QB Jay Cutler
After struggling in 2009 during his first year with the Bears, Cutler was expected to improve with the addition of offensive coordinator Mike Martz last season. Unfortunately for both men, Cutler failed to ignite the Bears passing game, although more than a little of the blame can be placed on the team’s porous offensive line and its mediocre crop of wide receivers. Cutler ended up as the 11th-ranked fantasy quarterback, courtesy of his 3,274 passing yards, 23 touchdowns, and 16 interceptions. Interestingly enough, his passing yardage total dropped and he reduced his interception total by 10 from 2009, with his touchdown passes also decreasing by three—not exactly the result you would expect with Martz at the helm. The Bears offense actually came around when Martz eschewed his normal reliance on long passes in favor of more runs and a short passing attack. Heading into 2011, the Bears have improved the offensive line, but their wide receivers figure to once again put a restriction on just how effective their passing game can be. Basically, not much has changed in Chicago, and you shouldn’t expect much to change with Cutler. He’s a low-tier fantasy starter or a backup with upside. Drop him down a couple of notches in leagues that penalize for interceptions.
RB Matt Forte
Forte has been in the league for three years now and fully healthy for two. In 2009, he played through knee and hamstring injuries, yet still averaged a respectable 10.3 points per game. In his two healthy seasons, he has been highly productive, averaging 15.2 fantasy points per game in 2008 and 13.5 in 2010. He ain’t sexy, but he produces, albeit not as consistently as one would hope (of his 216 fantasy points, 133 came in just six games). While Forte isn’t a top-five candidate given the lack of playmakers on the Bears offense, which limits his touchdown potential, his list of positives is long. He’s a workhorse back, having beaten back the threat of a timeshare with Chester Taylor from a year ago; he’s one of the best receiving backs in the league, averaging 57 receptions per year; and he hasn’t missed a game in three years. Better yet, he will likely present value on draft day. Chalk him up as a low-end RB1 or high-end RB2 for 2011.
RB Chester Taylor
Taylor got sick of being Adrian Peterson’s backup in Minnesota, so he hightailed it to Chicago prior to the 2010 season, with the chance to compete with Matt Forte for the starting job. So much for that. Not only did Taylor not even come close to beating out Forte, he actually saw his touches decrease from 137 to 132. That’s what happens when you average a career-low 2.4 yards per carry and suffer through your worst year in the league since being a rookie. Taylor will turn 32 in September, so the odds of him bouncing back are slim. He’s little more than a handcuff for 2011, and even if Forte goes down, Taylor is unlikely to put up great stats. In large leagues, Forte owners may want to grab Taylor for insurance, but otherwise don’t bother.
WR Johnny Knox
Knox doesn’t get much love from NFL commentators or fantasy pundits, and there’s a strong argument that he doesn’t get a fair shake considering that the diminutive wide receiver is entering just his third year in the league. The rap on Knox is that he isn’t a true No. 1 receiver, even on a team desperate to ignite its passing attack. Ok, fine, but let’s take a closer look for the sake of argument. As a rookie from tiny Christian Abilene, Knox was raw and not expected to contribute much, yet he managed to catch 45 balls for 527 yards and five touchdowns. He improved upon that in 2010, catching 51 passes for 960 yards and five touchdowns while averaging an eye-popping 18.8 yards per catch. With that type of production, I’d label him as a DeSean Jackson or Mike Wallace-lite with upside. Entering his third season (the supposed magical year for wide receivers), Knox has no competition to be the Bears top wide receiver, quarterback Jay Cutler will be entering his second year in the Mike Martz offense, and Chicago has taken steps to improve the offensive line. Knox will enter the season as a low-end WR2 or high-end WR3, but he has plenty of upside. You could do worse.
WR Earl Bennett
Bennett might be the Bears’ third best wideout, but he’s the second best fantasy wide receiver in Chicago heading into 2011. With Devin Hester having proved over his first three years that he lacks the skills to be a solid starting receiver, Bennett is an intriguing option this year. As the 2010 season progressed, Bennett began to see the field more and more, averaging 6.6 fantasy points per game over the final ten games of the season—respectable production given that he was essentially splitting time with Hester. A bigger role seems likely in 2011 considering he caught 65.7 percent of his targets compared to Hester’s 57.1 percent. In addition, Bennett and Cutler were teammates at Vanderbilt, so there is a comfort level there that doesn’t exist between Cutler and Hester. While Bennett shapes up as a WR4 or WR5 entering the season, he’s worth adding as a player who has some upside if he can continue to outproduce Hester.
WR Devin Hester
After two years of decent production, Hester tailed off in his third year and the Bears’ patience may be growing thin. After catching 57 passes for 757 yards and three touchdowns in 2009, his production dropped to just 40 receptions for 475 yards and four touchdowns. The big-play explosiveness that he regularly displays on special teams just hasn’t shown up at wide receiver. He has questionable hands, doesn’t seem capable of tracking down deep balls even when he does get open, and seems to run the wrong route more frequently than the Bears would like. The biggest indictment of Hester as a wide receiver is that he caught just 57.1 percent of his targets, despite averaging a pedestrian 11.9 yards per reception. Let somebody else drink the Hester Kool-Aid in 2011.
TE Greg Olsen
Entering 2010, the line of thinking on Olsen was that he would suffer with the addition of Mike Martz as the team’s offensive coordinator. While Martz and the Bears told anybody who would listen that Olsen would be an integral part of the offense, history suggested otherwise, with no tight end ever topping 380 receiving yards in a Martz offense. Right on cue, Olsen’s targets plummeted from a career-high 108 in 2009 to just 69 last season. His production dropped from 60 receptions for 612 yards and eight touchdowns to 41 receptions for 404 yards and five touchdowns. At least he was the most productive tight end ever in a Martz offense, good enough to rank 22nd in 2010. So, what’s going to change for Olsen in 2011? Barring a trade, nothing.