3-Point Stance: Winds of change? Howard, Meredith could head in different directions
As the mercury rises, Brad Evans and Liz Loza will tackle pressing fantasy questions tied to every NFL team. Read, ponder and get a jump on your offseason research. Fridays’s topic: The Chicago Bears
Regarding Jordan Howard’s Year 2 value, a great schism has developed in the fantasy community. Many are split on what he may, or may not, accomplish after a breakout rookie campaign. BELIEVE or MAKE BELIEVE: Howard, at a minimum, provides a return on investment at his current 16.2 ADP (RB8).
Liz – BELIEVE. Howard was a stud in 2016, barreling his way to nearly 1,600 total yards. Yet some nervous nellies are worried he’ll go the way of the Gurley. I get it. Mike Glennon won’t scare defenses, and the box is going to be all kinds of stacked against the second-year back. Maybe. Except the Bears line is solid. In fact, their run blocking unit positively converted the highest number of short-yardage runs on third and fourth downs, earning them a power ranking of ONE. Behind this human wall, the Bears’ backfield additionally managed the fifth most open yards. The comparison between the two RBs is not congruent.
Let’s not forget that Howard, a fifth round selection, stole this job away from the incumbent RB. After taking over for an injured Jeremy Langford in Week 3, Howard steam-rolled his way to the top of the depth chart. From Weeks 4 – 17, the Indiana product averaged over 18 carries per week, maintained 5.2 YPC and evaded the sixth most tackles in the league. Those numbers best Gurley’s rookie effort and deserve to be respected. Sure, the additions of pass-catching specialist Benny Cunningham and satellite back Tarik Cohen may mean fewer opportunities for Howard via the air, but he’s still going to own the rock. Draft with confidence.
Brad – BELIEVE. Too often tabbed the “2017 version of Todd Gurley,” Howard doesn’t deserve such disparaging remarks. What is wrong with people? He’s locked into a 300-plus touch role running behind an offensive line that tossed fools in 2016 (No. 8 in overall run-blocking per Football Outsiders). In his rookie season, he also charted remarkably well in several advanced categories including breakaway runs (16, RB3), yards after contact per touch (1.5, RB10), yards after contact per game (28.7, RB7), yards per touch (5.8, RB13) and total evaded tackles (73, RB6). Trimmed down, expected to play a pivotal role in the pass game (40-45 receptions?) and setting his sites on a rushing crown, he could actually take a forward step in Year 2. Clearly, I’m not overly concerned about Tarik Cohen.
People believe the Bears offense will perform anemically under John Fox, which is understandable. Speaking as a depressed Bears fan, I’m convinced the bumbling coach would order a cheese-only pizza at Giordano’s, a criminal offense. His decision making is rather poor. Some fear the QB situation more, which they shouldn’t. Remember Howard tallied his spectacular 2016 numbers (1,612 combined yards and 7 TDs) with Brian Hoyer, Jay Cutler and Matt Barkley at the helm. Mike Glennon may not be an upgrade, but at worst he’s a parallel move. More promising, the Bears defense should improve, potentially awarding Howard occasional fourth quarter salt-away carries. Again, it boils down to volume and hole creation. With that in mind, “sensation,” not “slump,” applies to the sophomore. It’s rather unreal he continues to fall into the middle second round (16.1 ADP, RB8).
Wideout Cameron Meredith, a converted college quarterback, occasionally shined in his first full season. A popular “undervalued” pick on ‘expert’ lists, OVER/UNDER final WR rank this season 29.5?
Brad – UNDER. Clearing the air, “sleepers” don’t exist in fantasy. For starters, most players, whether casual or seasoned, and pundits can’t agree on a common definition. Second, we live in the Information Age where every juicy speck is instantly broadcast across the globe. This is why fantasy is really an undervalued/overvalued game.
Off the soapbox, Meredith is a supreme “undervalued” selection. He satisfies what every fantasy player chases: 1) Opportunity, 2) Projected volume, 3) Relatively untapped potential. Touching on the last point, Meredith emerged from the woodwork in 2016. Though erratic at times, he finished the season strong. His 31-439-2 output Weeks 13-17 tied Brandin Cooks and Julian Edelman for the sixth-best tally over that span. On the year, he also notched an excellent 68.0 catch percentage.
Don’t get caught up in petrified wood Victor Cruz, Kendall Wright or perpetual disappointment Kevin White. Meredith will be the man in Chicago. Similar to another former QB, Terrelle Pryor, he is just now coming into his own as a wide receiver. Keep in mind, Alshon Jeffery’s 22.5 percent targets share (7.8 per game in ’16) is up for grabs. Crunch the numbers and it’s conceivable he finishes with 70-plus receptions, 1,000-1,100 yards and 5-7 TDs. In other words, Bear … UP.
Liz – This one is close, but I’m going OVER. Kevin White went down and Cam Meredith stepped up. Wowing the fantasy community in Week 5 to the tune of 9-130-1, Meredith became one of the hottest waiver wire adds of the season. While he averaged 13 fantasy points per game, his week-to-week production was far from consistent. Some of that can be explained away by the numerous changes under center, but the dude came in raw. I’m not sure one offseason is enough to turn the local kid into a refined receiver.
Yes, he’s got the physical tools, but there are so many other obstacles facing Meredith. From a notoriously inaccurate QB to an influx of veteran talent, it’s going to take more than a minute for the almost-25-year-old to emerge as the team’s top wideout.
Furthermore, his role will likely change this year. In 2016 Meredith spent 34 percent of his time in the slot. With Victor Cruz and Kendall Wright moving to the Windy City, Meredith figures to be pushed to the outside. That may mean bigger plays for the 6- foot-3 smooth strider, but his targets are also likely to decrease. I’m rooting for the ISU product and a breakout is possible, he’s not top-thirty material.
DUMPSTER DIVING. Glancing at the roster, many Bears will forage for stats this fall. Dig deep, who, if anyone, claws their way out of obscurity?
Liz – KEVIN WHITE. Re-learning how to run isn’t such a red flag, right? RIGHT? Yeah, so White’s prospects aren’t ideal, but he was the seventh overall pick in the 2015 draft. And while the bust chatter is well founded, recent reports claim he’s motivated and running at full speed. Plus, the Bears aren’t ready to give up on the West Virginia product. His success could very well save management’s jobs.
Last year the Bears made a point of getting White the ball. Before going down in Week 4, he averaged 9 targets per game and his numbers were improving each week. In fact, he was on pace to hit 800 yards. Staying healthy is obviously key for the 25-year-old, but it’s not like he’s surrounded by ultra-durable talent. Outside of Meredith, his athletic upside (assuming he’s still has any) is the highest.
Brad – MITCH TRUB … err … ADAM SHAHEEN. Full disclosure, this exercise isn’t finding a needle in a haystack, it’s akin to discovering an uneaten lasagna in Garfield’s house.
Historically, rookie tight ends rarely make an impact in fantasy. Hunter Henry’s eight-TD effort last season was an anomaly. The Charger was only the sixth TE to cross the 90 standard fantasy point threshold in his first year since 1990. Still, Shaheen has a shot to occasionally register TE1 performances in 12-team leagues. Though he’s a small school product (Ashland), GM Ryan Pace is enamored with the greenhorn’s size, athleticism (73rd SPARQ percentile) and sure hands. Beat out Zach Miller in camp and there’s a path to 45-500-5. Take note, dynasty fans.