QB Jay Cutler
Is this the year Cutler emerges as a solid fantasy starting quarterback with the Bears? While Cutler has been a solid performer for two consecutive years after struggling in his first year with the team in 2009, he hasn’t emerged as a solid fantasy producer and the explanation has been two-fold. One, the team has lacked playmakers at the wide receiver position. Two, he has been saddled playing behind one of the worst offensive lines in the league. In 2012, the Bears addressed the wide receiver position with the acquisition of Brandon Marshall and by drafting Alshon Jeffery in the second round. Unfortunately, they did little to improve the leaky offensive line. The reality of it is Cutler is unlikely to see a big improvement in his production this season. The team doesn’t really know what it has in Jeffery, Devin Hester and Earl Bennett and they lack a receiving threat at tight end. Even with Marshall in the fold, Cutler is unlikely to top the 3,666 passing yards he had in his first season in Chicago. He is a mid to lower-tier fantasy backup.
QB Jason Campbell
With no starting jobs on the offer, Campbell decided to join the Bears as Jay Cutler’s backup. Given Campbell’s lack of success as a starter in Washington and Oakland, that wasn’t exactly a surprise. He rates as one of the better backups in the league but the Bears conservative offense attack isn’t going to help Campbell’s fantasy production in the event he joins the Bears starting lineup. While Cutler is less of an injury risk with Mike Martz no longer in Chicago, the Bears offensive line remains one of the weaker units in the league, increasing the odds Campbell will spend some time under center for the Bears in 2012.
RB Matt Forte
It has taken a while but it is now time to consider Forte as a top 10 running back in the league and a consistent top 10 fantasy option at the position. While Forte isn’t amongst the flashiest players at his position, he is a solid running back adept at running outside or up the middle as well as being one of the top pass catching backs in the league. In four years, he has topped 1,000 rushing yards twice, came up 71 shorts despite playing through injuries in 2009 and missed by one yard last season despite missing four full games and part of another. In addition, he has topped 50 receptions every season while averaging 498 receiving yards a year. Forte was racking up yards at an incredible clip last year, averaging a league-leading 134.2 yards from scrimmage over the first eleven games before suffering a knee sprain in Week 13 that caused him to miss the rest of the season. He rates just below the top fantasy options at running back and given the question marks surrounding several players in the second tier, you could make a strong argument that he is the top rated second tier fantasy running back. Feel comfortable making Forte the 4th or 5th running back off the board in your draft or auction.
RB Michael Bush
Coming off a career year in 2011 with Oakland, Michael Bush was expected to be one of the more sought after free agents on the market. However, the market for his services was soft and he ended up signing with the Bears to a team friendly four-year, $14-million contract. With the Raiders, Bush emerged as a solid producer when Darren McFadden was lost to injury, finishing the season with career highs in rushing yards (977) and receiving yards (418). While those numbers were solid, he wilted down the stretch gaining just 378 yards over the Raiders final six games and averaging a measly 3.2 yards per carry. With the Bears, Bush will serve as Matt Forte’s backup and the expectation is that he will also assume short yardage duties. Bush rates as one of the better handcuff options in the league and could emerge as a decent flex option in leagues that employ that position given his role as a touchdown vulture, especially if you are of the opinion that the Bears offense is ready to take it up a notch in 2012.
RB Kahlil Bell
In Bell’s rookie season in 2009, he showed some pop, picking up 220 yards on just 40 carries. In his next opportunity, Bell played well at the end of the 2011 season splitting time with Marion Barber when Matt Forte went down, gaining 337 yards on the ground (4.3 yards per carry) and 133 receiving yards (7.0 yards per reception). Not bad. But the Bears weren’t impressed, choosing to sign former Raider Michael Bush in the offseason to back up Matt Forte. That leaves Bell sitting third on the depth chart and needing a Forte or Bush injury to gain a shot at some decent playing time.
WR Brandon Marshall
With Marshall’s trade to the Bears in the offseason allowing him to be reunited with quarterback Jay Cutler, fantasy enthusiasts began envisioning Marshall putting together another 100-reception season like he did during 2007-2009. That’s wishful thinking, folks. While Marshall and Cutler may make some sweet music this year in Chicago, Marshall isn’t about to see the 169 targets in 2012. That is how many he averaged during his heyday with Cutler in Denver. Let’s just say that the Bears have never targeted any receiver that much. While 100 receptions isn’t likely on order, look for Marshall to continue his string of 1,000 receiving yard seasons, which currently stands at five. Toss in another 6-8 touchdowns and you have yourself a solid WR2 with little risk. That’s right, folks. When a guy has topped 1,000 yards for five consecutive seasons and only missed four games over that span, you pretty much have to consider him risk free.
WR Alshon Jeffery
At long last, the Bears decided to revitalize their wide receiver depth chart in the offseason and Jeffery was part of the equation, with Chicago grabbing him in the second round of this year’s draft. Maturity issues, poor quarterback play and too much time at the buffet caused Jeffery’s draft stock to fall but he figures to have a chance to open the season in the Bears starting lineup provided he puts in the time during the preseason. At 6’3” and 216 pounds, he is a big receiver who will likely be used on short and intermediate routes but he also has enough speed to be an occasional deep threat. Unfortunately, while Jeffery clearly has more upside than Devin Hester and Earl Bennett, he will likely split the scraps that Brandon Marshall leaves behind with those two players during his rookie season. If the Bears were a high flying offense, Jeffery might be worth taking a flier on but that clearly won’t be the case with new offensive coordinator Mike Tice running the show. Consider Jeffery waiver wire material in 2012 and a solid prospect in dynasty formats.
WR Earl Bennett
Bennett is a fantasy tease. When the Bears use him, he looks good. Witness his three game run last season when he had 95 receiving yards and a score against the Eagles in Week 9 and then followed that up with games of 81 and 75 receiving yards. Then he went back to being an afterthought. But wait, he was quarterback Jay Cutler’s teammate at Vanderbilt so they have a connection. Here’s the bottom line. The Bears used Bennett as a starter in 2009 and he caught 54 passes for 717 yards and a pair of scores. But that was his high water mark and the Bears know it. If you watch Bennett play a couple of games, you will know it too. The Bears keep him around because he is reliable, not because he has upside. If you’re looking for five points a week in an extremely deep league, then dig in. Otherwise, take a guy who has more promise and whose team believes in him.
WR Devin Hester
After four years of the Devin Hester experiment at wide receiver, we can safely conclude that he’s not on the verge of fantasy stardom any time soon. Hester has seen his targets drop every since his high of 92 during the 2008 season and his receptions from went from 57 to 40 to 26 over the past three years. Hester struggled badly in 2011, catching just 26 of his 56 targets for 369 yards and a single touchdown – a career low. And no, Jay Cutler’s absence wasn’t an issue since Hester had basically been relegated to returning kicks by the time Cutler was lost for the season. Over the last eight games, Hester was targeted just seven times and had five games where he wasn’t targeted at all. If that wasn’t enough evidence that Hester isn’t worth adding to your fantasy roster, then consider the Bears decisions to trade for Brandon Marshall in the offseason and use a 2nd round pick on Alshon Jeffery. Move on, folks.
WR Johnny Knox
A back injury suffered in Week 15 last season resulted in Knox having spinal fusion surgery and his career may now be over. That’s unfortunate since Knox showed plenty of promise during his first two years in the league (1,487 receiving yards and ten touchdowns) before struggling somewhat in 2011 with 37 receptions for 727 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Knox will open the season on the PUP list but the likelihood of him seeing the field in 2012 is low and the likelihood of him emerging as a decent fantasy option is non-existent.
TE Kellen Davis
The Bears 5th round pick in the 2008 draft, Davis was buried on the bench behind Greg Olsen and Desmond Clark for the first three years. Given his first chance to start following Olsen’s trade to Carolina, Davis was barely used, a victim of then offensive coordinator Mike Martz’ offensive system. Despite playing in all 16 games, Davis was targeted just 34 times, catching 18 passes for 206 yards and a respectable five touchdowns, proving to be a solid red zone threat with four touchdowns from inside the 10-yard line. Unfortunately for Davis, the Bears traded for Brandon Marshall in the offseason and he figures to assume the role of Chicago’s top threat from in close. While new offensive coordinator Mike Tice may be fond of throwing to the tight end, Davis doesn’t figure to be worth drafting in 2012. Check him out on the waiver wire provided he isn’t beaten out of his starting position by rookie Evan Rodriguez.
TE Evan Rodriguez
Having watched Kellen Davis largely flounder during his first season as a starter in 2011, the Bears used a 4th round pick to acquire Rodriguez in this year’s draft. Rodriguez has solid speed and showcased an ability to get open at Temple but maturity issues and his lack of ability as a blocker caused him to slide in the draft. However, with Davis and Matt Spaeth ahead of him on the depth chart, Rodriguez has a fairly easy path to playing time provided he can keep his nose clean. He rates as a lower tier prospect in dynasty leagues.