Brandon Marshall is gone. Marc Trestman is gone. In comes John Fox, a head coach with a winning pedigree. In comes rookie Kevin White, an athletic specimen who is supposed to fill the shoes of an All-Pro. Remains is Jay Cutler, who might be best known for "SmokingJayCutler.com" to some people. Cutler has all the arm talent in the world, he just doesn't always make the best decisions with the football. If that improves, the Bears can improve, but something has to happen with that defense. Seriously, a franchise known for hard hitting Middle Linebackers ranked 30th in total team defense, and gave up over 4.0 YPC. The Bears might be better with Dick Butkus and Mike Singletary lining up today. What do we make of this team? I see 8-8 as a success, but there is some reason for taking both the over and the under on an 8-8 finish.
On Offense as previously mentioned, the Bears return their starting QB, they also return their leading receiver Alshon Jefferey, and leading Rusher Matt Forte. That leading rusher though has been a disappointment, to both fantasy owners the last 3 seasons, and to Bears fans. On the surface, Forte looks to have a good year; he had 1,038 yards, and 6 TD's. Not bad right? Not so fast though, Forte averaged a mediocre 3.9 YPC, he also only had 1 run of 20+ yards. Forte is approaching that "30 year old mark" for Running Backs that sees them slow down, and it appears he may have slowed down last year. The numbers show he's lacking burst, and he even had less 20+ yard runs than Jay Cutler, a QB not exactly known for winning foot races. The Bears did draft a player last year in the 4th round that showed some flashes in Ka'deem Carey who averaged 4.4 YPC, but he only got 36 carries. Carey's best game came in a loss to the hated Green Bay Packers where he had 14 carries for 72 yards, good for 5.1 YPC. With new head coach John Fox not known for favoring veterans, I wouldn't be surprised to see Carey touch the ball more this year if this trend continues, and that might be a good thing. At WR, the Bears feature a Pro Bowl talent Alshon Jefferey, his 85 catches led the team, and he's quickly becoming one of the top pass catchers in the legaue. He will continue his ascension. Bears TE Martellus Bennet actually led the team in receptions, catching 90 passes, for 916 yards, it's safe to say the Bears know what they have in these two, there is no need to worry. The questions mark comes at the other WR Position, there's the previously mentioned White, a 6'3 rookie with rare speed, but he hasn't played a down. Competing with him for the #2 spot is veteran Eddie Royal. In Royal the Bears have a crisp route runner, with enough speed to get up field after the catch, one of these players will make an impact next year because they'll get single coverage. We just won't know which one until the preseason shows us. My money is on White, because Jay Cutler throws a lot of Jump Balls, and White's size is an asset in that regard. Overall this is a unit that will score points, but unless someone emerges as a dependable back, they'll be rather one dimension, and in a division where you play the Packers and Lions, that's not a good thing.
Last year the player who led the Bears in tackles was Ryan Mundy. Most people would agree, it's never a good thing if your leading tackler is a safety, and that's Mundy plays. That shows a lot of running plays got to the Bears 3rd level, that's not a recipe for success. The Bears signed Jared Allen thinking he would replace Juluis Peppers, and he didn't. Allen, a future Hall of Famer, had only 5.5 sacks. The player that led the Bears in sacks was Willie Young, the 6th year player was incredibly fast off the edge, and it helped him capture the team lead in sacks. What does all this mean for next year? Well it means the Bears are relying heavily on Vic Fangio to turn things around. Fangio was the 49ers defensive coordinator the last 4 years, and that unit never finished worse than 5th in total defense. There is a difference though, a lot of those 49ers back ups would start for this Bears team. Fangio will have a pair of decent corners to work with in Kyle Fuller, and Tim Jennings. That's big for this defense because Fangio might have to draw up blitzes to generate pressure. That's going to be the key for this defense, in a division where the ball is going to be in the air a lot, they'll have to be able to pressure the QB, or they won't win.
The Bears finsihed last season at 5-11 and last place in the NFC North. On Offense, they have as good of a supporting cast around the QB as anyone in their division, but their QB isn't the best in the division, and he might not even be 2nd or 3rd. There are games where Jay Cutler looks like a top level QB, and games where he doesn't. Going into his 10th Season, Cutler might just be who he is, good enough to win you games, and dumb enough to lose you games. If the defense and running game can step up and take pressure of Cutler, the Bears can challenge the Packers for the division, if they can't and it falls on the shoulders of Cutler, 3rd or 4th in the division is likely.
If you want to be daring, take Martellus Bennett over Jimmy Graham as the 2nd TE off the board. Graham put up monster numbers in New Orleans, but he no longer plays there, Bennett put up great numbers last year, and with Marshall gone he will see even more Red Zone targets, Bennett will have better fantasy numbers than Graham this year. At WR, Alshon might become a WR 1 if you prefer to build around RB's, but I would look to have him as your WR #2, it would make for a potent fantasy team, either way he's a good value, and will be productive again. If you are looking for a "draft and stash" player, look at Ka'Deem Carey or rookie Running Back Jeremy Langford (Michigan State) I think one of them will surpass Forte on the depth chart by mid season. Forte is in a slide and has been, his arrow is pointing down.