ATM: Bears Have Fantasy Relevance

| August 29th, 2018

[Editor’s note: Yep, allowing a fantasy column.]

For the first time since fantasy football became truly popular, the Chicago Bears actually have some interesting players.

The Bears have had players who have been highly drafted before, but there was never any debate about them. You wanted Matt Forte, Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery and Martellus Bennett. It was pretty easy. This year there is actually a debate about which Bears to take and when.

Below is a short guide for how you should fill your fantasy roster with Bears:

Buy, Buy, Buy

Jordan Howard

ESPN Rank: RB17

Yahoo Rank: RB13

Howard is probably the most debated Bears player because national media members get stuck in a narrative. They saw Andy Reid have success with smaller backs like Jamaal Charles and Brain Westbrook, so they assume that’s what they need.

It’s true that Reid’s offense features running backs in the passing game and that Howard doesn’t necessarily have the best hands. That would help explain why he’s higher on Yahoo’s rankings (which awards half a point per reception) than ESPN’s (one point per reception). But he’s still too low on both.

Howard is going to catch passes. The Chiefs averaged 88 targets to running backs over the last five years. The Bears are going to throw it more and Howard is going to get his fair share of chances to make plays in the passing game. While he struggled last year, he did average more than 10 yards per catch in 2016.

Howard’s real value will be running the ball and he just could be dominant. In two years, Howard has averaged 4.6 yards per carry and has run for 15 touchdowns, despite being the only actually good offensive player on the team. He plays in an offense that loves to run the ball up the middle and has one of the best interior offensive lines in the league. If the passing game clicks, he just might be unstoppable.

I think he’s easily one of the 10 best running backs in the league and worth an early second round pick.

Trey Burton

ESPN Ranking: TE12

Yahoo Ranking: TE7

This is a case where the ESPN rank doesn’t make any sense so those playing in an ESPN league have a good chance to get the Bears tight end.

I would not be surprised if Burton ended up being the best tight end in fantasy football in 2018. In five years, Andy Reid’s offense averaged 94 targets to tight ends. The first two years were before Travis Kelce emerged, last year they threw to Kelce 122 times for 22.5 percent of their total targets.

As I said regarding Howard, I think the Bears are going to throw more than the Chiefs did. Even if Burton only gets 18 percent of their targets and they throw 550 times — both low-end projections — he’d still be targeted 99 times. Say he catches 65 percent of those targets — not out of line for a tight end — we’re looking at 65 catches, 650 yards and probably 6-8 touchdowns.

Again, that is a low-end projection. Draft Burton.

Allen Robinson

ESPN Ranking: WR18

Yahoo Ranking: WR23

While both ESPN and Yahoo are surely scared by Robinson coming off of injury, all reports have indicated he is 100 percent and ready to go.

On Yahoo’s list, Robinson isn’t even a WR2, but even in a bad year with subpar quarterback play and an inspiring coaching staff, Robinson caught 73 passes and six touchdowns in 2016. We should see a big jump from those numbers in 2018.

The top receiver in this offense — regardless of his position — gets a lot of targets. In fact, they averaged 102 in Kansas City, with Jeremy Maclin getting 124 in his first year with the team before injuries slowed him down. That proved true for Philadelphia and Doug Pederson too, we saw Jordan Matthews targeted 117 times in 2016 and Alshon Jeffery get 120 passes thrown his way last season. Robinson is better than any of those players.

At The Right Price

Mitch Trubisky

ESPN Rank: QB17

Yahoo Rank: QB24

Have I mentioned that I think the Bears are going to throw the ball a lot?  I think Trubisky is going to run with it a fair amount too, especially in the red zone.

Nobody will benefit more from the additions of Nagy, Robinson and Burton than Trubisky. He’s going to be able to hit those guys down the field and, in the red zone, the read option with the 225-pound Howard being the main threat is going to be deadly.

I don’t know exactly what to expect from Trubisky simply because we haven’t seen it before. I wouldn’t be surprised if he threw for 4,000 yards and 25 touchdowns with another three-to-five rushing scores. I’m a safe fantasy player, so I wouldn’t take him as by QB1, but I’ll be targeting him as a backup.

Stay Away

Tarik Cohen

ESPN Rank: RB29

Yahoo Rank: RB37

This depends on the league you play in. If you have a PPR league that awards points for big plays and kick returns, he’s more valuable. In a standard scoring league, it’s hard to see a situation in which you’d play Cohen.

The common comparison for Cohen has been Tyreek Hill, but I think a more realistic projection is what Darren Sproles did in 2016 with the Eagles, totaling 865 yards from scrimmage and around 1,100 all-purpose yards. Sproles was also 33 at the time, so I think Cohen is going to top those numbers and might even finish close to 2,000 all-purpose yards. In either event, I think he’s going to be a really valuable football players, I just don’t know how you play him in fantasy.

Much of Cohen’s success is going to be dependent on big plays and those are completely unreliable so how can you know which week to play him?

This is one of those cases where it’s important to separate real football value vs. fantasy football value.

Other Pass Catchers

Some have talked about a career year for Taylor Gabriel or Anthony Miller being a sensation, but the odds are really against it.

This is an offense that relies heavily on three positions in the passing game: WR1, TE1 and running back. Other than that, it’s a crapshoot and it’s really hard to see any of the other receivers having actual fantasy relevance.

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