COMMENTARY | The Chicago Bears enter the 2013 season light a couple of familiar faces.
Gone is head coach Lovie Smith, who wore the headset at Soldier Field for nine seasons and led the Bears to their only Super Bowl appearance since Mike Ditka stopped pacing up and down the sidelines.
Also passing under the stadium's exit sign is eight-time Pro Bowl linebacker Brian Urlacher. The franchise career tackles leader decided to call it a career after spending all 13 of his NFL seasons as the defensive anchor for the Monsters of the Midway.
Despite the departure of some notable names, new head coach Marc Trestman hopes to bring a more pass-happy offensive juggernaut to Chicago. The new offensive scheme alone could be enough to make some key Chicago players very intriguing fantasy football options in this year's draft.
Jay Cutler, QB: Cutler threw a career-high 4,526 yards for the Denver Broncos in 2008, but his time in Chicago has not yet bore the same fantasy fruit. The 2013 season could be a make-or-break year for Cutler. He is entering the final year of his $29.3 million contract, and his very future with the Bears could rest on him stuffing the stat sheet with enough reasons for Chicago to give him another long-term deal.
Cutler has all the offensive weapons needed to be a top-flight fantasy quarterback, but becoming a reliable fantasy starter will rest in his offensive line's ability to keep him standing upright. Cutler was sacked 38 times last year, and in 2010 he led all signal-callers after being pummeled to the ground 52 times. The Bears added two-time Pro Bowl left tackle Jermon Bushrod and rookie guard Kyle Long to make sure Cutler eats less of the Solider Field turf in 2013.
Watch Cutler's early-season performance. He could easily become be a waive-wire steal this season.
Yahoo! Fantasy QB Ranking: No. 22
Draft Him Instead Of: Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens
Matt Forte, RB: Forte is a tricky fantasy player to analyze. With Michael Bush playing the role of the goal-line scorer, No. 22 does get cheated out of some easy touchdown opportunities. However, in PPR (points per reception) leagues, there are few players as valuable as the Bears' starting running back. The fewest number of receptions Forte has ever recorded in his five-year NFL career has been 44.
Adding his value as a receiver to the 1,065 yards rushing he has averaged throughout his career puts Forte's all-purpose ability near the top of the fantasy list. Forte is listed outside of the top 10 fantasy running backs in the preseason rankings, but Trestman's more spread out offensive attack has the potential to get Forte more touches in space, a la Darren Sproles in New Orleans.
Yahoo! Fantasy RB Ranking: No. 12
Draft Him Instead Of: Stevan Ridley, RB, New England Patriots
Brandon Marshall, WR: Calvin Johnson will be the only wide receiver with more fantasy value than Chicago's go-to route runner. Marshall was the Bears' entire passing offense in 2012. He received 194 targets while Earl Bennett's 49 hobbled in at No. 2 on the team. The Bears' passing attack was so Marshall-centric that Cutler looked in his direction more than all of his other wide receivers combined.
Marshall hauled in 118 receptions for 1,508 yards even though every defense knew he was Chicago's first, second and third passing option. Expect Marshall's targets to drop somewhat with the new coaching regime, but his overall production should only be helped by Chicago's ability to make opposing defenses remember there are other eligible receivers to cover.
Yahoo! Fantasy WR Ranking: No. 4
Draft Him Instead Of: Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons
Alshon Jeffery, WR: As Robin to Marshall's Batman, Jeffery is a true fantasy sleeper in the making. Jeffery started strong in his rookie season with 80 yards and a touchdown in his NFL debut, but injuries slowed the 6-3 wideout and he was only able to notch 367 yards and three scores in 10 games. His wide-receiving counterpart will demand so much attention from opposing defenses that Jeffery could sneak under the radar for a great fantasy season, just on the basis of how much single-coverage he will see.
If the Bears' second-year standout is able to stay healthy, he will be a very interesting player to take a flyer on in the later rounds. However, if Jeffery gets sidelined again this season, Chicago's 6-4 rookie Marquees Wilson could quietly steal the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.
Yahoo! Fantasy WR Ranking: No. 49
Draft Him Instead Of: Michael Floyd, WR, Arizona Cardinals
Martellus Bennett, TE: The Bears do not exactly have the best track record when it comes to the tight end position. Since Greg Olsen was shortsightedly dealt to the Carolina Panthers in 2011, Chicago has gotten a ridiculously low average of 217 yards per season from its top tight end.
The addition of Bennett does give the Bears something they desperately needed last season: a play-making threat who can take advantage up the seam when defenses roll coverage to Marshall. However, Trestman is coming over from the CFL, where there is no traditional tight end position. How heavily the new man in charge decides to use Bennett in the passing game is no guarantee.
Yahoo! Fantasy TE Ranking: No. 12
Draft Him Instead Of: Brandon Pettigrew, TE, Detroit Lions
Chicago, Defense: Defense has long been the Bears' trademark, but without Lovie Smith here to continually preach turnovers to his troopers, will the Monsters of the Midway strike the same fear into the heart of their opposition?
A great fantasy defense does two things: creates turnovers and scores touchdowns. Chicago created 44 takeaways and took 10 of those turnovers back to the house for defensive scores to help make it the No. 1-ranked fantasy defense in 2012. Although most of the same players are still in place, fans will just have to wait and see whether or not the new-look Bears possess the same ball-hawking mentality.
One reason to remain high on the Bears in 2013 is because of their late-season schedule. In the customary fantasy playoff weeks, 15 and 16, Chicago plays the Cleveland Browns and the Philadelphia Eagles, both of whom have serious question marks at the quarterback position.
Yahoo! Fantasy DEF Ranking: No. 3
Draft Them Instead Of: San Francisco 49ers
Dalton Russell has covered the Chicago Bears in print and online media since 1998. He lives with his wife and two children just outside the shadow of the iconic architecture of Soldier Field.
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