QB Jay Cutler
(2012 QB Rank – #23, 16.7 FPts/G)
Is this the year Cutler emerges as a solid starting fantasy QB while with the Bears? In four years in Chicago, he has put up pedestrian numbers for the most part. But he faces a make-it-or-break-it season in 2013 as he enters the final year of his contract with no extension in sight. While Cutler has had to deal with an assortment of offensive coordinators, poor offensive line play and a lackluster group of wide receivers during his stay in Chicago, the bottom line is that he must produce this season or new head coach Marc Trestman will go in a different direction next year. The offensive line has added reinforcements in veteran left tackle Jermon Bushrod and guard Kyle Long, the team’s first-round selection in this year’s draft. Improvement is expected from second-year wide receiver Alshon Jeffery (last year’s second-round pick), and Martellus Bennett, coming off a career year with the Giants, is a major upgrade at tight end. It was an impressive offseason haul for the Bears, but there are also a lot of new pieces that need to fit together. That makes us a bit wary of declaring Cutler a QB1 in 2013. Grab him as a mid- to lower-tier fantasy backup with sneaky upside.
RB Matt Forte
(2012 RB Rank – #13, 12.0 FPts/G; #11 PPR, 14.9 FPts/G)
After five years in the league, the Bears know what they have in Forte. He is among the league’s top 10 running backs, capable in every facet of the game except for one, as a short-yardage runner. He has also been remarkably consistent, reaching 1,400 total yards every year and reaching 1,000 rushing yards three times and just missing twice, falling 71 yards short during an injury-plagued 2009 season and a yard short in 2011, when he missed four games. Last season, he was once again a key cog in the Bears attack with 1,094 yards and five touchdowns on the ground while chipping in 44 receptions for 340 yards and another score. The reception and receiving yardage totals were the lowest of his career, but new head coach Marc Trestman has vowed to increase Forte’s usage in the passing game, so a return to the 50-plus reception totals in each of his four years seems likely. Basically, Forte would rate as a top-five fantasy RB if he were a solid goal-line option, but backup Michael Bush will steal those looks. Consider Forte a safe, low-end RB1.
RB Michael Bush
(2012 RB Rank – #43, 6.1 FPts/G; #45 PPR, 6.8 FPts/G)
Expected to garner plenty of suitors entering free agency after the 2011 season, Bush didn’t generate much interest, leaving him to sign a four-year, $14-million contract with the Bears. His first season in Chicago was a bit of a bust, as he struggled with injuries on his way to career lows in rushing yards (411), receptions (9) and receiving yards (83) before going on injured reserve after Week 14. Bush is a talented back, capable of handling a full workload if starter Matt Forte were to be lost to injury. He excels in short yardage, has some wiggle and decent speed and caught 37 passes in 2011 with the Raiders. While that all sounds nice, we are a bit skeptical of his fantasy prospects given his lack of production last season and uncertain role in new head coach Marc Trestman’s offense. If the Bears offense gets rolling in 2013, Bush could emerge as a solid flex option, but that’s not something you want to be counting on during your draft.
RB Armando Allen
(2012 RB Rank – #99, 2.2 FPts/G; #106 PPR, 2.4 FPts/G)
Allen enters training camp third string on the Bears depth chart at running back. Unfortunately, he is stuck behind two players capable of playing workhorse roles in the Chicago backfield. Both Matt Forte and Michael Bush can handle more than 300 touches in a season, leaving little opportunity for Allen even if one of them were to be lost to injury. While Allen is a speedy option out of the Bears backfield, he lacks the size to handle a large workload and isn’t worth owning for fantasy purposes.
WR Brandon Marshall
(2012 WR Rank – #2, 13.5 FPts/G; #2 PPR, 20.9 FPts/G)
Reunited with quarterback Jay Cutler during the 2012 offseason at the bargain basement price of a pair of third-round picks, Marshall was expected to provide the Bears with a true No. 1 wide receiver and ignite the team’s passing attack. Well, at least his acquisition accomplished one of those goals, as he set team records in receptions (118) and receiving yards (1,508) while scoring a whopping 11 touchdowns. Unfortunately, Marshall loaded up on his production by hogging all of the team’s targets in the passing game with Cutler looking his way 192 times, the third most in the league. Can you say lack of balance? While the Bears plan on spreading the ball around more in 2013, the truth is that the team’s wide receiver depth chart offers little in the way of upside outside of second-year player Alshon Jeffery. That should mean plenty of work for Marshall once again, justifying his ranking as that of a top five fantasy WR and a pretty low risk one, given that he has missed just five games during his seven-year career.
WR Alshon Jeffery
(2012 WR Rank – #79, 5.5 FPts/G; #82 PPR, 7.9 FPts/G)
In an attempt to get their offense into the 21st century and revitalize their wide receiver depth chart, the Bears used a second-round pick in last year’s draft to acquire Jeffery. After a solid performance in Week 1 with three receptions for 80 yards, he was a disappointment as injuries and ineffectiveness held him to just two more games in which he topped 50 receiving yards. By season’s end, the 6’3”, 216-pound South Carolina product had amassed just 24 receptions for 367 yards and three touchdowns. While he displayed some decent playmaking ability and put the character concerns that followed him out of college to rest, the bottom line is that the Bears need him to take a major step forward in 2013. With little competition, Jeffery is assured of a starting position, but he will need to earn quarterback Jay Cutler’s trust to increase his production. With Martellus Bennett a solid receiving option at tight end and running back Matt Forte expected to get increased looks as a receiving target out of the backfield, Jeffery looks like the fourth option in the Bears passing attack. That limits his upside to that of a WR5 or perhaps a WR4.
WR Earl Bennett
(2012 WR Rank – #83, 4.1 FPts/G; #83 PPR, 7.9 FPts/G)
Sometimes you should just trust your eyes. Unless you’re new to the NFL, Earl Bennett probably just looks like some average dude running routes. And if that’s your conclusion, then trust it. Bennett doesn’t have great size (6’0”, 206 pounds), he lacks speed, he doesn’t have much wiggle and his career year came back in 2009 when he caught 54 passes for 717 yards and a pair of touchdowns. After five years in the league, a breakout season doesn’t seem to be on tap. In fact, if he wasn’t Cutler’s teammate at Vanderbilt, he might not even be on the Bears roster. But Cutler trusts him and that counts. We will see if new head coach Marc Trestman thinks that is enough to keep him on the roster. Don’t have him on yours.
WR Eric Weems
(2012 WR Rank – #169, 0.9 FPts/G; #169 PPR, 1.6 FPts/G)
Despite appearing in all 16 games during his first season in Chicago last year, Weems barely had a cup of coffee in the team’s base offense, catching two of his four targets for 27 yards. He gets his bread buttered on special teams but may get an opportunity as a slot receiver if the Bears new coaching staff decides they want a quicker option than Earl Bennett in that role.
WR Devin Hester
(2012 WR Rank – #106, 2.4 FPts/G; #104 PPR, 4.1 FPts/G)
In case of you weren’t paying attention this offseason, the Bears let it be known that Hester would be focusing on special teams in 2013. That makes him an emergency or gadget-play option in the team’s base offense, so you can officially stick a fork in the prospect of his ever emerging as a solid fantasy option at WR.
TE Martellus Bennett
(2012 WR Rank – #14, 5.8 FPts/G; #12 PPR, 9.2 FPts/G)
Signed by the Giants during last year’s offseason on a prove-it, one-year deal, Bennett had the best season of his career playing alongside Eli Manning, catching 55 passes for 626 yards and five touchdowns. A knee injury suffered early in the season prevented him from having a true breakout season, but he has a decent chance of making that happen this year. Bennett joins the Bears for the 2013 season, and with a lack of proven playmaking ability at the wide receiver position, he could earn a large role in new head coach Marc Trestman’s West Coast–based offensive scheme. He certainly has the talent to emerge as a TE1 if given the opportunity, but because of the uncertainty regarding his role, he is best taken as a mid- to upper-tier TE1.