Fantasy Football 2014 draft prep: Chicago Bears
2014 NFL Season Preview:
WR Domenik Hixon, WR Josh Morgan, C Brian De La Puente, DE Jared Allen, DE Lamarr Houston, DE Willie Young, DE Trevor Scott, OLB Jordan Senn, S Adrian Wilson, S M.D. Jennings, S Ryan Mundy, S Danny McCray.
Early Draft Picks:
CB/S Kyle Fuller, DT Ego Ferguson, DT Will Sutton, RB Ka’Deem Carey, S Brock Vereen.
QB Josh McCown, RB Michael Bush, WR Earl Bennett, DE Julius Peppers, DE Corey Wootton, DT Henry Melton, OLB James Anderson, CB Zackary Bowman, S Major Wright, P Adam Podlesh, KR Devin Hester.
2014 Chicago Bears Offense:
The Bears had one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL this past season. They averaged 27.8 points per game despite the fact that their starting quarterback was out for a quarter of the year. There’s only one thing that could potentially prevent the team from matching its great offensive output, and that would be another injury to Jay Cutler.
Chicago was very fortunate to have Josh McCown available in 2013; otherwise, its season would’ve gone up in flames. The Bears ultimately missed the playoffs, but they were highly competitive until the very end. McCown is gone now, however, so all the team has as an alternative to Cutler is Jordan Palmer, David Fales and Jimmy Clausen. This wouldn’t be a huge problem if Cutler weren’t so injury-prone. Cutler hasn’t played a full 16-game slate since 2009; he’s missed 12 contests in the past three seasons. It’s likely that he’ll be out for at least a couple of games, so Chicago will probably struggle in his absence, despite Marc Trestman’s best efforts.
The coaching staff needs to make sure Cutler is protected as well as possible to avoid using one of those three aforementioned backup scrubs. For that to happen, the Bears need to have their young linemen block better. This is mainly pointing at right tackle Jordan Mills, who struggled mightily as a rookie. Mills couldn’t pass block to save his life for most of the year, though he did improve toward the end. The team’s other rookie, Kyle Long, was much better at right guard, but still was pretty inconsistent. He was a first-round choice, so he has potential and should improve as a consequence.
The left side of the offensive line is much better. Jermon Bushrod held up well at left tackle, save for an embarrassing matchup against Robert Quinn in the middle of the season. Left guard Matt Slauson was the best blocker on the team this past season, while center Roberto Garza was solid as well.
If Cutler can stay on his feet, he should be able to post monstrous numbers. He has two All-Pro-caliber receivers to throw to, after all. He and Brandon Marshall have great chemistry, and now defenses can’t completely focus on Marshall because Alshon Jeffery has emerged. Jeffery actually posted more receiving yards than Marshall (1,421 to 1,295), and he’s just 24, so the sky is the limit for him. Cutler will also be able to target Martellus Bennett once again; the big tight end hauled in 65 passes for 759 yards in 2013.
The running game was also extremely effective. Matt Forte rushed for 1,339 yards and nine touchdowns on a 4.6 YPC clip. He also logged 74 receptions out of the backfield, which was a seasonal career-high for him. Trestman promised to have Forte more involved on offense, so that would explain why his catch count increased by 30.
2014 Chicago Bears Defense:
As good as Chicago’s offense was, the defense was even worse. The unit ranked last or close to it in almost every major category, surrendering 29.9 points per contest. Wholesale changes had to be made, but it doesn’t appear as though the front office did enough.
The Bears spent most of the offseason signing defensive ends. They brought in four of them: Jared Allen, Lamarr Houston, Willie Young and Trevor Scott. However, this isn’t as impressive as it sounds, given that the team lost Julius Peppers and Corey Wootton in the process. Peppers showed major signs of decline this past season, but the same could be said for Allen, who figures to start across from Houston; the former Raider had a terrific 2013 season. Young and Scott will provide quality depth.
The interior of the defensive line is more of an issue. The Bears spent a couple of second-day selections on the interior, taking Ego Ferguson and Will Sutton. However, Ferguson is raw, while Sutton is more of a situational pass-rusher. Otherwise, Chicago didn’t do anything to improve this area. Jay Ratliff and Stephen Paea will be back, but neither played very well this past season.
Chicago didn’t bring in anyone to help with what was a very weak linebacking corps this past season. Lance Briggs, the top player in that group, was in the lineup for just nine games in 2013 because of a shoulder injury. He’ll be back, but the concern with him is that he’ll turn 34 in November. He’ll probably decline, but even if he does, he’s still much better than what Chicago had this past season, which includes rookies Jon Bostic and Khaseem Greene, both of whom struggled. At least one will have to improve. Meanwhile, bust defensive end Shea McClellin will be moving to strongside linebacker in an attempt to spark his career. That move probably won’t pan out.
Speaking of rookies, Chicago used its first-round selection this May on Kyle Fuller, an explosive, 6-foot defensive back. Fuller can basically play anywhere in the secondary. He might eventually be used at safety, but it sounds like he’ll be utilized at outside cornerback across from Charles Tillman, with Tim Jennings moving inside to nickel. Tillman struggled this past season, but he played through injury, so he might be able to rebound. Jennings will at least perform well, so it’s sounding like Chicago’s cornerback group should be better in 2014.
The same, however, can’t be said for the safeties. The top five players at the position are the anemic Chris Conte, the awful M.D. Jennings, the decrepit Adrian Wilson, journeyman backup Ryan Mundy and fourth-round rookie Brock Vereen. Unless Vereen proves to be a pleasant surprise right away, the Bears will surrender tons of deep passing plays once again this season.
2014 Chicago Bears Schedule and Intangibles:
There surprisingly hasn’t been much of a disparity between Chicago’s home and road records recently. Over the past four seasons, the Bears are 21-13 as hosts and 17-15 as visitors.
Chicago’s special teams usually rank among the league’s elite, but Devin Hester won’t be returning kickoffs or punts for them for the first time since 2005. On the bright side, the Bears defend the opposition very well.
Robbie Gould definitely deserves the 4-year, $15 million contract he received in December. He went 26-of-29 in 2013, and he’s 11-of-12 from 50-plus the past three seasons.
Adam Podlesh was one of the league’s worst punters in 2013, which would explain why Chicago spent a sixth-round pick on Miami’s Pat O’Donnell.
The Bears have a mixed schedule. They have to deal with tough opponents like the 49ers, Saints, Patriots and Packers twice. However, they also get the Bills, Jets, Dolphins, Panthers, Cowboys and Vikings twice.
2014 Chicago Bears Analysis: The Bears will once again be competitive, and they will have a chance to claim the NFC North. However, they won’t have the luxury of both having a capable backup for when Jay Cutler gets hurt and seeing Aaron Rodgers go down for half the season. Considering the state of its defense, Chicago will probably have to enter the playoffs via the wild-card route.
Projection: 10-6 (2nd in NFC North)