Is Martellus Bennett's Touchdown Potential Being Overlooked?
I'm sure most of you have heard the crazy Julius Thomas touchdown statistic -- that Thomas has scored 24 touchdowns in just 27 games over the past two seasons.
Since taking over as the lead tight end in the high-powered offense of head coach John Fox and offensive coordinator Adam Gase, Julius Thomas has been a fantasy football godsend, providing owners a reliable source of fantasy points.
But is this more a reflection on Julius Thomas' skillset, or more a reflection of Fox and Gase's offensive scheme?
Perhaps it's a little bit of both. We'll soon find out if Thomas can continue his success and this ridiculous scoring pace after joining the Jacksonville Jaguars anemic offense. Thomas will leave a Denver offense that saw 3.7 red zone attempts per game (tied for seventh highest in the league) to Jacksonville's lowly 2.0 red zone attempt per game (31st).
Now that Fox and Gase are in Chicago, what does it mean for Bears' tight end Martellus Bennett and his touchdown potential and fantasy outlook for 2015?
Are we possibly overlooking an incredible value at a position that has so few steady producers?
Pulling Back the Curtain on Fox and Gase's History
John Fox hasn't really shown a propensity to utilize tight ends in offenses where he's been the head coach. Dating back the last 10 years during his time as a head coach for both Carolina and Denver, he hasn't had a top-12 producer outside of Julius Thomas.
|Year||Leading Tight End||Rec||Receiving Yards||Rec NEP Ranking||TDs||PPR Fantasy Ranking|
|2005||Kris Mangum||23||202||27th out of 35||2||TE32|
|2006||Kris Mangum||21||170||34th out of 36||1||TE42|
|2007||Jeff King||46||406||19th out of 40||2||TE20|
|2008||Jeff King||21||195||36th out of 40||1||TE38|
|2009||Dante Rosario||26||313||25th out of 41||2||TE30|
|2010||Dante Rosario||32||264||38th out of 43||0||TE38|
|2011||Daniel Fells||19||256||33rd out of 42||3||TE36|
|2012||Jacob Tamme||52||555||15th out of 44||2||TE22|
|2013||Julius Thomas||65||788||4th out of 48||12||TE2|
|2014||Julius Thomas||43||489||11th out of 44||12||TE10|
Not an overwhelmingly impressive table right there.
Outside of Thomas, Fox hasn't had a reliable receiver at the tight end position most of his coaching career. Ranking low from both a fantasy perspective and an efficiency metric, there hasn't been much to write home about.
Looking at the rankings of tight ends in Reception Net Expected Points (NEP) that had at least 19 receptions over the past 10 years, Fox's tight ends were regularly in the back half of the pack. Net Expected Points is numberFire's signature metric quantifying a player's production versus what is expected of them on a given play. For a quick refresher, you can check out our glossary for more information.
So we can eliminate Fox -- who climbed the coaching tree starting from the defensive side of the ball anyway -- out from under the microscope for reasons to expect greatness from Bennett this year. How about offensive coordinator Adam Gase?
Gase, who spent the last six years with Denver, followed Fox to Chicago as the duo hopes to continue their offensive success in the Windy City. After being promoted to offensive coordinator in 2013, Gase went on to lead the top overall offense in schedule-adjusted NEP in 2013, and followed that up with the second best overall offense by Adjusted NEP in 2014.
How much of that is a reflection of Peyton Manning or Adam Gase remains to be seen, but aspirations are high in Chicago, particularly when looking at how successfully Gase used his tight ends in the red zone.
Despite missing three games, Julius Thomas was still a red zone beast in Denver, hauling in 13 of his 15 red zone targets while breaking 9 of them for touchdowns. However, Gase's system targeted tight ends only 20.91% of the time in the red zone, a good margin below the NFL-average of 24.05%.
Ranking 22nd overall in tight end red zone usage, Gase's offense didn't often feature the typical red zone matchup nightmare that most other teams exploit. While the volume in this offensive system is less than ideal, there should at least remain some hope that the targets that are featured toward the tight end are of high-quality caliber, right?
What Does it Mean for Martellus Bennett?
The outlook is rather unpromising for Martellus Bennett after what we've seen from Fox and Gase's coaching tenures. While Julius Thomas has been an adept, highly-efficient red-zone threat -- with soon to be Hall-of-Famer Peyton slinging him the rock -- Bennett has been inconsistent and has the oft-maligned Jay Cutler providing his opportunities. A decrease in both quantity and quality of targets isn't an unreasonable expectation as Gase transitions his offensive system to this Bears squad.
Bennett hasn't necessarily been a huge touchdown threat over his career, as he scored six touchdowns last year and a total of 16 over the past three seasons since leaving Dallas. He's also scored 17 times on 34 receptions despite being targeted 70 times over the course of his career.
Tying Jimmy Graham for the most red zone targets last year with 21, it's almost remarkable that Bennett was only able to take five of those in for scores, as he's become a rather inefficient red zone producer when his number's called. A career underachiever finding paydirt, it seems like a stretch for Bennett to reach double-digit touchdowns and find any way of putting up Julius Thomas touchdown totals.
Coming off a career year in which he posted his highest receptions (90), targets (128), receiving yards (916) and touchdowns (6), is Bennett due to regress more towards his career mean?
It certainly looks that way, but Bennett can still provide fantasy value in other ways as a dependable mid-range target, picking up solid reception and receiving yard totals. He's finished the past two years as the TE10 and TE5 in 2013 and 2014, respectively, in PPR formats.
Bennett was a rather dependable fantasy asset last year, tying Rob Gronkowski for the most PPR top-6 finishes with eight weeks, giving owners a high ceiling despite the lack of scores. He also had nine weeks finishing as a top-12 tight end or better (tied for fifth most) with only one week finishing outside the top-24.
With a current ADP of TE5 according to FantasyFootballCalculator.com, Bennett's coming in at a fairly reasonable price. However, with a capped ceiling of only six or so touchdowns, it's hard to justify paying up for the price instead of taking a look at late-round gambles.
Our projections for Bennett have him finishing the year with 84 receptions, 868.4 receiving yards and 5.13 touchdowns as the fifth best tight end. For fantasy owners looking to secure one of the more reliable tight ends, Bennett has a great chance at redeeming value, but at a mid-sixth-round cost, you're likely buying him at his ceiling.
Bennett's likely to return similar value to what he held in 2015 -- just don't expect him to have Julius Thomas-like touchdown production.