Juggernaut Index No. 13: The Chicago Bears

The Juggernaut Index is our annual ranking of NFL teams for fantasy purposes. Repeat: FOR FANTASY PURPOSES. We're interested in yards and points here. We began at No. 32, the NFL's least useful franchise (Oakland), and we're working our way toward the elite teams. These ranks are astonishingly accurate and highly collectible. Please enjoy them responsibly.


13. Chicago Bears

Pictured above, you'll find Bears fans reacting with disgust and disbelief to the team's placement in the Juggernaut Index.

Each of those gentlemen would argue – formidably and forcefully, with all the erudition and intellectual depth that one expects from a Chicago sports enthusiast – that the Bears deserve a top-ten ranking. They would ask us to consider the following facts:

During the offseason, Chicago swapped a quarterback of limited ability, Kyle Orton(notes), for one of the NFL's premier passers, Jay Cutler(notes);

Devin Hester(notes) has had another offseason to develop as a route-runner and he's clearly among the most explosive players in the league;

Earl Bennett(notes), the Bears' presumptive No. 2 receiver, caught nine TD passes in his freshman year at Vanderbilt, when Cutler was a senior;

Greg Olsen(notes) is an unusually athletic tight end – 6-foot-5, 250 pounds, 4.51 speed – and he's expected to be targeted heavily this year;

Matt Forte(notes) led the team in rushing yardage (1,238) and receptions (63) last season, yet with Cutler under center, defenses can't over-commit to stopping him;

Seven-time Pro Bowler Orlando Pace(notes) (currently uninjured) has joined the offensive line.

These things are all true. It's easy to understand the optimism in Chicago, and the fantasy community is similarly bullish. We're drafting the key members of the Bears' receiving corps well ahead of their year-end finish in 2008 fantasy scoring. Hester is the No. 37 wide receiver off the board in an average Yahoo! league, and Olsen is the No. 6 tight end. Bennett is owned in 41 percent of PLUS leagues, which is fairly impressive for a guy who didn't catch a pass in his rookie season.


But that's the Cutler effect. He would have entered the season as the No. 3 fantasy quarterback on my draft board had he remained in Denver under the Shanahan regime. Due to the new surroundings, he slips temporarily to No. 10 at the position (behind Schaub, ahead of Ryan). He's a massive talent, though.

Hester describes his new QB in flattering terms:

"His arm strength is incredible." … "The first couple of days (during voluntary workouts), everybody’s eyes were wide open and saying, 'wow.' Now, we’re getting used to it.

"(Cutler) takes over the offense," Hester added. "He makes things happen. It’s like having Michael Jordan on the team. He makes everyone on the team better."

You're already paying a small Cutler tax in drafts, but nothing outrageous just yet. Hester doesn't carry much risk since he's rarely selected as a fantasy starter. Olsen's ADP might seem high, but he's one of five tight ends who could reasonably lead his position in fantasy scoring (Gates, Witten, Clark and Gonzalez being the others). If you're the first guy to draft a TE this year, you're probably the easy money at the table.

Forte is a full-workload back (316 carries) who played through a toe injury at the end of his rookie season, yet still managed to retain his fantasy significance. The injury dinged his yards per carry, but he earned credibility. He's not necessarily a highlight-reel runner, but Forte's skill set is complete and he deserves his ADP (5.2).

The biggest problem facing the Bears right now is a lack of depth at … well, at every skill position but tight end, where Desmond Clark(notes) still lurks. Cutler's understudy is Caleb Hanie(notes), an undrafted QB from Colorado State who's never thrown a ball in a regular season game. Forte's backup is Kevin Jones(notes), an oft-repaired veteran who hasn't averaged 4.0 YPC since 2004. And after Hester and Bennett, there's an undraftable pileup of sub-ordinary receivers: Brandon Rideau(notes), Rashied Davis(notes), rookies Juaquin Iglesias(notes) and Johnny Knox(notes). Both of the tackles (Pace and Chris Williams(notes)) carry injury risk, too. The offense is full of excellent names, but it feels like an injury to any of them could cause the whole delicate structure to crumble.

Chicago finished as the sixth highest-scoring fantasy defense in each of the past two seasons, and they were an elite unit from '04 to '06. The addition of defensive specialist Rod Marinelli to the coaching staff should help, though not nearly as much as a healthier Brian Urlacher(notes) – and there's hope on that front. This via the Chicago Sun-Times:

Maybe Brian Urlacher never really admitted what working his way back from neck surgery after the 2007 season did to him, but it's a year removed from that, and he looks like he did three and four years ago. He's moving all over the field and making plays you were accustomed to seeing from him in his prime. … As one onlooker said, Urlacher looks tall again. He looks leaner and might be a major force once again.

Linebacker Lance Briggs(notes) remains the most interesting IDP (110 tackles, 3 INTs, 11 PDs). Charles Tillman(notes) (back) isn't a lock to be available in Week 1, but he's still a draft-worthy DB.

OK, let's open the phone lines. Your thoughtful comments are encouraged, Bear lovers.

Update, 8/22, 9:00 pm ET: Goodness, that was impressive. Cutler's night against the Giants is finished after three series. Here's the line: 8-for-13, 121 yards, 1 TD. Forte has nine carries for 58 yards and a TD, plus a nine yard reception. Devin Aromashodu(notes) with a pretty 38-yard grab to setup a short touchdown. Da Beloved lead 17-0. All is well. Maybe they should be No. 9 …


Earlier Juggernauts: 32) Oakland, 31) Cleveland, 30) St. Louis, 29) Miami, 28) NY Jets, 27) Baltimore, 26) Washington, 25) San Francisco, 24) Tampa Bay, 23) Kansas City, 22) Detroit, 21) Seattle, 20) Buffalo, 19) Cincinnati, 18) Jacksonville, 17) New York Giants, 16) Tennessee, 15) Pittsburgh, 14) Denver.

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