy could be a decent receiver this season.
His career production: zero. He has no NFL catches to his credit, so despite his experience with Cutler Game One in Green Bay will be his learning curve.
2008 Numbers: 21.9 ppg 28 sacks 22 INTs 1 Def TD 1,859 total return yards 0 return TDs
2009 Projections: 18.5 ppg 30 sacks 25 INTs 2 Def TDs 2,100 return yards 2 return TDs
This unit, led by Brian Urlacher, has a lot to prove this year. Though the offense wasn't certainly as potent as it should be in 2009, it was the defense that disappointed the most last year. With Rod Miranelli now coaching the defensive linemen and Urlacher saying he's fully healthy for the first time since 2006, this unit should improve.
The NFC North is loaded with some of the most spectacular offensive players in the NFL. Any defense in this division will have a lot of turnover opportunities, but could also give up a lot of points. The Bears have a lot of health concerns on defense, especially in their secondary and Tommie Harris, and they cannot afford for this to become a MASH unit like it was in 2008 against the weapons in their division.