This fantasy preview is part of a preseason series by FantasyLabs Editor-in-Chief Matthew Freedman. Other pieces in the series are available on our Fantasy Football Preview Dashboard.

In the four seasons since the Bears fired head coach Lovie Smith they are 22-42 and yet to have a winning campaign. But at least they have two starting quarterbacks. Anytime you follow up a 3-13 campaign by A) giving a three-year, $45 million deal to a quarterback who hasn’t started a game in over two years and B) trading away first-, third-, and fourth-round selections this year as well as a third-rounder next year to move up one pick so you can draft a 13-start 6’2″ quarterback with the No. 2 pick overall, you have to view that as a win. Was Tim Tebow unavailable? Or did HC-for-now John Fox simply not want to roster a quarterback with the capacity to drag him kicking and screaming into the playoffs?

Play-Calling Tendencies

A defensive-oriented HC, Fox is a well-traveled man. Before joining the Steelers staff in 1989 as the defensive backs coach, Fox journeyed across the country for years teaching numerous secondaries the various ways to misplay Joe Flacco Hail Marys:

  • 1978: San Diego State University, graduate assistant
  • 1979: U.S. International Univ. (now Alliant International), DB coach
  • 1980: Boise State, DB coach
  • 1981: Long Beach State, DB coach
  • 1982: Univ. of Utah, DB coach
  • 1983: Univ. of Kansas, DB coach
  • 1984: Iowa State, DB coach
  • 1985: Los Angeles Express (USFL), DB coach
  • 1986: Univ. of Pittsburgh, DB coach
  • 1987-88: Univ. of Pitt, defensive coordinator

After three years (1989-91) with the Steelers and two years (1992-93) with the Chargers as a secondary coach, Fox got his first taste of NFL play-calling as the DC for the Raiders. Like most people who worked for the Raiders in the ’90s, Fox was fired after two years (1994-95) — even though he had the No. 10 scoring defense in his second year.

A consultant for the Rams in 1996, Fox eventually landed with the Giants, who employed him as the DC for a half-decade (1997-2001). After coordinating top-eight scoring units in three of five seasons, Fox was able to leverage his success in New York into the HC job with the Panthers.

In Carolina, Fox was a miraculous mixture of mediocrity and overachieving incompetence. In his nine years (2002-10) with the team, he had non-winning campaigns six times. In his three winning seasons, he seemingly outpunted his coverage:

  • 2003: 11-5, Super Bowl appearance
  • 2005: 11-5, NFC Championship appearance
  • 2008: 12-4, NFC South champion

The winningest (and losingest) coach in franchise history at 73-71, Fox was not re-signed following his career-worst 2-14 campaign in 2010. Naturally, less than two weeks after being fired he was hired by the Broncos.

In Denver, Fox (sort of) did what most sane HCs would do: After surviving the Tebow experiment in his first season (2011), he rode quarterback Peyton Manning to a 38-10 record in three years (2012-14). Of course, his Broncos teams managed to lose in the postseason in ignominious fashion:

  • 2011: Patriots win at home 45-10 in divisional round. Tebow completed 34.6 percent of his passes in his last game with the team.
  • 2012: Ravens win on the road 38-35 in divisional round. Flacco throws a 70-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds left in regulation to tie the game. Broncos lose in double overtime.
  • 2013: Seahawks win Super Bowl 43-8. The highest-scoring offense in NFL history is outscored by the opponent’s defense and special teams.
  • 2014: Colts win 24-13 on the road in divisional round. The franchise that discarded Manning looks intelligent for doing so.

After his third divisional-round loss in four years, Fox and the Broncos “mutually agreed” to part. Despite his excellent record with Manning, Fox significantly underperformed in Denver: The year after Fox’s departure, an armless Manning won a championship under the guidance of a HC who just a year later would effectively be forced into early retirement. If that’s not an indictment on Fox, nothing is.

Four days after his Denver divorce, Fox was hired by the Bears, who are 9-23 in his two-year tenure.

Since Fox is a defensive guy, the play-calling is theoretically at the discretion of offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains. Here’s a fun fact: When you look at team pages in Pro Football Reference, the type of offensive scheme a franchise runs in any given season is provided. In today’s NFL there are three primary types of schemes:

  • West Coast: Built around the primary receiver’s route
  • Air Coryell: Built around the route tree
  • Erhardt-Perkins: Built around concepts

Last year, the Patriots used the Erhardt-Perkins system; the Cowboys, Air Coryell; the Falcons, West Coast.

In 2011-13, when Loggains was the quarterbacks coach, interim OC, and then full-time OC for the Titans under Mike Munchak, the Titans ran a “Balanced” scheme, which might be PFR code for “Hodgepodge.” In 2015, when Loggains was the quarterbacks coach (and Adam Gase was the OC) for the Bears, they used the Erhardt-Perkins system. In 2016, when Loggains was the OC, the Bears (per PFR) ran this offensive scheme: #N/A.

Literally, the Bears offense was so screwed up last year that the data site that tracks everything basically has said, “We don’t know what offense they ran last year. No one knows.”

Here’s what we do know: Aside from Manning’s Broncos, the offenses on Fox’s teams have been just as uninspiring as you’d imagine them to be. In all of Fox’s seasons, never has a non-Manning team been higher than No. 10 in offensive plays, yards, pass/run ratio, and neutral pace.

Expect the 2017 Bears to be somnolescently boring on offense.

2017 Roster

The quarterback position is supposedly the most important one in all of professional sports, and the NFL is increasingly a pass-centric league — which makes what you’re about to see hilarious:

  • QB: Jay Cutler/Brian Hoyer/Matt Barkley –> Mike Glennon/Mitch Trubisky/Mark Sanchez
  • RB: Jordan Howard/Jeremy Langford –> Howard/Langford/Benny Cunningham
  • WR: Alshon Jeffery/Kevin White –> Kevin White
  • WR: Cameron Meredith –> Markus Wheaton
  • WR: Eddie Royal –> Kendall Wright
  • TE: Zach Miller/Logan Paulsen –> Miller/Dion Sims/Adam Shaheen
  • LT: Charles Leno
  • LG: Josh Sitton/Eric Kush –> Long
  • C: Cody Whitehair
  • RG: Kyle Long/Ted Larsen –> Sitton
  • RT: Bobby Massie

Since last season, Cutler has ‘retired’ while the deadly duo of Hoyer and Barkley has moved on to the 49ers. As bad as that threesome was last year, it’s unlikely that the composite Glenbiskez will be significantly superior this year.

A receiving specialist, Cunningham should be an upgrade at the running back position in the passing game. For his career he has a stellar 78.2 percent catch rate. Howard and Langford have 58.0 and 59.4 percent catch rates.

After an up-and-down five-year run with the Bears, Jeffery is now in Philadelphia, making way for his theoretical heir in White. While Jeffery has missed 11 games over the last two years, he’s still managed to average 1,080 yards and 5.8 touchdowns from scrimmage as well as 16.79 DraftKings points per game (PPG) over the last four seasons. Alshon will probably be missed in Chicago.

Released in May, Royal was cut due to ineffectiveness and for salary savings of $5 million. In his two seasons with the Bears, he played only 18 games, turning his 93 targets into just 607 yards and three touchdowns.

UPDATE (Aug. 27): Meredith exited the Bears’ third preseason game with what is believed to be an ACL tear. He is expected to miss the rest of the season.

Although they’ve done relatively little to this point in their careers, as of now Wheaton and Wright look like the frontrunners to replace Meredith and Royal.

The tight end situation is just about as bad this year as it was last year. Sims and Shaheen are theoretical upgrades on Paulsen but neither is likely to do much.

The offensive line is intact. Sitton and Long both missed multiple games last year, so Kush and Larsen saw significant action as injury fill-ins. Larsen is now with the Dolphins and expected to start at left guard for them, but Kush is still on the team as a backup. The interior of the line played extremely well in 2016. Sitton and Long are switching spots, but other than that this unit is the same as last year’s. Surprisingly, offensive line might be a strength for this team. In 2016 it was fifth in the league with just 133 quarterback pressures allowed.

On defense, Vic Fangio’s unit is also largely intact — except for the secondary. Fortunately that’s Fox’s forte (he said ironically):

  • DE: Akiem Hicks
  • NT: Eddie Goldman/Will Sutton –> Goldman/John Jenkins
  • DE: Mitch Unrein/Jonathan Bullard
  • OLB: Pernell McPhee/Willie Young
  • MLB: Jerrell Freeman
  • MLB: Danny Trevathan/Nick Kwiatkoski
  • OLB: Leonard Floyd
  • CB: Tracy Porter –> Prince Amukamara
  • CB: Cre’von LeBlanc –> Marcus Cooper/LeBlanc
  • SCB: Bryce Callahan/LeBlanc –> Callahan
  • SS: Harold Jones-Quartey –> Quintin Demps
  • FS: Adrian Amos –> Amos/Eddie Jackson

Sutton (a holdover from the previous regime) was a poor fit in the Bears’ 3-4 scheme and is now in Minnesota. Jenkins had a poor 44.9 Pro Football Focus grade last year, but at least he’s an actual nose tackle.

Replacing Porter and LeBlanc at outside cornerback are Amukamara and Cooper. As bad as the released Porter was last year, Cooper was conceivably worse, finishing the season with a 39.8 PFF coverage grade for the Cardinals. The undrafted second-year LeBlanc will serve as a dimeback and injury fill-in/replacement if/when Amukamara pulls a hamstring and/or Cooper is exposed in the team’s hybrid cover-2 zone press scheme.

One of the NFL’s worst starting safeties last season, Jones-Quartey has been replaced by the free agent Demps, who over the last four years is fifth in the league with 15 interceptions. Also joining the defensive backfield is the fourth-round rookie Jackson, who might push Amos for playing time.

Although the Bears defense was 14th and 15th in yards allowed the last two seasons, it was also 28th and 32nd in takeaways. It’s not certain that they’ll be much better this year. They have PFF’s fifth-worst front-seven unit, and four of their top seven defensive backs are new to the team. When the season starts, be sure to keep an eye on our NFL Matchups Dashboard as well as our NFL News feed to see how these units take shape.

Notable Players

When the Bears have the No. 1 overall pick in 2018, at least they won’t be able to trade up for a quarterback.

Mike Glennon, QB

The man who made a North Carolina State coaching staff think Russell Wilson was expendable, Glennon entered the NFL as a third-round pick in 2013. In his two college seasons as a starter Glennon unimpressed, averaging a 60.3 percent completion rate on 508.5 attempts per year for 3,542.5 yards, 31 touchdowns, and 14.5 interceptions. His 6.9 adjusted yards per attempt (AY/A) was utterly unbecoming of an NFL prospect. And he was a statue in the pocket, getting routinely sacked for an average of -2.6 yards per carry (YPC). (In college, sacks count as rushing attempts.)

He hasn’t done much better as a professional. In his 18 games as a starter he’s completed 58.8 percent of his 34.4 attempts per game for 223.6 yards, 1.6 touchdowns, and 0.8 interceptions. He’s been sacked a horrible 3.1 times per game and averaged a putrid 6.3 AY/A. That the Bears are paying him $18.5 million dollars to hand the ball off to Howard and babysit Trubisky for a year is asinine — and yet totally something that Fox would seem likely to do.

Have I mentioned yet that in his pre-draft workouts Glennon proved himself to be the anti-Flacco, having a ball velocity of only 49 miles per hour despite being 6’7″ and having arms in the 79th percentile in length? No? Just checking.

The Bears have been insistent for months that, despite drafting Trubisky, they intend for Glennon to start the season. Sanchez is ostensibly the No. 2. If there are any sportsbooks still taking action on who the Bears Week 1 starter will be, consider an investment. If Fox and Bears general manager Ryan Pace are to be trusted, it almost certainly will not be Trubisky.

Mitch Trubisky, QB

Trubisky might be a good NFL quarterback someday, but the history of college passers who have started for only a season before entering the draft is not good. It’s also not encouraging that after redshirting in 2013 he couldn’t beat out Marquise Williams for the starting job in 2014-15. In spot duty he did well as a backup, especially in his sophomore season, when he completed 85.1 percent of his 47 attempts for 555 yards, six touchdowns, and no interceptions and rushed 16 times for 101 yards and three more scores.

As the starter in 2016, Trubisky was about as good as he could be, completing an outrageously high 68.0 percent of his 447 attempts for 3,758 yards, 30 touchdowns, and just six interceptions in 13 games. In truth, he was one of the best passers in the nation. In comparison to fellow Atlantic Coast Conference studs Lamar Jackson and DeShaun Watson, Trubisky stacked up as a thrower:

  • Jackson: 9.1 AY/A
  • Trubisky: 9.1
  • Watson: 8.0

In fact, as an athlete Trubisky is every bit the specimen Watson is:

  • Trubisky: 6’2″ and 222 lbs., 4.67-second 40, 6.87-second three-cone
  • Watson: 6’2″ and 221 lbs., 4.66, 6.95

As a runner, though, despite his abilities, Trubisky didn’t amaze as a starter. He was good but not great on a per-game basis:

  • Jackson: 20 carries per game (CPG), 120.9 yards per game (YPG), 1.6 touchdowns per game (TDPG)
  • Watson: 11.0 CPG, 41.9 YPG, 0.6 TDPG
  • Trubisky: 7.2 CPG, 23.7 YPG, 0.4 TDPG

Still, if/when he’s given some starts near the end of the season, Trubisky might be good enough as a runner to give him some low-end Konami Code upside.

Other than his small sample of starts, there are two main problems with Trubisky — and they might be long-term issues:

  1. He was in the shotgun for almost 98 percent of his dropbacks.
  2. He displayed 50 mph ball velocity at the combine.

Trubisky might struggle in his transition from a spread system to the Bears’ pro-style #N/A offensive scheme — and even after he adjusts he might never have the arm to make some NFL throws.

Mark Sanchez, QB

The team’s QB2 in name only, Sanchez once fumbled by diving headfirst into a teammate’s butt. And that’s almost certainly not the worst play of his career.

Jordan Howard, RB

One of the true underrated gems of last year’s rookie class, Howard was a prospect in the mold of Carlos Hyde and Jeremy Hill: A big-bodied (6’0″ and 230 lbs.) between-the-tackles bruiser with multiple seasons of top-end rushing production but little receiving experience:

  • 2015 (Indiana): 21.8 CPG, 134.8 rushing YPG, 1.0 rushing TDPG, 1.2 receptions per game (RPG), 11.8 receiving YPG, 0.1 receiving TDPG
  • 2014 (Alabama-Birmingham): 25.5 CPG, 132.3 rushing YPG, 1.1 rushing TDPG, 0.8 RPG, 6.0 receiving YPG, 0.1 receiving TDPG

Unlike H&H, however, who were both second-round picks in 2014, Howard entered the NFL as a fifth-rounder last year. As a result, he provided stupendous fantasy value whenever he broke out in Week 4 following Langford’s Week 3 ankle injury. As the lead back, Howard averaged a respectable 71.0 percent snap rate and turned 18.5 CPG and 3.2 targets per game (TPG) into 114.5 YPG, 0.5 TDPG, and 17.99 PPG on DraftKings, where he averaged a +5.35 Plus/Minus and 61.5 percent Consistency Rating (per our Trends tool).

As unbelievable as this sounds, it’s not unreasonable to say that Howard as a rookie was superior to Ezekiel Elliott. Howard bested Zeke in yards per carry (5.2 vs. 5.1), missed tackles per carry (0.29 vs. 0.28), yards after contact per touch (1.5 vs. 1.3), and breakaway run rate (6.4 vs. 5.3 percent). Howard even bested Zeke as a pass blocker (two hurries allowed in 58 snaps vs. five in 56). Zeke is probably better than his fellow Big Ten alumnus, but JoHo holds his own.

Although his quarterbacks this season likely won’t be able to keep defenses from stacking the box, Howard is advantaged in that his offensive line is good. Last year it was eighth with 4.17 adjusted line yards per carry (Football Outsiders). Specifically, it was third and seventh on outside and inside zone plays with 2.05 and 2.10 yards before contact per carry — and the offense executed zone plays on 70.8 percent of its rush attempts (the fourth-highest mark in the league). A one-cut runner since college, Howard complements his offensive line well.

That said, Howard is far from certain to finish as a top-10 fantasy back this season. He has hands of the finest marble, and last season he did his best Stevan Ridley impersonation by dropping a position-high seven passes. With Cunningham (and also jitterbug fourth-round rookie Tarik Cohen) now on the team, Howard is likely to have his role in the passing game reduced, which is significant because the Bears could have negative game script for much of the season. As I mention in my piece on the top 100 NFL players, Howard’s extremely unlikely to see 50 targets again.

He’s not likely to outperform his 15.3 DRAFT ADP, and I also wouldn’t take him at +1,200 to lead the league in rushing yards. Last year he was second with 1,313 yards — but that was with Le’Veon Bell out for four games, Melvin Gordon out for three games, David Johnson and LeSean McCoy both injured for a game, and Jay Ajayi not a lead back for the first month of the season. Plus last year Howard was 11th with 252 carries. He’s not likely to get significantly more carries this year unless the Bears overperform expectations.

Jeremy Langford, RB

A fourth-round pick with good size (6’0″ and 208 lbs.) and speed (4.42-second 40) out of Michigan State, where he accumulated 3,163 yards and 41 touchdowns from scrimmage in his two seasons as a starter, Langford had a promising rookie campaign in 2015. He played only 36.3 percent of the team’s offensive snaps as a backup to and injury fill-in for Matt Forte, but he still managed to accumulate 816 yards and seven touchdowns. After the Bears let Forte leave via free agency, Langford started the first three games of the 2016 season but lost his job due to a Week 3 ankle sprain and Howard’s emergence.

In truth, even without the injury Langford might’ve lost his job eventually. Through the first 19 games of his career, Langford was horribly inefficient, averaging 3.6 YPC and 6.0 yards per target (YPT) with a catch rate of just 52.9 percent. One way or another Langford wasn’t going to finish 2016 as the starter. As of now, Langford might not even start the 2017 season with the team. His ankle required surgery after the season, and he was reportedly slow to recover. On top of that, he aggravated his ankle in practice early in training camp. Even if he returns to team activities soon, Langford’s apparent fragility and exhibited inefficiency make him a prime candidate to be cut in early September.

Benny Cunningham, RB

Undrafted out of Middle Tennessee State in 2013, Cunningham was a mid-sized (5’10” and 209 lbs.) collegiate workhorse who averaged 107.5 YPG and 1.2 TDPG across his two final injury-shortened seasons. Catching on with the Rams as a rookie, Cunningham has established himself over the last four years as a passing game specialist (6.3 YPT, 119 targets) with functionality as a kick returner (27.1 yards per return, 95 returns). He’s the front runner to garner most of the backfield’s work in the passing game. Over the last three seasons he’s played 31.8 percent of the offensive snaps when active.

Tarik Cohen, RB

Hailing from North Carolina A&T in the Football Championship Subdivision, Cohen is a big producer in a little body (5’6″ and 179 lbs.). Nicknamed “The Human Joystick,” Cohen has good athleticism (4.42-second 40) and was selected in the fourth round of this year’s draft with the No. 119 pick. As a physical specimen, he’s more La’Rod Stephens-Howling than Darren Sproles — who is the same height as Cohen but heavier (185 lbs.) and much stronger (23 bench reps vs. 11) — but Cohen was productive in a Sprolesian manner in college. Despite receiving a scholarship offer from just one school, Cohen had over 1,000 yards rushing and an average of 100 rushing YPG in each of his four undergraduate seasons, chipping in 98 receptions for 945 yards receiving in his 46 games.

Having just turned 22, Cohen has the potential to have a long NFL career à la Sproles and Danny Woodhead as a receiving specialist. That said, don’t expect a year-one impact. Remember that Sproles and Woodhead needed several years to establish themselves as fantasy assets.

Cameron Meredith, WR (UPDATE)

Aug. 27: Meredith exited the Bears’ third preseason game with what is believed to be an ACL tear. He is expected to miss the rest of the season.

Kevin White, WR (UPDATE)

White looks like the prototypical NFL receiver — and now he doesn’t need to compete with Meredith for targets.

He’s big (6’3″ and 215 lbs.), fast (4.35-second 40), agile (6.92-second three-cone), and strong (23 bench reps). Yet for a guy seemingly born to catch the ball, he’s done little at the position over the last decade. That’s right, I’m going back 10 years. A defensive back for most of his high school career (in Emmaus, PA), White didn’t get serious about the receiver position till his senior season (2009), when he had a 46/747/10 stat line in 12 games. Naturally, that (and his grades) didn’t attract any major colleges. He got no offers from schools in the Football Bowl Series.

He went the junior college route — insert here a route-running pun — and enrolled at Lackawanna College in Scranton, where he worked part time in the warehouse of a local paper company (reportedly). Apparently it was at Dunder Mifflin where he injured his shoulder, which forced him to redshirt the 2010 season — and then in 2011 he missed the deadline to sign up for courses and submit financial aid forms, so he missed that season too. In 2012 he finally played for Lackawanna. His raw numbers weren’t great — 36 receptions for 545 yards and six touchdowns in nine games (he missed one contest) — but he led the team in those categories and accounted for an elite 43.7 and 46.1 percent of the team’s receiving yards and touchdowns. That production was good enough to get him a scholarship offer to West Virginia, where he’d have the opportunity to replace Stedman Bailey and Tavon Austin in Dana Holgorsen’s Air Raid offense.

In 2013 White missed the first game of the season with an injury. After that, he appeared in 11 games, finishing third with 35 receptions, second with 507 yards receiving, and first with five touchdowns receiving. In fact, even though his raw numbers were mediocre, he had a 33.3 percent market share of the team’s aerial touchdowns despite having only 15.0 percent of the receptions. He was clearly the team’s preferred end-zone target. And then in 2014, playing his first full season since high school, White exploded for a 109/1,447/10 stat line in 13 games.

On the strength of his redshirt senior season and impressive combine, White was selected with the No. 7 pick in the 2015 draft — and then he missed his rookie campaign because of a stress fracture in his left tibia. Debuting in 2016, White managed to turn 36 targets into a 19/187/0 stat line before suffering a season-ending ankle injury in the third quarter of Week 4. And that’s where we are now.

On the one hand, it’s positive that last year he averaged nine targets per game with five total targets in the red zone. The sample is small, but for the season he was 10th and 17th with a 26.1 and 23.8 percent target share and red-zone target share (PlayerProfiler). He also caught four of his five contested targets. On the other hand, he didn’t catch many of his other targets: His 52.8 percent catch rate and 5.2 YPT are both outside of the top 80 at the position. He averaged only 9.65 DraftKings PPG.

Although White is reportedly back to running at full speed, he had to spend a chunk of the offseason “working to align his stride” to avoid future injury. It sounds humorously fake that a professional athlete might need to learn how to run, but in Lance Zierlein’s NFL.com pre-draft scouting report of White the first weakness he noted was White’s form: “Pigeon-toed and runs heel to toe.” It’s not a joke. White’s greatest asset — his size-adjusted ability to run — might be the liability that bankrupts his NFL career.

To recap: White has only one truly impressive campaign in the last decade, and in the seven years since he graduated from high school he’s missed the supermajority of three seasons to injury and a fourth season to incompetency. He’s a physical freak — and perhaps not in a good way. It’s not smart to look at White’s lack of NFL production to this point and interpret that as proof that he can’t produce when healthy — but one has to wonder if he’ll ever be healthy.

All that said, I’m buying the discount, especially in the wake of the injury to Meredith.

The situation is more complicated than this — but in White you have the opportunity to invest for pennies on the dollar in a receiver who has a top-15 draft pedigree and is just four games into his NFL career. If you could’ve invested in Odell Beckham, Jr., Larry Fitzgerald, A.J. Green, Sammy Watkins, Amari Cooper, Justin Blackmon, and Julio Jones on the cheap after their first four NFL games, wouldn’t you have done that?

As a daily fantasy option on DraftKings, White could benefit from being a heavy underdog throughout the season, and he could have reduced ownership in guaranteed prize pools as a dog. This year FantasyLabs users can review ownership trends across guaranteed prize pools of various buy-in levels with our DFS Ownership Dashboard, which is reason enough to subscribe to FantasyLabs. It’s possible that sharp players will be on White this season, especially when he’s an underdog — which should happen a lot. Be sure to monitor our Vegas Dashboard to see how the market views the Bears each week. If you want to stack Meredith with his quarterback, do it with our Lineup Builder.

Markus Wheaton, WR (UPDATE)

It’s easy to think that if Wheaton were ever to break out then it would’ve happened in his first four seasons with the Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. Then again . . .

  • Draft position: Wheaton (79, 2013) ≈ Emmanuel Sanders (82, 2010)
  • Physical Profile: Wheaton (5’11” and 189 lbs., 4.45-second 40) ≈ Sanders (5’11” and 186 lbs., 4.41-second 40)
  • Rookie age: Wheaton (22) > Sanders (23)
  • Best college season: Wheaton (91/1,244/11 receiving, 20/142/2 rushing) > Sanders (98/1,339/7 receiving, 1/6/0 rushing)
  • Best Steelers season: Wheaton (44/749/5 on 79 targets, 2015) ≈ Sanders (67/740/6 on 113 targets, 2013)
  • Non-rookie Steelers seasons: Wheaton (5.0 TPG, 2.9/41.3/0.23 per game, 8.63 DraftKings PPG) ≈ Sanders (5.3 TPG, 3.1/38.5/0.21 per game, 8.28 DraftKings PPG)

. . . Wheaton’s doppelgänger has already proven that post-Steelers mid-career breakouts are possible. Evan Silva doesn’t like it when people say that a guy is free — but Wheaton’s free-ish with his 216.6 DRAFT ADP. His two-year, $11 million contract makes him the team’s likely No. 3 receiver.

He’s missed a lot of training camp and the preseason to random injuries, but now that Meredith is out the Bears will likely need Wheaton to emerge as a legitimate option.

Kendall Wright, WR (UPDATE)

A slot specialist with a 1,000-yard season (2013) on his résumé, Wright will probably operate as the team’s primary receiver in the middle of the field. In this offense, that’s not extremely exciting, although he now has a good chance of outperforming his ADP.

Zach Miller, TE

Not even the best tight end in NFL history to have his name, Miller is living and sometimes walking proof that, even if you enter the league as a 25-year-old rookie and then don’t play a game for three straight years in the middle of your career because of some mix of injury and redundancy, you can always break out in your 30s as long as you’re on the talentless Bears when they suffer a rash of injuries. And by “you” I mean “Zach Miller.”

In the second half of the 2015 season Miller emerged as a regular contributor for the Bears, and his role in the offense continued into 2016 until he suffered a Lisfranc injury in the 10th game of the season. In his 18 games as a bona fide fantasy asset, he’s turned 5.8 TPG into a 4.3/49.4/0.5 receiving line and 12.4 DraftKings PPG.

Miller reportedly needs to have a good training camp in order to make the team, which could save $2.125 million by releasing him, but if he makes the team he could provide value at his 211.0 DRAFT ADP.

Dion Sims, TE

A career underachiever, Sims averaged 32 targets per season over the last three years with the Dolphins. He was probably over-targeted.

Adam Shaheen, TE

Hailing from the Division II’s Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, which has brought us such luminaries as Jeff Janis and Andre Holmes, Shaheen is a big-bodied (6’6″ and 278 lbs.) former collegiate basketball player with a 75th percentile SPARQ-x score (PlayerProfiler). Enrolling first at Pittburgh-Johnstown and playing hoops as a true freshman, he transferred to Ashland the next year to play football. After serving as the No. 3 tight end as a redshirt freshman in 2014, Shaheen balled out in 2015-16, leading the team in receptions, yards receiving, and touchdowns receiving in both seasons. With a 5.7/75.9/1.2 per-game stat line across his two campaigns as a starter, he accumulated 26.8 and 38.8 percent of the team’s receiving yards and touchdowns — strong marks for a tight end.

Drafted in the second round with the No. 45 pick overall, Shaheen is unlikely to do much as a rookie — first-year tight ends rarely become fantasy contributors and Shaheen may struggle with the transition from DII to the NFL — but (given his draft pedigree, physical profile, and college production) Shaheen has some 2010 Rob Gronkowski upside.

2017 Futures

In the futures market the Bears currently have a 2017 win total of 5.5 games with a +135 over and -165 under. They’re also +1,000 to make the playoffs and -2,500 not to. Gone are the glory days of Brandon Marshall, Jeffery, and Forte: 2013 isn’t walking through that door. I don’t see the benefit in betting against the Bears, who have the talent to win six games, but I’m also not betting on them — because they probably don’t have the coaching staff to lead them to six victories.

The Bears are currently +10,000 to win the Super Bowl, +4,000 to win the NFC, and +1,250 to win the NFC North. Here’s a thought: If the Bears somehow manage to get past the Packers, Vikings, and Lions to win the NFC North, they just might be Black Swan enough to win the entire NFC. If you’re thinking about burning money by taking them to win the division, you might want to consider taking them to win the conference instead.

Now let me seemingly undermine that last paragraph: In the last two years, the Bears are 0-5 against the spread when favored. I’m not betting against that losing trend in 2017.

——

In researching for this piece I consulted Evan Silva’s excellent Bears Fantasy Preview at Rotoworld and relied on data from Pro Football Reference, Pro Football Focus, Football Outsiders, Football Perspective, PlayerProfiler, Team Rankings, The Power Rank, NFL.com, and the apps at RotoViz as well as the FantasyLabs Tools and Models.

Ian Hartitz and Matt LaMarca contributed research to this article.