*Part of our on-going 2012 series of a team-by-team review of 2011, and our look ahead to 2012. Designed more for Dynasty League players, but may come in handy as early homework for traditional Fantasy Football players.
The Bears were a "hot" team through Week-11 this past season. After 10 games, the Bears sported a (7-3) record, and seemed to have a clear path to the playoffs. All that enthusiasm flipped as Jay Cutler was lost for the season with an injury. After an attempt by many to convince the public that the Bears would be OK with Caleb Hanie, 5-straight losses later ended the Bears 2011 post-season hopes.
There are a lot of positive feelings about the Bears 2011, that gives much hope for 2012...but as we look at their current personnel, we think the Bears are stuck in a football purgatory. The Bears are not bad enough to "break up" and rebuild, nor are they good enough to threaten the NFL elite teams. The Bears are an 7-8-9 win type of team at best in 2012...capable of a run, but not likely to go all the way.
If the Bears were honest, they should break up this team now...while the aging players like Julius Peppers, etc. still have some decent "tread left on the tire." If the Bears don't take the next step in 2012 or 2013, and they stay "pat"...they will be in a near nightmare in as early as 2013 or for sure in 2014. The 2014 outlook would reveal the potential for the bears to have a bunch of past-prime, 33-34+ year old defensive players, and no franchise QB. If the Bears follow recent history, they will add attempted short-term stop-gap fixes in 2012 (that won't work)...and this current window of decent defensive personnel will close in about two seasons or less, leaving the franchise in shambles.
Sorry, for the "Christmas cheer" for Bears fans...in your heart, you know I'm right. However, the sugar-plum dreams of the (7-3) start in 2011 are going to dance around, and potentially con Bears fans into "hope" for 2012...and if they fall short (again), the franchise is in real trouble in 2013-14 when looking at the ages of key players. Especially looking at the age gaps in the AFC North of GB and DET vs. CHI.
The Bears sit with another key "purgatory" issue...Jay Cutler is not a bad enough QB to cut, not coveted enough to pull of a major trade, but not good enough to take the Bears to the promise land. It does not help Cutler, that the Bears have the worst WR depth chart outside of Jacksonville, FL. Matt Forte is all the Bears really have on offense.
The best offensive move the Bears have made so far is jettisoning the incredibly overrated Mike Martz. The 2012 Fantasy Football ramifications of the new Offensive Coordinator (Mike Tice) will be hard to decipher until we see what WRs the Bears bring in.
Quick, name all the offensive coordinators who have ever mattered...
Offensive Coordinators, in my opinion, do more harm then good...handcuffing talent with over-coaching (how'd boy-genius Josh McDaniel do with Sam Bradford this year? Just one of a million recent examples). Amazingly, the "best" O-Cs happen to work with the greatest QBs in the history of the game...and the O-Cs normally flop when moving on, away from the great QB that "made" them (Charlie Weis is an exception). So, I wouldn't hold my breath that Mike Tice possesses some magic up his sleeve...
The Bears will obviously have to upgrade their WRs...and a nice "big-WR" paired with Cutler may be a great Fantasy Football play for that WR in 2012. With Martz gone, Greg Olsen would have been "sweet" in 2012...but, currently there is a void of a play-maker on the Bears TE depth chart. We cannot really project the 2012 Bears offensive Fantasy Football scenario until the offensive overhaul/upgrade of 2012 is complete (via trade, draft, free agency), but let's look at what we do know (maybe)...
Jay Cutler has played 73 games in the past 5 years...five years in which he began the season as his teams starting QB. In those past five seasons, Cutler has thrown for 108 TDs with 81 INTs. In those past five years, Cutler has gotten progressively worse in general accuracy...five straight seasons of declining Completion Percentages, from 63.6% in 2007 to a troubling 58.0% in 2011. At his best, Jay Cutler is a good NFL QB...but mostly he is mediocre, and mostly a non-factor for Fantasy Football.
It always an excuse...poor WRs (ask Tom Brady about that), Offensive Coordinator woes, etc., etc. The cold truth is, Cutler is just an "OK" NFL QB, and for Fantasy Football...that won't do. What's the argument for why he will be pertinent in 2012? If there was a case, why would I believe it now? I've heard it for years.
The 2012 schedule won't help a ton either...with some difficult non-divisional matchups with San Fran, Houston, and oncoming Seattle and Arizona go along with the two matchups with both Green Bay and Detroit each. Cutler is a BYE week, and/or emergency QB at best for Fantasy Football...nothing more, and nothing less.
Matt Forte, Marion Barber and Kahlil Bell
Matt Forte is likely a Bears RB again in 2012, via new contract or franchise tag. We absolutely love Matt Forte; he's one of the highest rated RBs we've studied in our computer scouting models coming out of college...but Marion Barber stealing short TD runs is a slight issue for Fantasy Football purposes. Forte is quite possibly one of the three best RBs in the NFL over the last 4 seasons...but the Bears O-Line, and his lack of rushing TDs has held him back a bit for Fantasy Football elite output. Forte had just 4 TDs in 2011 and in 2009 (9 in 2010). Barber issue aside, the main Dynasty League issue on Forte is age/mileage.
Forte will be 27.9 years old to start this season...and should have about another solid two seasons left before a predictive decline sets in. Forte is probably a bad NFL investment long term due to age, but two years of prime output remaining at best also cuts into his long term Dynasty League value as well...assuming no more injuries, etc. in those two seasons. If you can flip Forte for a younger top-line RB, plus more goodies...you have to explore it. Similar to the NFL, a Dynasty Fantasy Football league has the same parallel...individual RBs are becoming less important due to tandem-RB strategies, injury issues, and a general overall RB supply & demand. I wouldn't get married to Forte (as much as we love him), if a great deal presented itself...even in a PPR league.
Kahlil Bell provided a few exciting moments late, but we don't see a sneaky "sleeper" here. Our college scouting models were not too hot on the 2009 undrafted free agent out of UCLA, and he has done little in three seasons to disprove that. Bell is a 2012 restricted free agent...and not likely on the move. If I owned him from a late pickup in a Dynasty League in 2011, I would try to sell him to my league's Forte owner; and move on.
The Terrible Bears WRs
Where do we begin? I'm not sure what is a worse decision...bringing in, and starting, Roy Williams in 2011 -- or giving a 4-year, $18MM contract ($9MM guaranteed) to Earl Bennett? It's a good thing they locked down Bennett, I'm not sure where they will find another 5'11+, low-agility, good-hands WR...who has 7 TDs in 51 career games. I know, I know..."he and Cutler are best friends, ya know!" I wish I could hear that about 10 more times after each Bennett catch the last two years. What has that "BFF" status earned Bennett? Over the past 3 seasons with Cutler, Bennett has averaged 3.1 receptions, 41.5 yards, 0.15 TDs per game. Wow, it's like Montana-Rice all over again. Of course, Bennett probably looks like Jerry Rice compared to the Bears WRs depth chart of the past few seasons. Bennett is solid, but probably cannot start for most teams in the NFL...for the Bears he is their "ace." I would deal away Bennett in a heartbeat if anyone in my Dynasty league was buying into the Cutler-Bennett-Vandy nonsense.
Johnny Knox was a solid/OK WR, but at his smaller size...the risk for injury was high. We pray for a full recovery, but you really can't count on Knox for anything Fantasy Football-wise in 2012.
The best WR on the Bears, to us, was Dane Sanzenbacher. The smaller/gritty undrafted free agent had 3 TDs in his first 6 games as a Bears WR this season, but then injury and non-Cutler caught up to him. We liked some of Sanzenbacher's agility metrics in our computer scouting models, but we were also fearful of his smaller-frame/injury risk. He's one to watch, but not to invest heavy on for Fantasy Football purposes. A fully healthy 2012 season could lead to Sanzenbacher as a Wes Welker-lite type of WR for Cutler...but that's is a stretch, especially with Bennett in the way too.
The top Bears WR for 2012, likely does not reside on the roster at this moment. Assumedly, the Bears will make a splash for a Vincent Jackson type free agent WR. We'll just have to wait and see who it is, but Jackson going to CHI will drive Jackson's Fantasy value sky-high...and probably, rightfully so.
The Greg Olsen blues...
The Bears had an elite receiver in Greg Olsen, but let him go to Carolina this offseason...another "genius" Bears move of the past few years. Which is worse? Letting Olsen go, signing Chester Taylor, or bringing in Roy Williams...or hiring Mike Martz. That's a tough one. The Olsen-less Bears have no real TE threat in the passing game, so expect a new name to be acquired this off-season.
The Bears are quickly getting "old." Julius Peppers will be 32.9 years old to start 2012, Brian Urlacher will be 34.4 years old, Charles Tillman 31.7 years old and Lance Briggs nearly 32 years old . A collection of good, great defensive players...all 30+. The window is short for the Bears, and the NFC North offenses are young and ramping up. If there was a pick for a team-defense to plummet in 2012, from 2011...it is the Bears.
Corey Graham is not a star, but he is an unrestricted free agent CB/ST that we like (not love). It would be a small blow to lose him, keep an eye on whether a smarter/crafty team plucks him away. It wouldn't be devastating to the Bears, but it would be a loss if Graham leaves.
Armando Allen was a late undrafted free agent cut/re-sign, practice squad RB for the Bears in 2011...and he got pressed into action late in 2011. Our computer scouting models see nothing here...a smaller, slower, non-agile RB prospect. Not a future star by any means.
The Bears 5th-Round 2011 draft pick, Nathan Enderle, was one of the lowest rated QBs in our computer models that we have ever researched. When everything broke down for the Bears, they could/would not turn to Enderle....unlike a similar situation with 2011 5th-Round Texans draft pick T.J. Yates. Another great personnel move by the Bears...
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