This is not John Fox’s Bears team.  This team has receivers.  Now some of the receivers are new to us and the Bears, and some have been here a while, but not very productive.  The Bears added depth at all the skill positions in free-agency and the draft.  Lets try to measure what kind of season’s the new and returning players will have in fantasy football this year.

Quarterback Mitchell Trubisky is back for his second year, and will be under the tutelage of Matt Nagy, who was hired to replace Fox, and guide Trubisky into what will hopefully be NFL stardom.  At least that’s what the Bear’s hierarchy is hoping for.  There has not been a pro-bowl quarterback on the Bears since Jim McMahon during the Super Bowl year of 1985.

Outside of the running back position, fantasy football has been a graveyard for Bears fans.  Robbie Gould excluded, because no one who seriously plays fantasy football should be excited to own a kicker.  The Bears have a history of having great running backs and Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen are on that path, going into their 3rd and 2nd years respectively.  The Bears defense has always been a must own commodity in my local league, but last year wasn’t selected until very late and right before I would’ve picked them.  The year before they were dropped mid-season, blasphemy!

Sometimes in order to try and determine where one is going you have to look into their past.  Statistical analysis, combined with historical knowledge and understanding will cast a light on outlier performances.  And since football is a team game, you must consider the situations and teammates surrounding each player, in order to find the statistical mean average.  Lets look at the new kids on the block.

at Receiver:

Allen Robinson:  I usually disregard rookie campaign’s even though Robinson’s was good.  He appeared in 10 games and started 8.  There were two number’s that mattered going forward from his rookie year, the yards per catch of 11.4.  And the number that signified what was to come in his breakout 2nd year, was the fact that he had 48 catches in only 8 starts, half a season.  Factor in the 2 games not started and the average catches per game was 4.8.  Multiply by 16 starts the next year…

In 2015, you get 2nd season total’s of 80 catches for 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns.  What you are not seeing is that Allen Hurns, the #2 receiver also had a big year, and drew a lot of coverage away from Robinson.  80 catches divided by 16 games was 5 per game.

The 2016 3rd season was marred by injury for Hurns and severely affected the nicked up Robinson.  The totals for both were a fraction of the 2015 season.  Robinson did tough it out and start all 16 games and had 73 catches.  But nagging injuries most of the season and no Hurns to draw coverage away, left Robinson with only 883 yards receiving, a 37% drop.  The number that stood out for me is the average per catch of 12.1, down from 17.5 the year before.   2015 was clearly an outlier of a year for Robinson, 12.1 yards per catch echoed his first year average.

So let’s do the math;  40 career starts, divided by 201 catches = 5 catches per start.  Multiplied, conservativley, by 12 yards per catch=60 yards per game, times 16 games=960 yards for the season.

Robinson’s projected season:  60-80 catches and 800-1000 yards.   Keep it on the low end, because he is coming off of a serious knee injury.

Taylor Gabriel:  The smallish, 5 foot 8 inches, humming bird fast Gabriel is 27, and has never had more than the 621 yards receiving he had in his rookie year in 2014 with Cleveland.  He has been consistent with both Cleveland and Atlanta, or they have been consistent in the way they used him.  His catch totals for each of his 4 seasons are 36, 28, 35 and 33 last year.  He signed with the Bears because, with one of the worst corps in the league, he sees an opportunity to build on his numbers and a shot at stardom.

Even though he has hooked up with Trubisky on some deep passes in training camp so far, Gabriel is more of a gimmicky 3rd down receiver.  I’m sure the Bears look at him and see the possibilities, with the self-proclaimed fastest player on the team.  But his lack of height makes him an unlikely regular target on all three downs.  Robinson, Kevin White and tight end Trey Burton represent bigger targets of at least 6 inches and more when you factor in their wingspan.  Gabriel would have to have enormous separation from coverage to overcome the difference in target size with his teammates.  My belief is that the Bears use Gabriel similarly to Cleveland and Atlanta, no more and no less.  The optimistic side of the math says 45 catches at 15 yards per catch is 675 yards.  Is that worth drafting?

Gabriel’s projected season:  35-45 catches for 475 yards and 3 TD’s.

Anthony Miller:  The Bears dealt 2 picks to New England to move back into the 2nd round, where they previously had no picks, to select Miller.  The Bears traded an extra 4th round pick in this past draft, and a second rounder in next years draft to select Miller, who had 2 spectacular seasons to finish his college career at Memphis.

2016:  95 receptions, 1434 yards and 14 Td’s

2017:  96 receptions, 1462 yards and 18 Td’s

Now since Miller is a rookie and will backup Kevin White to start the season.  I will use Robinson’s rookie year as our comparison since it’s fresh in our minds.  Robinson didn’t start until halfway through his rookie year.  The Bears will face some sort of attrition at the position, or may sell high on White, if he gets off to a good and healthy start.  Either scenario may lead to Miller starting sooner.  At the very least, I would expect him to get plenty of reps as the slot receiver to start the season.  Reports out of camp by many beat reporters say that Miller and Mitchell Trubisky are developing chemistry, with Trubisky often seeking Miller out first.  Robinson’s rookie average per game catch rate was 4.8.  Conservatively if you figure Miller gets 3 per game for the first half and 4 in the second half, that’s 56.  Multiplied by Robinson’s career average of 12 yards per catch, 672 yards.

Miller’s projected season:  50-55 catches for 700 yards and 4-6 Td’s.

at Tight End:

Trey Burton:  The new undersized, receiving tight end is expected to be a Travis Kelce type threat down the field, and definitely a big time target in the red-zone for touchdowns.  He has been 2nd and 3rd string in his career so far with Philadelphia.  He may not even start for the Bears, with incumbent blocking tight end Dion Sims still in place.  But Burton will appear in all tight end packages and will have an entire part of the playbook devoted to his speed and pass catching skills.  Since it’s a similar playbook to the one Nagy used in Kansas City with Kelce, we will use Kelce as our comparable to gauge the expected output from Burton this year.  The last two season’s Kelce has led the league in receiving for tight ends, so we’ll conservatively use Kelce’s first two seasons to more accurately get a gauge.  In Kelce’s first 2 seasons he had 67 and 72 receptions for 862 and 875 yards respectively.  Let’s go low and suggest,

Burton’s projected season: 55-60 catches for 700 yards and 6-8 Td’s

While those new players will probably have the biggest impact in Trubisky’s 2nd year at the controls.  Let’s not forget the incumbent players still trying to make their mark in the league, like receiver Kevin White and tight end Adam Shaheen.

Returning players:

Kevin White: The former 7th pick overall enters his fourth year with the physical talent to be a great player, but hasn’t proven he can take the pounding of a full season, or even a half season, yet.  He missed his entire rookie season with shin splints in his left leg, played 4 games the next season before fracturing the fibula in the same leg, and broke his shoulder blade taking a hit in last year’s season opener to Atlanta.  Five games played in three years left the Bears with no choice but to decline his fifth year option before the start of this season’s training festivities.  Nagy has stated that White, who has been impressive in training camp, has a clean slate, and is listed as a starter ahead of Anthony Miller on the depth chart.  I would have to believe that the Bears will look to sell high on White, if he gets though the pre-season games healthy and with solid production.  The best the Bears could probably hope for is a conditional 4th round pick.  I would let someone else draft White and keep an eye out for a bye week fill in.

White’s career so far; 5 games, 21 receptions on 40 targets for 193 yards and no td’s.

Adam Shaheen:  Coming out of tiny Ashland College, the Bears obviously fell in love with his college tape against much smaller and vastly inferior opponents.   The Gronkowski type highlight reel is what made the Bears spend 2nd round draft capital on the 6 foot 7 inch tight end.  Problem is, tape against smaller and slower players gave the perception that Shaheen was stronger and more athletic than he is. Not to say that he can’t become what they saw on the tape, but Shaheen is more of a project than the Bear brass thought.  That why they brought in Burton, and retained Sims, to give Shaheen more opportunities to get the seasoning he needs.

Having been to camp I can tell you that Shaheen is no Gronkowski athletically.  Gronk is a freak, and while Shaheen has soft hands, he has slow hips.  He doesn’t turn and catch the ball with the smoothness of Kelce or Gronk.  He is focused on the catch, but turns and falls like Greg Olsen used to.  If the Bears want to unleash Shaheen’s ability they need to get him on the run and have passes hit him in stride.  Full speed with the ball in his hands, he would be an absolute nightmare to tackle.  His comparable is 6 foot 8 Levine Toilolo, who in his 5th season with Atlanta had nearly identical statistics next to Shaheen.  Toilolo has had 2 season’s with around 250 yards and has 7 career Td’s.

Shaheen last year: 12 catches, 127 yards and 3 Td’s, this year projected: 30, 270, 4 Td’s

Running Backs:

The Bears bread and butter on offense is Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen.  While Howard has been breaking records for the Bears during his first and second season’s, Cohen emerged last year as a rookie in training camp as a talent that can’t be kept off the field.  He will become a bigger part of the offense, but it won’t necessarily impact Howard’s numbers that much.  The player who will suffer from a lack of touches I believe, will be Taylor Gabriel as 3rd down receiver.

The Bears offense will be much improved with Mitchell Trubisky having a year under his belt, which will result in the defense being on the field less.  Cohen will be a big reason why the Bears will convert more 3rd downs than a year ago when they were ranked 26th in percentage converted.  Only 3 teams converted less third downs than the Bears (Cincinnati, Washington and Miami).

The Bears will find that having their two best players on the field together with their athletic quarterback only makes them better.  Cohen had 53 receptions as a rookie but had only 1 touchdown receiving.  That is a statistical anomaly that won’t repeat.  By midway through the season The Firm of Trubisky, Cohen and Howard should have defense’s guessing as to who will carry or receive the ball.  Couple them with Burton, Robinson and Miller, the Bears should be very competitive when the new offense starts to gel towards the end of the year.

Projections:

Howard:

last year: 276 att., 1122 yards rushing, 9 Td’s, 23 catches, 125 rec. yards, 0 Td’s

This year:  270, 1242 yds rushing (4.6 avg.), 10 Td’s, 33 catches, 270 rec. yards, 2 Td’s

Cohen:

last year:  87 att., 370 yards rushing, 2 Td’s, 53 catches, 353 rec. yards, 1 Td

This year:  150 att., 700 yards rushing, 4 Td’s, 65 catches, 550 rec. yards, 4 Td’s

Adding it all up:   Rush att.   Yards    Td’s    catches    rec. yards      Td’s

Robinson                                                                           60              800               3

Gabriel                          5                  70           1             38              450               3

Miller                             5                  89                            51              672               4

Burton                                                                                 56              689               6

White will be traded

Shaheen                                                                               29              270               4

Howard                     270            1242          9             31              270               2

Cohen                         150               700         4              65              450               3

Trubisky                      55                365         3            330            3601             25

These projections compare favorably to the Cincinnati Bengals.  Slightly behind Detroit’s passing game and right behind New Orleans overall offense’s from a year ago.

 

 

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