Fantasy Football: Are the Chicago Bears' Wide Receivers Worth Anything?
The Chicago Bears' passing game has a problem.
In spite of a competitive showing against the NFC Champion Atlanta Falcons on opening weekend and the sensational breakout performance of rookie running back Tarik Cohen, not all is rosy in the Windy City.
Third-year wide receiver Kevin White sustained a broken shoulder blade in Week 1, potentially ending his season before it even began. This comes less a month after presumptive go-to wideout Cameron Meredith tore his ACL in the preseason, and it leaves quarterback Mike Glennon short on quality targets.
On the subject of Glennon, in Week 1, the former Tampa Bay Buccaneers' signal caller recorded 44 dropbacks (third-most in the league) and 40 passing attempts (tied for fifth-most) in his first start in Chicago -- and this wasn't a hugely negative game script. So if there is going to be that much volume in the Bears' passing attack, is it reasonable to assume that the next men up in the Bears' receiver rotation are worth rostering in fantasy football?
Not necessarily, and there are many reasons why.
For starters, what remains of this receiving corps is largely unheralded and/or unproven. Kendall Wright is the most accomplished wideout on the roster and the likeliest candidate to step into the top spot, although he'll likely stay operating as the team's slot receiver. Wright is the only player on the team to record a 1,000-yard year, but he accomplished that feat with the Tennessee Titans way back in 2013. Since then, he hasn't surpassed 715 yards in a season and has fallen below the 500-yard threshold in each of the last two campaigns.
Markus Wheaton is making his way back from a broken finger, but his career to this point has been frustrating. With the exception of a 9-catch, 201-yard game back in 2015, he has yet to establish himself as a credible starter. In four years with the Pittsburgh Steelers, he never surpassed 750 receiving yards, and he missed all but three games in 2016 due to shoulder issues. Expecting him to step in and produce for the Bears is asking a lot of a player who struggled in an elite Steelers offense.
By all accounts, #Bears p-squad callup Tanner Gentry was team's best WR in camp. Lots of opportunity in CHI. https://t.co/6EYvySO1lU
— Evan Silva (@evansilva) September 12, 2017
Still, Gentry is an undrafted rookie on a John Fox football team. Fox is somewhat notorious for deferring to veterans over unproven players, and as such, Gentry could be a long way away from relevance. While he makes for an intriguing add to your watch list, he isn't roster-worthy in anything other than dynasty formats...yet.
Is Glennon Any Good?
Questionable quarterback play is another reason to steer clear of the Bears' receivers. The media narrative of the week was that Glennon played efficient football in the Bears opener, but the numbers say otherwise. After all, it took him 44 dropbacks to accumulate 213 passing yards against a Falcons defense that ranked 28th against the pass last season.
Glennon also under-performed in according to our Passing Net Expected Points (NEP) metric. NEP employs historical down-and-distance data to determine what is expected of a player on a per play basis. Positive NEP is earned when a player performs above expectation, and negative NEP is indicative of sub-standard performance.
With a Passing NEP per drop back of -0.07, Glennon ranked ninth-worst among all Week 1 starting quarterbacks, and his passing Success Rate of 36.36% was the sixth-worst total in this group.
It's not all his fault, as dropped passes affected his stat line and he's running a highly conservative offense. In fact, he entered the fourth quarter with a mere 50 passing yards, and Glennon wasn't asked to do much until the Bears entered comeback mode.
The coaching staff likely wants him to manage games and avoid turnovers, and while he did his job admirably, the passing attack will likely remain un-exciting going forward. Even if the team hands the reigns over to rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky at some point during the season, this offense isn't going to morph into "the Greatest Show on Turf" anytime soon, making it a scary proposition for fantasy football.
Wait, That's Not All
Perhaps the most relevant reason to avoid Chicago's receivers is limited opportunity.
Even if one of the aforementioned wideouts takes a significant step forward, there is no guarantee he is going to receive a sizable workload, and a simple look at Glennon's target distribution from Week 1 illustrates why.
Of Glennon's 40 passing attempts, 17 were directed at running backs, while tight ends saw 9. Wide receivers were only targeted 14 times, which is a meager 35 percent of the team's total passing attempts. One game is a very small sample size, but that's a staggeringly total, and this was a contest in which White was active.
While that percentage could see some positive regression as the season unfolds, it may not change as significantly as many expect.
The Bears only ran the ball 19 times this week, and Pro Bowl running back Jordan Howard saw just 13 carries. In 2016, he had 15 or more carries in all but two of his starts and averaged 19.89 carries over the final nine games of the season. While he might lose a few snaps to Cohen (particularly after dropping a potential game-winning touchdown), his workload should be robust going forward.
Speaking of Cohen, he might not pace the team with 12 targets every week, but he has definitely earned an increased role in the passing game and will likely see an handful of carries per game, as well.
Zach Miller has been a favorite target of Bears quarterbacks for years now. In fact, even in a 2016 season that featured a revolving door of signal callers, Miller managed to produce a Reception NEP per target of 0.68, the eighth-best figure among tight ends who received at least 60 looks.
The Bears gave tight end Dion Sims $10 million in guarantees as a free agent, and he's going to see his fair share, as well, even if his primary role is to block. And let's not forget about uber-athletic rookie second-rounder Adam Shaheen, another tight end who could establish himself as the season wears on.
With such a considerable piece of the pie dedicated to tailbacks and tight ends, what does that leave for the Bears receiving corps? The answer is, not much. There simply isn't enough volume to go around in this offense, and most of these wideouts don't possess the upside to make the most of such limited opportunity.
If you're looking to add depth to your fantasy squad, pass on Bears receivers in all but the deepest of formats. It might not be a bad idea to keep an eye on Tanner Gentry, but for the moment, there are many better options available on the waiver wire.