November 21, 2009

"Deconstructing" examines Jay Cutler's fantasy impact in Chi-town.

Jay Cutler was labeled the "Windy City Savior" before the season even began. Fantasy experts expected him to enhance the value of the Bears' weapons. It's been a wildly inconsistent ride for Kid Cutler and crew. Cutler embarrassed his owners last week by throwing five picks. It was one ugly national television performance. Now, many are casting doubt on the future of Chicago's offense with Cutler at the helm. Can Cutler's owners trust him? Will Matt Forte finally start to take advantage of an accompanying passing game? Have Cutler and Greg Olsen developed that chemistry we heard about all preseason?

Deconstructing gets to the core of the Bears' offense.

Jay Cutler was the fifth-ranked fantasy QB last year for the Broncos with 4,526 passing yards, 200 rushing yards and 27 total TDs. In light of his cannon arm and playmaking ability, it's easy to see why there was so much optimism surrounding Cutler's arrival in Chicago. Bluntly, as a die-hard Broncos fan, it was sickening to see Cutler leave town. The strong-armed QB has certainly added spark to the Bears' passing attack. The Bears have gone from having the 21st-ranked passing game last year, to possessing the 10th-ranked aerial show in 2009. Cutler has thrown for 2,353 yards, rushed for 110 yards, and scored 15 total TDs. Mr. Cutler is putting up starter-worthy fantasy numbers. Nevertheless, it hasn't been all Oprah-like hugs and kisses for Cutler in Chicago. Cutler has already thrown 17 interceptions and has been woefully inaccurate in a number of games. Cutler's owners never know when their backend QB1 is going to carry them to victory, or crush them with bone-headed plays. Ride Cutler at fantasy crunch time. He's thrown 30-plus passes in five straight games. Thus, the opportunities will be there for him. In addition, he has a host of explosive young receiving weapons that continue to develop on a weekly basis. Finally, the Bears face five top ten rush defenses over the next six games. It will be Cutler's show over the final weeks. You just have to gamble on his upside and live with some turnovers when you start this dude. Don't worry about any media heat on Cutler, all we care about is his fantasy production.

OUTLOOK: 310 PaYDs, 2 PaTDs, 1 INT, 25 RuTD, 1 RuTD

Philadelphia's pass defense is currently ranked 10th in the league. However, this overall ranking is deceptive given the secondary's current state of affairs. The Birds may be missing CBs Sheldon Brown and Ellis Hobbs this week because of injury. Further, nickel CB Joselio Hanson will also miss the game because of suspension. Cutler will find plenty of holes in the patchwork pass defense. Start him with confidence.

I wish I could republish some of the expletive-laden emails I have received from owners who scooped up Matt Forte with a top-5 pick. Unfortunately, I must resist the urge because this is a family-friendly column. The sophomore RB was the fourth-ranked RB in his rookie season with 2.353 rushing yards, 63 receptions, 477 receiving yards and 12 total TDs. He hasn't come close to living up to expectations this year. Forte only has 482 rushing yards (3.4 YPC) and three TDs. He has saved face in PPR leagues with 38 receptions for 379 receiving yards. Nonetheless, Forte is barely putting up RB2 numbers in many leagues despite being a high first round pick. Looking for reasons for his underwhelming performance? Well, Forte hasn't looked as explosive, and the Bears' offensive line (i.e. Orlando Pace) is much better at pass-blocking than run-blocking. Guess what? It isn't going to get any rosier for Forte. He has matchups against sweet rush defenses (Philadelphia, Minnesota, Green Bay, and Baltimore) over the next six games. Seriously, if you have viable alternative options in non-PPR leagues, can you really justify throwing this dawg out there in Week 15 (@Baltimore) and Week 16 (v. Minnesota) when the bragging rights are on the line? Nope. Forte will continue to put up some receiving numbers. In the end, however, he will finish the season like he started -- as a colossal bust.

OUTLOOK: 55 RuYDs, 1 RuTD, 5 Rec, 55 ReYDs

Forte will once again struggle to find running room against the Eagles' underrated, ninth-ranked rush defense. However, with LBs dropping back to help the decimated secondary in coverage, Forte will rack up catches and receiving yards.

Like any reputable fantasy analyst, I must admit when I was wrong. I trashed Devin Hester coming into the season. I never believed he could be a No. 1 WR for the Bears, or anything more than a weak WR3 for fantasy purposes. Based on his success, Hester has me thinking about turning to fantasy roller derby prognostication. In contrast to my preseason remarks, Hester is more than just James Jett with wiggle. Hester has displayed above-average hands and crisp route-running with Cutler behind center. On 73 targets (26 in the last two games), Hester has compiled solid WR2 numbers with 48 catches, 596 receiving yards and three TDs. It's clear he's only going to get better based on his rapid development to date. At this point, Hester is a must-start in all formats. Do I want to own Earl Bennett or Johnny Knox? This question has sparked more debate than the various health care reform plans. The answer is these dudes have been hurting each other's value throughout the season, and will continue to do so. On 51 targets, Bennett has 35 catches for 454 yards and zero TDs. On 54 targets, Knox has put up 30 receptions for 360 yards and three TDs. In the end, Bennett and Knox are merely the fourth and fifth receiving options on this squad behind Hester, Olsen and Forte. They are reserve WR4s at best.

OUTLOOK: 7 Rec, 95 ReYDs, 0 ReYDs

Hester will most likely see a heavy dose of CB Asante Samuel and will pile up the YAC against the veteran CB. Samuel has been a tad contact-shy since getting his bell rung against the Cowboys a few weeks ago. Thus, don't expect him to put on a tackling clinic, even against the diminutive Hester.

In the preseason, all we heard about was how Cutler and Greg Olsen were so tight they could finish each other's sentences and how this connection would translate to the field. You would have thought they were twin brothers based on all the spoutage. Olsen started slowly with only 10 catches for 94 yards and two TDs over the first four games. Defenses were bracketing Olsen to shut him down. Recently, Olsen has found room to roam because of Hester's development and Forte's performance in the receiving game. In the last two games, Olsen has been targeted 17 times, and has caught 12 passes for 146 yards and three TDs. Cutler is staring down Olsen as his primary target on many passing plays. Olsen will post top five TE numbers the rest of the way with the Bears going to a pass-heavy attack. Book it.

OUTLOOK: 6 Rec, 85 ReYDs, 1 ReTD

Olsen will continue his recent domination against a LB crew that is sub-par in pass coverage. Olsen will find the end zone this week on a seam route from outside the 20-yard line.

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