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Chicago has restocked their pass-catching corps in free agency, adding Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, and Taylor Gabriel. The flurry of additions combined with the hiring of 39-year-old, offensive-minded head coach Matt Nagy, and presence of second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky on the roster, is reminiscent of the 2017 Rams. LA parlayed a similar team-building approach last offseason into a 15 point per game improvement from 2016. Do you put any stock in the Bears=Rams narrative?
Jason Wood: It’s not just about the Rams. The Eagles built an explosive offense around a second-year quarterback with bright, innovative coaches, too. It’s happened many times. The Rams last year are a stunning reminder of how NFL coaches are far more important to the outcome of games than coaches in other professional sports. They matter. A lot.
My philosophy behind head coaches is more teams need to shoot for the stars. An examination of head coaching hires shows that no matter what type of coach a team chooses, the odds are against them. It’s difficult to find great head coaches. So instead of hiring a “safe” hire like John Fox or Jeff Fisher, hire a less proven coach that has a chance at greatness. It probably won’t work out, but at least you’re giving your team a chance at finding the rare gem. It’s what we saw last year when the Rams hired Sean McVay.
In order for the Bears to be a repeat of last year’s Rams, it’s more about Nagy and his staff being elite than Mitchell Trubisky. At the risk of avoiding a ‘hot take’, I’ll say the jury is out on Trubisky. What we saw last year wasn’t encouraging, but it’s way too early to give up on the young signal-caller. I love what the Bears have done, from the Nagy hire to the addition to three legitimate offensive upgrades. There are no excuses, Trubisky will rise or fall in 2018.
Will Grant: Chicago attempted to convince the public they were trying to build a competitive team last season, but that simply wasn’t the case. They moved up in the draft to take Trubisky after spending a lot of money to put Mike Glennon under center, then did nothing to provide their new quarterbacks with quality pass-catching talent.
Trubisky struggled down the stretch, but it was pretty obvious the deck was stacked against him from the start. He was knocked for having minimal college experience and then was thrown to the wolves in a conservative offense with zero weapons. Add in the fans turning on the coaching staff by midseason and just about any rookie quarterback would have struggled. But seven passing touchdowns over 13 games? 6.6 yards per attempt? Those are truly terrible numbers.
Now that he has a new coach and new weapons, Trubisky must take a major step forward this year. If he fails, it would be a clear indication he wasn’t worth trading up for.
Stephen Holloway: The Bears offense will be improved in 2018, if only because they can’t get much worse. They finished 2017 ranked 30th in yards per game and only about 7.0 yards per game better than the worst team.
I’m in agreement with Jason and Will -- the Bears success will depend largely upon Trubisky. But after starting only one season at North Carolina and playing in 13 games as a rookie, the bar is probably being set too high by those looking for a great offensive turn-around. The offensive line could hinder the Bears offense as well. Chicago lost arguably their best offensive lineman, Josh Sitton, in free agency and it’s not like they were highly regarded before his departure.
Daniel Simpkins: I put stock in this narrative to some degree. While I doubt the Bears will be on the level of last year’s Rams, they should be much improved. Chicago doesn’t have a generational running back through which to run the offense, but they do have a lot of other pieces that can be put to use by Nagy’s more flexible and inventive offense mind.
His stats may not reflect it, but film study shows Mitchell Trubisky played well in a situation in which most quarterbacks, rookie or not, would have crumbled. Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen’s strengths and weaknesses both compliment each other, making for a perfect committee situation. And it’s undeniable the receiving group has gotten a huge boost with the additions of Allen Robinson, Trey Burton, and Taylor Gabriel.
Alessandro Miglio: Can I say "meh" to this as my answer? I'm not a big Trubisky fan, and I see Robinson as the only offensive addition worth noting here. The Eagles and Rams were fantastic offensively last year, but those kinds of turnarounds are exceptions, not rules.
Andy Hicks: Anyone expecting Rams-like production from the Bears in 2018 is likely to be disappointed. More often than not, an offense needs time to gel, especially with so many new pieces in place. While Trubisky should make significant improvements in 2018, it may take awhile for him to hit his peak. He looked lost and not ready for most of 2017, though I suppose Jared Goff did too as a rookie. But playing in Chicago is a lot different than playing in Los Angeles. How to consider this offense for fantasy football in 2018 is still up in the air for me at this point.
BJ Vanderwoude: I'm not sold on the Bears mirroring the Rams success in 2018, but if we are looking for a template the Bears should follow, it would be Kansas City's offense.
Matt Nagy is from the Andy Reid coaching tree, so we can expect the Bears to install run-pass option plays with Trubisky operating out of the shotgun frequently. This should accelerate Trubisky's learning curve, as he rarely lined up under center in his lone college season.
Reid took advantage of Alex Smith's ability to read defenses quickly by lining him up in the shotgun and spreading out the offense. Smith was not asked to make difficult throws, and I expect Nagy to design an offense that allows Trubisky to be efficient in the short and intermediate passing game.
Nagy's offense fits Jordan Howard's skill set very well, as he has been at his best when running out of the gun. Tarik Cohen will certainly have a defined role, but Howard has the potential to play the Kareem Hunt role and be a top-five running back in fantasy leagues this year.
Phil Alexander: Excellent point about Nagy using Trubisky out of the shotgun, BJ. It actually has me considering Trubisky as a fantasy sleeper for the first time.
As BJ alluded to, Kansas City ran the most plays from the shotgun last season. Interestingly, Philadelphia -- under the direction of another former Reid disciple (Doug Pederson) -- ran the second-most, which worked wonders for Carson Wentz’s development. Trubisky lacks Wentz's chops as a downfield passer, but like Wentz, he's a high-end quarterback prospect who can read the whole field and throw with accuracy from the pocket or on the move. And for fantasy purposes, Trubisky tacked on over 20 rushing yards per game as a rookie.
To borrow a phrase from friend of Footballguys, Rumford Johnny, maybe taking a flyer on Trubisky this season is like "taking the syrup over the pancakes". If Robinson ends up valued as a low-end WR1 and Burton is also on the fantasy radar, they’ll require Trubisky to be viable for at least a handful of games. It's entirely possible (maybe even probable) he's the player who benefits most from Chicago's surplus of free agent spending while also receiving the least attention.
Whether or not Trubisky can make the leap will likely boil down to his progress from a pocket awareness standpoint. He was awful when pressured last season by just about every relevant metric. As Stephen said, losing Josh Sitton does not help.
Dan Hindery: I expect Trubisky to make a big leap in terms of efficiency in his second season but am not sold on the Bears airing it out enough for the passing game pieces to emerge as fantasy stars. The young Chicago defense finished eighth in the league in points allowed and may add another big piece with the eighth overall pick in the upcoming draft. This isn't a team that should be in a lot of shootouts and Jordan Howard should remain a workhorse runner.
Can Robinson reemerge as a fantasy WR1 with Chicago?
Jason Wood: Allen Robinson is talented enough that I will happily bet on his success. He had a dominant year with Blake Bortles, so I see no reason he can’t thrive with Trubisky.
Will Grant: All indications are Robinson will be 100% for summer mini-camps and all of the preseason. He’ll easily become the WR1 for the Bears and has little chance of losing that role. The team wants him to succeed and everyone, including the fans, will be behind him 100%. At worst, he profiles as a solid WR2 for fantasy this year.
By the way, I’m not excited about the Taylor Gabriel signing. The Bears have a pile of average wide receivers in Cameron Meredith, Dontrelle Inman, Kendall Wright, and even Kevin White (if he can ever get healthy). I don't see Gabriel as an upgrade from any of these guys and given the lack of passing volume Dan alluded to, Gabriel won’t have fantasy value unless something drastically changes.
Jason Wood: Gabriel is a complementary player, and of little fantasy consequence, but I disagree with the notion he’s not any better than who Chicago used in his role last year.
Daniel Simpkins: Gabriel is the speedster that can open up the field by running vertical and stretching the defense. I’m with Jason -- good real football pick-up for the Bears.
Getting back to Robinson, he’s had a full season to mend from a torn ACL and this video demonstrates his physical recovery is at least very close to complete:
Allen Robinson II (@AllenRobinson) March 12, 2018
It’s been two seasons since his 2015 breakout, but I expect between volume, improved scheme, and better surrounding offensive talent, we’ll see him back among the best fantasy receivers this year.
Alessandro Miglio: If Robinson is healthy, he’ll put up nice numbers as the top option in Chicago.
Andy Hicks: The Bears have two very high draft picks and what they do with them could have a significant bearing on where the fantasy football landscape goes for Robinson, Burton, and Trubisky. I like all three players but will remain cautious until we see how Nagy deploys them in July and August.
Will Grant: “Very high draft picks”? The Bears pick at 1.08, 2.07, and then have a pair of fourth rounders.
Andy Hicks: I would classify two picks in the top-40 as “very high draft picks”. Others may not, which is fine. But Chicago should get immediate starters with those first two picks, and if even one is on offense, it changes the entire landscape of this discussion.
BJ Vanderwoude: Robinson will see heavy target volume as the undisputed WR1 in Chicago. Based on targets alone, he should be looked at as a low WR1 in fantasy.
There’s no doubt Robinson is a dangerous threat on the outside and can make contested catches down the field, but will the Bears offense give him those chances? In Robinson's breakout season, he caught 80 passes for 1400 yards and 14 touchdowns. He averaged 17.5 yards per catch -- tough efficiency to match if Nagy uses him primarily as a possession receiver.
Trubisky is a quarterback in the Alex Smith mold. He excels in the short-to-intermediate passing game and has the athleticism to move around the pocket and complete passes on the run. His biggest weakness is his downfield accuracy. I worry Robinson's strength as a downfield receiver will be wasted in Chicago, which lowers his ceiling considerably and puts him outside my top-10 receivers for 2018.
Dan Hindery: Trubisky should be a step up in talent from Blake Bortles for Robinson, but it’s worth remembering just how much of Robinson's fantasy production in his lone big season came during garbage time. If the Bears defense under Vic Fangio continues to emerge as a top unit and the run game remains productive, Robinson may be hard pressed to see the 151 targets he saw in back-to-back seasons in Jacksonville. He is talented enough to be a high-end fantasy WR2 on about 125 targets, but another 1,400 yards and 14 touchdowns aren’t likely in Chicago.
What tier of fantasy tight ends would you place Burton in as a member of the Bears?
Jason Wood: Trey Burton is a breakout in waiting. He was hamstrung by Zach Ertz in Philadelphia but has the talent to catch 80 passes and 10+ touchdowns if this offense were to somehow join the league’s top tier.
Will Grant: Since Jason is one of the biggest Eagles fans on staff, I’ll trust his take on Burton. Unlike Gabriel, Burton has the potential to put some distance between himself and the rest of a crowded depth chart.
Zach Miller has vowed to return, but he can’t be counted on after last year’s catastrophic leg injury. Adam Shaheen was expected to take over last season but showed he still needs time to develop. And Dion Sims is now a candidate to be cut over the summer, which leaves Burton with a clear path to the starting job. If I were drafting today, Burton is a TE2 with upside, but he could rise once we get a look at how Nagy deploys him.
Daniel Simpkins: Burton is an excellent receiving tight end who has the versatility to play halfback. Along with Shaheen, they should pose some mismatch problems for defenses in the middle of the field.
I put Burton in the same tier as Cameron Brate (just below him). Like Brate, he’s a trusted red zone target and third-down chain mover. While he won’t be the focal point of the offense and will also compete with Shaheen for targets, we know he’s the main guy in the Bears’ tight end tandem for now. He’s a serviceable option for teams that want to put all their draft emphasis at other positions before taking a few late shots at tight end.
BJ Vanderwoude: Burton becomes intriguing with the move to Chicago. As a former quarterback who converted to tight end in college, Burton is a versatile player who can line up out wide, in the slot and even out of the backfield. This gives him a leg up on Shaheen, as Nagy's offense will feature a lot of movement in the backfield before the snap. I don't think Burton's target volume will be enough for him to crack the top-12 tight ends. But with that said, he is the perfect player to target as your TE2 since he will have a defined role in Nagy's offense and has a higher ceiling than many of the tight ends in his tier.
Dan Hindery: I'm less bullish on Burton. I do not expect him to be an every-down player at just 228 pounds and the sort of high-volume passing attack that would allow a part-time receiving tight end to put up big numbers won’t be there in Chicago. Shaheen was a second-round pick just last year. He is a big, physical tight end who should also have a role in the offense and take snaps away from Burton. Burton has top-10 tight end potential but is more likely to end up as a fantasy TE2.