Face it, even your grandmother is playing fantasy football these days. Now that Jay Cutler has been brought in at quarterback for the Chicago Bears, suddenly names like Devin Hester and Greg Olsen are moving up every draft board. What can team owners expect from Cutler and Co. this year?
This past season in Denver, the former Vanderbilt Commodore really came into his own and proved to be an elite option at quarterback with 4,526 yards through the air and 25 touchdown passes. In most fantasy leagues using standard scoring methods for yards and TDs, Cutler finished fifth in points scored among QBs – just behind the resurgent Kurt Warner
and just ahead of annual first-round choice Peyton Manning
. But while Brandon Marshall
and Eddie Royal
were far from household names before putting on a Broncos uniform, Cutler won't have nearly the same receiving corps at his disposal in Chicago and will be forced to hand the ball off much more often.
Cutler is definitely worthy of being an every-week starter and should remain a top-10 signal caller on every draft board, but expecting him to put up AFC West-type numbers in the NFC North is probably unrealistic.
PROJECTION: 3,811 yards passing, 24 touchdowns, 15 interceptions.
RB Matt Forte
Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images
The second-round draft pick took over for the departed Cedric Benson
and immediately gave the Windy City running game a much-needed shot in the arm, rushing for 1,231 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground. Forte was also incredibly productive in the passing game, leading all backs in the NFL with 63 receptions for another 477 yards and four more TDs. He was the No. 4 running back in fantasy this past season, one spot behind the incomparable Adrian Peterson
and one spot ahead of former Bear Thomas Jones
, and he could go as high as second overall in your upcoming draft behind – most likely – the aforementioned Peterson.
Forte was worn down to some degree the last month of 2008, mostly because of a sore big toe but also due to all the eight-man fronts he was facing, but having Cutler at the controls means enemy defenses can't repeatedly stack the box anymore.
PROJECTION: 1,366 yards rushing, 546 yards receiving, 13 total touchdowns.
The greatest return man in the history of the league improved greatly as a receiver and closed out the schedule especially strong, although it's hard to refer to anyone as a primary target when he only records 52 catches for 665 yards and three touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Ron Turner did everything he could to turn his most dangerous weapon loose in the open field, including a ton of quick screens and even some snaps from the Wildcat formation, but the fact that a player with his rare ability only averaged 12.8 yards per reception proves that he didn't deliver enough big plays. Kyle Orton
has to take some of the blame for that because of his inaccuracy on the deep ball, as Hester was just the 46th-ranked fantasy wideout – tied with Nate Washington
, who didn't even start for Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh.
Because Cutler is a higher-completion percentage passer than Orton will ever be in addition to his increased arm strength, Hester should come up with several more 20- and 30-yard strikes and can then work his magic after the catch.
PROJECTION: 61 receptions, 921 yards, 6 touchdowns.
TE Greg Olsen
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
Even though he's still technically second on the depth chart behind veteran Desmond Clark
, Olsen played his tight end/receiver hybrid role very well in 2008 with 54 catches for 574 yards and five touchdowns. He ended his second season in the pros as the No. 11 fantasy tight end in the game, one point behind up-and-comer Zach Miller
and three points ahead of former Cutler target Tony Scheffler
. While Olsen will probably never develop into a tight end in the classic sense of that position because he's not much of a blocker on the end of the line of scrimmage, he runs like a wideout and presents all kinds of matchup problems for linebackers and safeties alike with his 6-6, 254-pound frame.
Not only have Cutler and Olsen spent a fair amount of time together carousing around some of the Chicago nightspots lately, but the Pro Bowl passer was looking his new tight end's direction quite often during OTAs at Halas Hall back on May 20.
PROJECTION: 66 receptions, 688 yards, 7 touchdowns.
Even though he didn't catch a single pass as a rookie because he had a difficult time learning the playbook and adjusting to the speed of the game on Sunday, Bennett is in line to be the starter opposite Hester. His prior relationship with Cutler when the two of them where at Vanderbilt together for one year should add to the comfort level of both players, as Bennett became Cutler's favorite target straight out of high school and has the tools to be effective on short and intermediate routes. Rookies Juaquin Iglesias
and Johnny Knox
have looked good so far and will challenge for playing time, but this is Bennett's job to lose and Cutler appears to be in his corner all the way.
If Hester can keep the safeties honest on one side of the field and Olsen does some damage between the hash marks, Bennett is going to have plenty of room to operate as a possession receiver.
PROJECTION: 43 receptions, 572 yards, 4 touchdowns.
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John Crist is the Publisher of Bear Report and a member of the Professional Football Writers of America. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.