On November 20th, 2011 the Chicago Bears were turning several heads in the league. They were making a case for themselves as a team that could perhaps push the Green Bay Packers for the divisional title.
The Monsters of the Midway were 6-3 in route to their fifth win in a row over the San Diego Chargers (31-20) but an unexpected broken thumb in Jay Cutler's throwing hand cut his season short causing the Bears to fall into a tailspin losing their last five of six to end the 2011 season 8-8.
Both Bears fans and fantasy football fans still feel the sting of that happenstance, but that was then and this is now.
Chicago fans have plenty reason to think this team can win the Norris division, but if you're a fantasy football fan, you may be wondering what exactly the Bears will offer in 2012.
If you're both, that's even better!
I'm going to quickly run through some early suggestions and evaluations of the Bears in an effort to help you better understand what to expect from Chicago.
Modifications You Need To Know:
Mike Martz is out and Mike Tice is in—well promoted anyway— for the offense and believe-you-me, this is a very good thing.
The major difference is going to be the approach Tice and the Bears have. Alex Marvez on Twitter is reporting that the old seven step drop the Bears deployed is out, which should help the O-Line protect Jay Cutler more than they did in 2011—Cutler was sacked 51 times last season.
Mike Martz's stretch offense required the seven step drop, in an effort to allow the plays to develop down field. Despite the fact that the theory did sort of work, Cutler wound up being on the short end of the stick in regard to protection, and fantasy owners were never able to truly gauge which player was going to produce each week.
Mike Tice is figuring to return to a more traditional run-first approach. This attack scheme will allow Cutler and the Bears to control the clock and line of scrimmage better, as well as, utilize play-action much more than they did in 2011.
So who stands to be the most productive in Chicago this year from a fantasy standpoint?
Like the Transformers: More Than Meets the Eyes
As an offensive unit, the Chicago Bears passed 53.37 percent of the time in 2011, but a lot of that had to do with Jay Cutler's injury and a backup quarterback who couldn't hit the blind side of a barn. Ergo, the Bears offense offered little love to the fantasy community.
This season, the Bears made a huge splash by adding Brandon Marshall to the team. Marshall reunites with his former quarterback Jay Cutler which was a deadly combination that afforded Marshall 226 catches, 2,899 yards and 15 TDs in just three short years.
The Bears also added an explosive rookie in Alshon Jeffery (South Carolina, 2011 All-around best SEC player, 2012 Capitol One Bowl MVP, ) and moved a certain underrated receiver over to the slot that should very much make him a 2012 fantasy sleeper—Earl Bennett.
But the Bears also have the elusive Devin Hester who is expected to see time at the flanker position with Jeffery, RB Matt Forte who is primed for a better season this year than his 2011 campaign, and yet ANOTHER sleeper in TE Kellen Davis.
Davis and Bennett are two players that stand out to me when I evaluate Tice's anticipated approach.
Earl Bennett was never a true outside receiver. While he can lineup on the outside and stretch the defense, his skill-set suggests he's a better fit for the slot. At a mere 6'0", Bennett is the sort of player who has the speed and agility needed to play the slot, but in the old system, the slot was more of a third or fourth vertical option.With Cutler utilizing more play-action (hopefully) and utilizing more 3 and 5-step drops, the slot position becomes more necessary.
2012 Projections: 55 catches, 756 yards, 6 TDs - late-round flier, sleeper candidate
Kellen Davis was one of the most under-utilized TEs in the league last year, because Mike Martz hates TEs and probably wishes they were never a part of football—well no, not really but you get the point. In the new system, Davis is expected to get a lot of first and second looks when the Bears are on the move. But with his athletic 6'7" frame, Davis is a prime candidate to receive the majority of passing looks in the red-zone, and let's not forget, this guy only had 18 catches for 206 yards last year, but scored 5 TDs.
2012 Projections: 50 catches, 601 yards, 7 TDs - late-round flier, breakout candidate
A Final Look...Told Ya It Would Be Quick
There is little doubt in my mind that Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler are going to really do some damage this season. Both players should grade out within the Top 10 of their respective position, but even I do not have Jay Cutler in my Top 50 rankings, and neither do most—as it stands now.
Jay Cutler is projecting to be a 9th round selection, and a lot of that has to do with the notion that his O-Line is gonna keep his fantasy value down. To be honest the new changes Mike Tice is incorporating should show that theory to be false.
Remember, in only 10 games Cutler already had 2,319 passing yards with 13 TDs and 7 interceptions and quite franklyif this guy is lingering around even the sixth round, you'll still wind up with the biggest fantasy draft board theft in history.
Matt Forte is projecting as a first rounder while Brandon Marshall is averaging out as a solid second round selection which is about right, so if you're interested in utilizing either of these guys, you may want to make a note somewhere so as to not forget.
Marshall is a solid Top 10 receiver every year so I don't think you need me to tell you that.
I think Matt Forte puts up similar numbers—if not slightly better—to his rookie season. I can easily see Forte's line looking something like this:
2012 Matt Forte Proj: 270 att, 1,269 yards, 10 TDs
Devin Hester and Alshon Jeffery figure to be more role-players than anything else in 2012. While they will serve as an integral part of the offense in their own rite, their projected fantasy value doesn't seem to elevate them any higher than watch list candidacy right now.