BY DAVID KOMER
Jay Cutler: AP
Jay Cutler might be the biggest steal of your fantasy football draft this year, and odds are, he will be. The problem is that a lack of trust has surrounded the Bears QB following his brutal 2009 Chicago debut. Last season he was initially rated a low-end top 10 QB, and depending on what ranking list you looked at, some even liked him as high as fifth or sixth best on their quarterback list. He generally was drafted in rounds four to sixth in most drafts, then proceeded to disappoint all year long.
This season on mock sites like www.fantasyfootballcalculator.com, Cutler has been going as a low-end QB1, or high end QB2 usually in rounds 7 or 8 in 12-team leagues and slightly lower in 10-teamers as a backup only.
At first blush, his 3,666 yards and 27 touchdowns, with a league-high 26 interceptions (ahem), doesn't look too bad, (picks aside) -- but his stats were as counterfeit as they get. The last two weeks of the season he bailed out his season line with a pair of gonzo outings, going for nearly 600 yards with an 8-1 TD to interception ratio against the Vikings and Lions. Odds are, if you invested a high pick on Cutler or used a dynasty league protection on him, there's no way your team was still alive in Week 16, many teams' Super Bowl Week. And Week 17 for among 90 percent of the leagues out there, isn't used anyway, making the Bears' gunslinger's late season uptick almost worthless.
But here's the bright side: Mike Martz. This season the NFL's resident offensive mad scientist is fixing to mold the Bears into his latest high-flying act. I'm not saying it's going to be a long-term relationship or even one that might last a whole season, but Martz gets results. The only problem is, to roughly quote Kurt Russell's iconic character Jack Burton in Big Trouble in Little China, "Sooner or later he rubs everybody the wrong way." Martz's sometimes abrasive demeanor and ego can make for a combustible mix, let alone the fact the entire Bears' coaching staff is on thin ice, possibly making for a powder keg.
But Cutler is easily the most talented QB he's ever worked with, having done the whole water-into-wine bit with the likes of Trent Green, Kurt Warner, Marc Bulger and even Jon Kitna (yes, that Jon Kitna) in the past.
In Peter King's Monday Morning Quarterback, Martz positively gushes about Cutler, raving about his defensive recognition skills and saying, "He sees things like Kurt used to see them."
Take Cutler if you can this season, and anywhere after the seventh round should be considered steal territory. He's a lock for 4000 yards, and as long as interceptions don't A) make you queasy, or B) penalize you in your league scoring, draft him as a late QB1 or high back-up QB2 and don't be surprised when he plays like a QB1. In either case, make sure an insurance plan is in place as signal callers do take plenty of hits in Martz's chuck-it offense.
It's a matter of trust on draft day, but I think Cutler -- who should be a bargain -- will be worth it.
Forget that the Bears receiving corps of Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, Earl Bennett and Devin Aromashodu had no more than 50-odd catches and more than 700-some yards at best last year. Martz has made fantasy stars out of Az Zahir Hakim and even much less, -- Mike Furrey -- in the past. Out of the Bears' current group, Knox and Bennett are sure to be fine late picks, but move heaven and earth (Jay Clemons ?)to grab Hester in the later rounds while tight end Greg Olsen (avoid!) will be most likely underused as all tight ends in Martz offenses are. Currently Hester is going in the 10th round in 12-team mocks and in the 12 to 14 range in 10-teamers. The explosive speedster will be Martz's pet project, the top receiving target on the Bears and eventually a nice 1,000-yard, WR3 in your lineup or at worst a WR4 bye-week fill-in. Last season he posted highs in catches (57) and yards (757) while posting career bests with 12 catches of 20 yards or more. Among his mock draft contemporaries going in Round 10 and a little later, Hester is the lone option among the likes of Kenny Britt, Kevin Walter, Lee Evans, Anthony Gonzalez, Bernard Berrian, Jerricho Cotchery and Donnie Avery that can boast the combination of possibly being the No. 1 receiving option on his team with one of the best young QBs in the game.
No matter how much Cutler may have let down owners after draft day, Matt Forte was one of fantasy football's biggest busts last season. A top-five pick in August, he ended up hitting a sophomore slump with 929 rushing yards and four rushing touchdowns. Will he bounce back? Most definitely, but I understand the trepidation and like him a bit more in PPR leagues. With 120 catches in two seasons and with Martz's penchant for throwing to backs constantly, he should pay off big.
Martz has a reputation for underusing his running game, but in a recent ESPN.com story it's been pointed out that Marshall Faulk's best two years came under Martz, who wants to get the Bears going on the ground. I like Forte as a second starter if your RB3 is strong, but beggers can't be choosers, especially as the tailbacks get snapped up early. Between Chicago's offensive line and probable aerial show, Forte's value further takes a dip. But don't rule him out in the late third or fourth round range -- especially considering the many dreaded running back by committee situations out there to be sifted through. Forte is a young featured back on an offense with potential, two key things to remember as long as last year's owners can forgive and forget.
It happens to us all, either by a random swipe from lady luck or by getting penalized for our previous season's success. Recently I've been gearing up in preparation for this slot with some mock drafting due to both aforementioned reasons. If you're set on taking a quarterback with one of your first two picks, think again (unless you're in a heavy passing league of course). Taking a passer is only going to hamstring you later at whatever off position you neglect. Even if you're the second or third-to-last pick in the draft, it would be easier to work around. What I did was focus on grabbing a top RB and WR back to back, especially with how badly the wideout pool thins at the end of the third putting a marquee name at each position while waiting for a signal caller. Here's what I ended up with in a 12-team 15-round snake draft. ...
Round 1: RB Rashard Mendenhall, Steelers
Round 2: WR Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals
Round 3: RB Knowshon Moreno, Broncos
Round 4: WR Steve Smith, Panthers
Round 5: TE Jason Witten, Cowboys
Round 6: QB Kevin Kolb, Eagles
Round 7: RB Reggie Bush, Saints
Round 8: WR Braylon Edwards, Jets
Round 9: QB Eli Manning, Giants
Round 10: RB Clinton Portis, Redskins
Round 11: WR Mario Manningham, Giants
Round 12: DEF/ST Chargers
Round 13: WR Nate Burleson, Lions
Round 14: PK Garrett Hartley, Saints
Round 15: RB Willie Parker, Redskins
The first round: 1) RB Chris Johnson, Titans, 2) RB Adrian Peterson, Vikings, 3) RB Maurice Jones-Drew, Jaguars, 4) RB Michael Turner, Falcons, 5) WR Andre Johnson, Texans, 6) RB Ray Rice, Ravens, 7) RB Frank Gore, 49ers, 8) RB Steven Jackson, Rams, 9) WR Randy Moss, Patriots, 10) QB Aaron Rodgers, Packers and 11) WR Reggie Wayne, Colts.
What I liked most: I ended up with was a pretty balanced team, most importantly one that doesn't have to worry about running back by committee situations with its first two RBs.
Favorite picks: Moreno, Witten -- both came at the perfect times, value-wise, at the end of the third and fifth rounds respectively.
Ah, regrets: At the start of the fourth round I picked between QBs Tony Romo and Matt Schaub or WR Steve Smith. I had to do it all over again, I might grab either one and stockpile some receivers in the next few rounds. I do love Kolb and the Eagles' new-look offense and more importantly where I took him (start of round 6).
Heartbreak Hotel: QB Tom Brady went one pick before Moreno at the end of the third. Had he been available, I would have passed on Smith and gone QB-RB.
The greatest advantage of mocks is numbing oneself to the element of surprise. It's the best time to make mistakes, so experimenting to see what works is the key.
No magazine ever gets it all right. It doesn't take much to put a team over the top in fantasy football. Hitting on one or two long shots can make all the difference, just as avoiding landmines can as well. Having a good variety of resources to fall back on when your spreadsheets crinkle and paralysis by analysis sets in on the clock, is as they say, priceless.