Let’s start with the acknowledgement that Jordan Howard is good. Really good. A fifth-round pick from the University of Indiana and the 10th running back selected in last year’s draft, Howard was a divisive love/hate prospect among the draftnik and fantasy communities upon entering the league. Presented an opportunity when starter Jeremy Langford sustained a high-ankle sprain, Howard seized it, stepping into the lineup in Week 4 and rushing for 100 or more yards in seven of his 13 starts. He finished with 1,313 rushing yards and seven touchdowns despite getting just three carries in the first two games of the season.
Approach with caution
After his tour-de-force rookie campaign, Howard has a Fantasy Football Calculator ADP of RB8 and is coming off the board 14th overall on average. But I’m concerned that Howard is a candidate for the same sort of sophomore slump that Todd Gurley endured last year. Running backs are heavily dependent on the ecosystems in which they dwell, and Howard’s ecosystem is similar to the one that imprisoned Gurley last year.
Bad QB situation? Check. The Rams had a mediocre journeyman (Case Keenum) keeping the seat warm for a callow rookie (Jared Goff), and the Bears’ situation fits the same description.
Bad team? Check. The Rams were 4-12 last year. The Vegas over/under on the Bears’ win total this year is 5.5. As you know, losing creates unfavorable game scripts for running backs, tamping down their usage since their teams are forced to be pass-heavy when playing from behind.
Bad offensive line? Well, maybe not. The Rams ranked 29th last season in Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards metric, which gauges run-blocking proficiency. The Bears ranked eighth. Pro Football Focus rated the Bears’ offensive line as the NFL’s fifth best entering the 2017 season, though I think that’s a stretch. The tackle tandem of Charles Leno and Bobbie Massie is below average, and while the interior of the line is much better, guard Kyle Long’s slow recovery from offseason ankle surgery is worrisome.
Maybe this is all just paranoia, but running backs on poor teams generally aren’t solid foundations on which to build a fantasy winner. I’m fine with Howard’s ADP—he’s properly slotted within the hierarchy of his peers—but given the opportunity to draft him early in the second round, I’ll politely decline and take a top-10 receiver instead.
It’s funny to recall that the aforementioned Jeremy Langford had a mid-fourth-round ADP of RB20 last year. Well, it probably doesn’t seem that funny if you were a Langford buyer. He no longer registers an ADP, and while Langford is technically No. 2 on the Bears’ depth chart, his roster spot isn’t assured. Benny Cunningham is a good bet to make the team as a passing-down back but offers little upside even in PPR leagues. Fourth-year RB Ka’Deem Carey is clinging to a roster spot by a thread. The one backup who’s virtually guaranteed a roster spot is fourth-round rookie Tarik Cohen, also known as “The Human Joystick.” The 5-6, 179-pound Cohen has 4.42 speed and an array of ankle-breaking moves, but he played against lesser competition at North Carolina A&T, and he’s tiny. It’s possible Cohen could be the second coming of Darren Sproles, but it’s worth noting that Sproles was mostly a return man early in his career and didn’t make a significant offensive contribution until his fourth NFL season. And unlike Cohen, Sproles played in a major-college program at Kansas State.
In the Dr. Seuss classic “Horton Hatches the Egg,” a kindly elephant is persuaded to sit on an egg while the mother-to-be, Mayzie Bird, takes a short “break” – which turns out to be an extended vacation in Palm Beach. Horton was providing essentially the same service that Mike Glennon will be providing in Chicago, minding the nest until rookie Mitch Trubisky is ready to burst through his shell. The difference is that Horton was a pachyderm patsy, snookered into pro bono egg-tending by a ne’er-do-well bird, while Glennon will make a cool $16 million this year. This suggests that Mayzie Bird was far craftier than Bears GM Ryan Pace, who either (a) at the time of the Glennon signing had not yet crafted his plan to trade major draft capital to move up one spot and take a quarterback, or (b) had no grasp whatsoever on the going rate for egg-sitters. Pace surely could have signed some other veteran stopgap for the NFL equivalent of beer money. Or he could have just signed Horton himself, who probably throws a tighter spiral than Glennon. Regardless, fantasy owners would do well to avoid this nest altogether.
As unsavory as the Bears’ quarterback situation may be, I’ve been eagerly buying Cameron Meredith in early drafts. Meredith played quarterback until his junior year at Illinois State before making the switch to wide receiver. He latched on with the Bears as an undrafted free agent in 2015 and had 11 receptions as a rookie, then caught fire last year when injuries created an opportunity. Making the first starts of his career, Meredith had 20 catches for 243 yards and a touchdown over a two-game span in October. In the Bears’ final five games, he had 31 receptions for 439 yards and two touchdowns. I’m confident that Meredith will be Chicago’s No. 1 receiver this year, and though his ADP has crept up to WR43, he’s still a bargain at that price.
Kevin White reminds me of the “Game of Thrones” character Beric Dondarrion, a lord who’s repeatedly resurrected after his battle deaths, each time coming back further scarred and a little less whole. Drafted seventh overall in 2015, White was sidelined in his first training camp by a mysterious leg injury that turned out to be a stress fracture in his tibia, necessitating the insertion of a steel rod and ending his rookie year before it started. Last year, White played four games before sustaining a spiral fracture of his fibula along with ankle ligament damage. He was reportedly back to full speed at a June minicamp, but it’s fair to wonder if White will be Chicago’s version of Lord Beric, not fully himself after twice succumbing to major wounds.
White was a low-impact possession receiver in the four games he played last year, catching 19 passes for 187 yards—an average of 9.8 yards per catch. That’s probably not what Pace had in mind when he drafted a sculpted 6'3" receiver with 4.35 speed. But White’s credentials as a top-10 pick were somewhat dubious to begin with. He had one good season at West Virginia after transferring from tiny Lackawanna College, and that season came as a 22-year-old senior facing mostly younger defenders. White’s draft pedigree has nevertheless kept interest flickering within the fantasy community. He has an ADP of WR60, and while that’s an affordable price, I don’t have much interest in an unproven receiver who’s had major leg injuries in each of the last two years and is playing in what figures to be a bottom-five passing attack.
This seems like some sort of reality-show setup: Kendall Wright, Victor Cruz, Markus Wheaton and Rueben Randle get a shot at redemption in Chicago. I’m not quite sure how to handicap this peculiar competition, but if I were going to put down a bet on any of these guys becoming fantasy-relevant, I’d back Wright, a slot receiver who could be mildly useful in deep PPR leagues. At the very least, this quartet should make Bears preseason games interesting.
Chicago’s TE situation is a Gordian knot that isn’t worth untangling. Zach Miller might tempt drafters in deep leagues after producing career highs in catches (47) and receiving yards (486) last year, but the signing of Dion Sims and the drafting of Adam Shaheen could drive Miller into irrelevance. Shaheen is 6'6", 277 pounds, with enormous reach and surprising 4.79 speed, but after playing against weak college competition at Ashland University, he won’t be ready to contribute as a rookie. Sims comes to Chicago after four years in Miami, where he never caught more than 26 passes in a season. The Bears gave Sims a three-year, $18 million deal that included $10 million in guaranteed money, but considering that Pace spent money like Floyd Mayweather during the offseason, I’m not ready to interpret Sims’ newfound riches as a sign of impending fantasy impact.