- The Bears, Browns and 49ers are have potentially emerging offenses, but which one will be the best for fantasy purposes?
The Roundtable Series of the SI.com fantasy football draft kit will ask our writers a pressing question in the fantasy football world. In this installment, 4 For 4’s T.J. Hernandez and SI’s Michael Beller consider the following:
The Bears, Browns and 49ers have been largely off the fantasy radar the last few seasons, but there's justifiable optimism surrounding all of them this year. Which team has you most excited? Additionally, pick a player from one of the other two teams that intrigues you.
T.J. Hernandez: Look for the Bears to be one of the most surprising offenses this season. If there is a quarterback who could make a Jared Goff-like second-year leap in 2018, it’s Mitchell Trubisky. Chicago has made a concerted effort to improve Trubisky’s situation in Chicago, bolstering his receiving corps and replacing head coach John Fox with former Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy.
The most notable addition to the Bears’ offense this season is Allen Robinson, who not only gives Trubisky the bonafide No. 1 receiver that Chicago clearly lacked last season, but also represents an elite, and possibly the league’s best, red-zone weapon. Last season, Trubisky posted one of the lowest red-zone touchdown rates of any quarterback in the league. Robinson, meanwhile, has scored on 40% of his targets inside the 20 since entering the league in 2014, the best red-zone scoring rate of any wide receiver in that span with at least 25 targets. To keep defenses honest, the Bears signed the home-run hitting Taylor Gabriel and tight end Trey Burton, while spending a second round draft pick on wide receiver Anthony Miller out of Memphis, whose athletic profiles most matches that of Victor Cruz.
Matt Nagy will inherit an offense that ran nearly 50% of the time last season despite winning just five games. Coming from a Chiefs offense that threw at the fifth-highest rate in neutral game script, Nagy will bring Chicago’s offense into the 21st century. In his short stint as Kansas City’s play caller last season, Nagy rejuvenated an offense that was sputtering after a hot start to 2017, showing the ability to maximize the strengths of his roster.
My excitement about the Bears doesn’t mean that I’m out on the 49ers, another offense that should drastically improve this season. One of that offense’s most intriguing options is second-year back Matt Breida. Now, this isn’t to say that fantasy owners should be avoiding Jerick McKinnon. Sometimes fantasy footballers have to let go of the either/or mindset and notice when a player has standalone value. Breida is one of those players. He netted 126 touches as a rookie, and that number is set to grow in a San Francisco offense that should not only be more efficient, but see more positive game script over the entirety of the season than it did last year.
Kyle Shanahan is just two years removed from leading Devonta Freeman and Tevin Coleman to simultaneous RB1 and RB2 PPR seasons, a feat that has been accomplished by teammates just seven times since 2011. This backfield should approach 500 total touches, and with little competition behind McKinnon and Breida both could pay off their asking price.
Michael Beller: I’m with T.J. on this one. I think the Bears are going to take a major step forward, one that I’d be confident saying could get them to the playoffs if the NFC, and particularly the NFC North, weren’t so loaded. Still, this offense is going to be a joy to watch this season, and it all starts with the new man in charge.
I’d say it’s impossible to overstate the differences in offensive philosophy between Matt Nagy and John Fox if we didn’t have an obvious parallel in our collective recent memory. It’s the one in Los Angeles T.J. referenced in his answer. Going to Nagy from Fox and offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains could have a similar effect to what the Rams experienced by jettisoning Jeff Fisher and bringing in Sean McVay. Nagy’s approach to offense is fresh, inventive and, you know, of this decade. It’s not hard to think back to what the Chiefs did last season, notably when Nagy took over as the play-caller over the second half, look up and down this Bears roster, and get excited about what’s to come.
T.J. already discussed Mitchell Trubisky and the passing game, so I’ll focus on the backfield. First and foremost, get this notion that Jordan Howard can’t fit in Nagy’s scheme out of your head. Howard has been in the NFL two years. In both of those years, he ran for at least 1,122 yards and six touchdowns, and he did it on terrible teams. Howard has 2,435 yards and 16 scores the last two years. You know how many other backs have hit those thresholds? Three: Le’Veon Bell, Ezekiel Elliott and LeSean McCoy. Howard’s a stud.
Tarik Cohen, meanwhile, should find himself in a role akin to what Tyreek Hill has enjoyed in Kansas City. It’s not an apples-to-apples comparison given that Hill’s a natural receiver while Cohen is a running back, but it’s easy to envision Nagy deploying him in similar fashion. Cohen proved last year he can be one of the most explosive backs in the league, and it’s fun to think about what he could do with 150 touches, a number that appears within reach.
For the second part of the question, I’ll turn to Cleveland where I think Duke Johnson is a great bet this season. There aren’t enough touches for both Carlos Hyde and Nick Chubb to matter in fantasy leagues. Johnson, meanwhile, is secure in his role as the team’s primary pass-catching back. He hauled in 74 passes for 693 yards and three touchdowns last year, and while his target share will likely decrease with Jarvis Landry in town, he can still operate in a lucrative way with 75 to 80 targets.