Juggernaut Index, No. 27: Bears have Jordan Howard and a collection of bad ideas
The Chicago Bears managed to recklessly overspend not once but twice during the offseason, in pursuit of quarterbacks of questionable ability. First, general manager Ryan Pace threw a three-year, $45 million deal at Mike Glennon ($18.5M guaranteed) when other teams were hoping to land him at $8-10 million. Then, the Bears traded multiple picks in order to move up a single spot on draft night to select Mitch Trubisky, a player who likely would have fallen to them at their original slot.
Not surprisingly, this team’s offseason has not earned high marks from … well, from anyone.
The list of Chicago’s free agent additions on offense looks like a last-place fantasy roster from 2014: Glennon, Mark Sanchez, Victor Cruz, Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright, Rueben Randle, Dion Sims, Benny Cunningham. A few of those players could be serviceable, but none move the needle for a team coming off a 3-win season. In April, the Bears’ drafted as if their singular goal was to flummox anyone providing analysis on live TV. After using the No. 2 overall pick on Trubisky, Chicago spent three of its four remaining selections on players from non-FBS schools. It’s not at all clear that any of them, or Trubisky, will contribute in a meaningful way in 2017.
So, um … Bear down. Woo.
Hey, at least Jay Cutler isn’t in the team picture, right?
True, but that’s cold comfort for Bears fans. At least Cutler made things interesting, delivering the occasional wow throw before vomiting away winnable games. In Glennon, the team has found a perfectly league-average passer, prone to misfires. He enters his fifth NFL season with a career completion percentage of 59.4, averaging 6.5 yards per attempt. He has plenty of arm strength, but only modest athleticism and a disastrous lack of mobility. Bad things tend to happen when Glennon faces pressure and begins his awkward, giraffe-ish backpedalling — things like this and this and this.
Still, Glennon enters camp as the team’s unchallenged starting quarterback. If he can hold the job over a full season, we can expect something like 3650 yards, 22 passing TDs and a dozen picks. Meh. If you play in a league in which QBs from the 18-to-24 range need to be owned, then Glennon’s name belongs on your cheat sheet. He’s an uninteresting QB2 for fantasy purposes, a player who can guide your team to a respectable loss when your starter is on bye. For the Bears, Glennon is a bridge QB. He’ll have the starting gig until Chicago decides to enter the Trubisky era.
If Trubisky develops into a difference-making quarterback who orchestrates deep playoff runs over multiple seasons, fans will not care about the degree to which the franchise was fleeced in the 2017 draft. Ryan Pace’s NFL future now cannot be disentangled from Trubisky’s. There’s little question that the rookie has pro-level athleticism, size and arm talent. But he clearly wasn’t the most physically gifted QB in his draft class, nor was he the most accomplished. Trubisky was a one-year starter at North Carolina, where he played in a shotgun-based spread system. He couldn’t leapfrog Marquise Williams on the depth chart in 2014 or 2015, then entered the draft unfamiliar with at least one basic QB concept. So that’s alarming.
Trubisky’s numbers were of course excellent last year (8.4 Y/A, 30 TDs), but his best single-game performances — the games that elevated his prospect status — all occurred in the first half of the season. That’s another small concern. He was brutal in the Sun Bowl, facing an opponent that had abundant time to game-plan. He missed open receivers, gave away field position, and he was baited into a game-changing pick-six. It wasn’t pretty.
But the Bears were undeterred. He’s the future at QB in Chicago, for better or worse. Frank Schwab is kinda/sorta buying…
…but I’ll pass, thanks. I’m taking Deshaun Watson, Patrick Mahomes and DeShone Kizer ahead of Trubisky in dynasty drafts, in that order.
With Alshon Jeffery gone, who’s the No. 1 receiver in Chicago?
The Bears signed a group of reclamation project receivers — Wheaton, Wright, Cruz, Roob — all of whom can be ignored in fantasy leagues of standard size. Wheaton received the biggest deal (two years, $11 million), but he’s entering his fifth pro season with just one 100-yard game to his credit. Cruz will see time in the slot, health permitting. Wright may very well be the best wideout from this sketchy group of vets, but he’ll need to battle for his snaps.
Cameron Meredith is by far the most interesting ascending piece of this team’s receiving corps. Meredith made an immediate impact in 2016 when injuries cleared a path to meaningful playing time. He saw double-digit targets four times last season, and he topped 100 receiving yards in each of those games. For the year, Meredith finished with 66 catches, 888 yards and four TDs on just 96 targets. If any receiver on this team is going to emerge as an every-week fantasy play, it’s him. Meredith has good size (6-foot-3), speed and terrific leaping ability. He’s dealing with a thumb injury at the moment, but nothing that’s expected to compromise his season. At his current Yahoo ADP (110.4), there’s room for substantial profit.
Former first-rounder Kevin White remains in the mix, though he’s missed 28 of 32 games over his two NFL seasons due to fractures in his left leg. White ran a blistering 4.35 40-yard dash at the combine back in 2015, but that timed speed hasn’t translated to game action. He appeared in Chicago’s first four games last season, catching 19 balls for 187 yards on 35 targets. He’s made exactly one highlight-worthy play in his pro career, this 32-yard grab over Morris Claiborne. At least we know he’s capable of beating someone. He’ll have yet another chance to prove himself in 2017, though he seems a poor bet to stay healthy. White is worth a final-round flier based on projected opportunity, but let’s not go so far as to call him a sleeper.
At tight end, the Bears have the uninteresting Dion Sims, a still-rehabbing Zach Miller (Lisfranc), and a gigantic rookie, Adam Shaheen. None of these players deserve consideration in standard redraft leagues. Miller is a fringy option in very deep leagues, depending on his recovery. Shaheen is a prospect of interest in dynasty formats, and he’s generated low-level buzz during the team’s offseason program. But he’s also a rookie from a small school (Ashland University), facing the steepest possible learning curve. He has no clear route to fantasy relevance in the year ahead. He does have a hoops backstory, for what it’s worth, like all the cool tight ends.
Can Jordan Howard possibly repeat his rookie performance?
This is the only Bears question that truly matters, fantasy-wise. Howard was an absolute revelation as a rookie. He gained 1611 scrimmage yards and scored seven times on 281 touches, averaging 5.2 yards per carry and 10.3 per reception. If he hadn’t opened the season running behind Jeremy Langford, he might have seriously challenged Ezekiel Elliott for the rushing title. Over the season’s final nine weeks, Howard’s worst single-game yards-from-scrimmage total was 99. He’s certainly not a burner, but he maximizes his runs, rarely makes a poor choice and consistently falls forward. He’s legit, no question, and he does his running behind a quality O-line.
It’s no given that Howard (or any back) will continue to average better than 5.0 yards per tote, and it’s likely that opposing defenses will invite Glennon to throw early and often in 2017. Howard should see plenty of stacked fronts next season, and he didn’t fare well with eight or more in the box last year (2.6 YPC per Player Profiler). Additionally, we have the issue of Chicago’s general offensive ineptitude; this team ranked No. 29 in the league in scoring last season. It would require a heroic effort for Howard to reach double-digit touchdowns on a team that may average only 17-18 points per game. Considering the team context, it’s tough for me to pull the trigger on him at his current first-round ADP (9.6).
Howard led all backs in dropped passes last season with seven on just 50 targets, so let’s not assume he’ll emerge as a significant receiving weapon. The Bears signed passing down specialist Benny Cunningham to a one-year deal, plus they drafted diminutive gadget back Tarik Cohen in Round 4. Cohen is live-wire quick, but unusually small by NFL standards (5-foot-6, 175). If he carves out a meaningful role, he’ll be an extreme outlier. Cohen is another FCS draftee (North Carolina A&T), so he’s about to face a massive quality-of-competition leap.
Is there any hope for the Bears def—?
Just stop. Please. Nope.
No, there is not much hope for a defense that ranked dead-last in takeaways last season (11) and allowed 24.9 points per game. The addition of DB Quintin Demps will no doubt help, and pass-rush specialist Leonard Floyd flashed real potential as a rookie. But this is a defense without an obvious top-50 IDP. Also, the team opens with a brutal September schedule: Atlanta, at Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh, at Green Bay. No thanks.
2016 Offensive Stats & Ranks
Points per game – 17.4 (29)
Pass YPG – 258.7 (15)
Rush YPG – 108.4 (17)
Yards per play – 5.9 (5)
Plays per game – 60.4 (30)