Fantasy Mailbag 2016: Week 2

Week 1 is in the books and man…did football get off the bus running or what?

A few new names made quite an impression on Fantasy Football enthusiasts, like Jalen Richard above. Or Eli Rogers and his ricochet touchdown catches.

However, the Week 2 edition of Thursday Night Football featured much of the opposite. The key offensive players on the Jets are all 30 and over: Ryan Fitzpatrick (33), Brandon Marshall (32) and Matt Forte (30). Forte ran the ball 30 times to rush for 100 yards and 3 touchdowns. FitzMagic threw for 374 yards and 1 touchdown in a 37-31 Jets victory.

Quick Hits

  • Some of you were smart and drafted DeAngelo Williams in the 8th round or later (hopefully handcuffing him to Le’Veon Bell). Some of you were smart about picking up Spencer Ware on waivers right after, or drafting him late. Williams owners were treated to an AFC Offensive Player of the Week performance of 171 yards from scrimmage with 6 catches and 2 touchdowns. Ware owners were rewarded with 199 yards from scrimmage, 7 catches a touchdown. They may be placeholders for Bell and Jamaal Charles for now but Williams and Ware are playing at level that’s worth riding for as long as you can, considering they were both Top 4 in total yardage.

  • Carson Wentz impressed a lot of people across the league in his NFL debut. Completing 22 of his 37 passes for 278 yards and 2 touchdowns earned Wentz the 7th highest quarterback rating by a rookie on opening day. Although it doesn’t count for Fantasy points, there were more Wentz jerseys sold than any in the league over the 2 days following the opener. Wentz will have an opportunity to build on his success and become the 5th NFL quarterback since 1960 to start his career 2-0 against a shaky Bears secondary on Monday Night Football.

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  • On the flip-side of the Week 2 Monday Night matchup, Alshon Jeffery could be in for a big night. The Eagles will be without starting CB Leodis McKelvin and will depend on a 7th round pick Jalen Mills in his place. Also being counted on to cover Jeffery is Nolan Carroll, who was lit up by the BROWNS (all caps necessary) in Week 1. Jeffery became the first Bears player since Forte (in 2010) to record 100+ receiving yards in the first half, against Houston, and should do even more damage when Chicago hosts Philly.

 

Mail Time!

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I love the repertoire Willie Snead and Drew Brees have. Snead had the best game of his young career in Week 1 (9 catches, 172 yards, 1 TD) in a shootout with Oakland. A game with the Giants has potential for similar results, but I still lean toward Spencer Ware while you can still use him. The Saints have a heck of a wide receiver group and anyone can be in-store for a big day. Ware is guaranteed to get touches against a Texans defense that allowed 57 rush yards and a touchdown to Jeremy Langford a week ago. Alex Smith is also bound to continue dumping the ball off to Ware over the pass rush.

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Going back to the potential shootout between the Giants and Saints, I would go with Snead in this case…mostly because I think Eli Manning will be targeting Odell Beckham Jr. more than Victor Cruz after just 4 catches a week ago. OBJ is 9 catches away from becoming the youngest receiver to 200.

Remember the 52-49 game a year ago? Round 2 has a lot of hype to live up to.

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Flex: Safest play would be Golden Tate, who will be a target machine in his hometown of Nashville. Boom would be Demaryius Targaryen against a weak Indy secondary, but he’s dealing with a bad hip. Melvin Gordon may be taking a step back, as his team should be playing a lot of catchup against the high-powered (that’s right) Jaguars offense.

QB: I’m not particularly high on a less-mobile Russell Wilson against one of the best pass rushing front-7’s in football. Wilson has proved me wrong in the past, but I see the Seahawks attacking St. Louis better by handing off to the Rawls-Michael tandem. Trust the Jim Bob Cooter offense and Matthew Stafford this weekend.

 

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Einhorn. Sean Young, FTW.

 

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I do like Houston better, you’re right…but way more because of Whitney Mercilus than JJ Watt. The pass rush that they hoped to get from Jadeveon Clowney has arrived in the form of a man with a great football name, from the University of Illinois. While Cincy-Pittsburgh always lives up to its “rock’em, sock’em” reputation, but the Steelers offense is too good (even without Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell) to bet against.

 

screen-shot-2016-09-16-at-9-53-55-am I hope you didn’t go with McCoy…

A tandem of DJ2K (David Johnson) and Williams is a tough one to beat. They are also two of the most reliable backs you can find, with schemes that will always put the ball in their hands. Have fun.

 

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I like Stefon Diggs the most, as a receiver, but I don’t like the quarterback situation throwing him the ball. It will either be an under-prepared Sam Bradford or Shaun Hill against the Packers 3-4 pass rush. Does that inspire confidence in you? I didn’t think so…

Emmanuel Sanders may be the best option for the sole reason that he is the healthier than Thomas and he’s going against one of the worst secondaries in football.

 

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Jay Cutler and I think you should go with Will Fuller.

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Have more Fantasy lineup questions? Don’t hesitate to ask on Facebook or Twitter

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The Piffcast: The Second One – Second is the Best

 

This week, FanDuel sportswriter Jessica Kleinschmidt joins us to talk about the NFL offseason and where the best places would be for big free agents to land…from a Fantasy perspective. We also preview the upcoming MLB season a little bit as well, because pitchers and catchers are reporting! (Jump ahead to the 11:55 mark to here Jessica right away)

Then People Magazine TV editor and writer Aaron Couch jumps on to discuss Better Call Saul and the “Better Talk Saul” podcast he hosts. We also get into The People vs. OJ Simpson and the effect Deadpool’s success will have on Marvel and DC films going forward. (52:20 mark, if you want to jump ahead)

All that, plus some catching up, an epic Chicago Pizza Party and ANOTHER delicious social media contest. Don’t miss out!

Feel free to react as you listen on Facebook or Twitter

Subscribe on iTunes here.

2016 Fantasy Football Rankings – Wide Receivers

My draft strategy changed significantly last year when it came to valuing consistent scorers and drafting them early for my teams. I also think there is a changing of the guard when it comes to big scorers in a league that relies heavily on passing. That was evident with contending Fantasy owners who had 2 of the top 7 wide receivers from this list.

Wide receivers 1) Have the best chance and big scoring plays that can change a game for you and 2) add a whole new dynamic in PPR setting leagues. Here are the 40 I will consider drafting at this point in the year.

1. Antonio Brown, Pittsburgh Steelers

Antonio

On an team full of playmakers, it’s amazing how Antonio Brown racks up the numbers he does. Brown’s numbers were very close with Julio Jones’s as they tied for first in receptions (136). He ranked second in receiving yards (1,836), just 37 behind Jones. Brown did get the edge scoring more touchdowns than Jones, 10-8. He also averaged 10.5 catches per game in the second half of the year.

2. Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

Julio

While I think Antonio Brown is the best athlete in the NFL right now, I do believe Julio Jones is the best wide receiver. You know the numbers and his measurables, but the only thing that may be holding back from breaking single season records may be Matt Ryan. Maybe Ryan needs more time in the pocket, but Julio did beat the best corner in the league, Josh Norman, for 9 catches, 178 yards and a touchdown. Throw it up and the man will get it.

3. Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants

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If you took Odell Beckham Jr. with your late-1st/early-2nd round pick, you were treated to a 6 game stretch (Week 8-14, a Week 11 bye) averaging 132 yards and scoring 8 touchdowns. Similar to Julio Jones, a better quarterback would help him get to astronomical numbers but at least Eli is getting the ball into the open field. His speed and unreal catching ability lead me to think the production will be there again in Week 3.

4. DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans

DeAndre

When you watch Hard Knocks each year, it’s easy to fall in love with the one offensive player that you’ll eventually target in your upcoming Fantasy draft. DeAndre Hopkins was clear and away THAT GUY in 2015 and lived up to the hype, ranking 3rd in receiving yards (1,521), 3rd in receptions (111), and adding 11 touchdowns.

5. Allen Robinson, Jacksonville Jaguars

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Allen Robinson was a touchdown machine in 2015. Led the league with 14 TD catches and was only held scoreless 4 times during the regular season. He also racked up a nice 1,400 yards to go with that scoring, and it’s hard not to imagine his connection with Blake Bortles will improve in 2016…which is scary.

6. AJ Green, Cincinnati Bengals

Cleveland Browns v Cincinnati Bengals

AJ Green has never been a 100 catch guy, but he’s still one of the best athletes at the position. Andy Dalton’s improvement in the last year only bodes well for a guy who finishes Top 10 in yards and touchdowns year in, year out. Green also always seems to be the benefactor of big heads up plays on tipped balls that result in touchdowns scored by him.

7. Brandon Marshall, New York Jets

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Yes, Marshall is the first player to record over 100 catches in a season for 4 different different teams…but that’s not necessarily a good thing. There’s a reason he’s been moved to 3 different teams via trade, and I’m not certain you can bank on Ryan Fitzpatrick repeating his performance from last season. When things go awry, so does Marshall. His production from last season is tough to argue against though.

8. Demaryius Thomas, Denver Broncos

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The only reason people still talk about Tim Tebow as an NFL player is because of Demaryius Thomas practically beating the Steelers in OT by himself. The Broncos #1 WR saw a dip in his TD numbers go from double digits to 6 last season, but that may have more to do with the issues at quarterback than him. 1,304 yards and 105 catches make him still valuable in the mid-2nd/early-3rd round.

9. Jarvis Landry, Miami Dolphins

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Amidst the mess in Miami, Jarvis Landry was the standout on the team catching 110 passes and accumulating 1,947 total yards (receiving, rushing, returning). New head coach Adam Gase is going to love using Landry and it will be fun to see him continue to compete for the national limelight with former LSU teammate, Odell Beckham Jr.

10. Doug Baldwin, Seattle Seahawks

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It’s hard for me to doubt a guy who caught the most touchdown passes (14) in the league and had a run down the stretch of your fantasy season like Doug Baldwin. When the Seahawks finally let Russell Wilson sling it, Baldwin caught 11 touchdowns in 5 games (Week 12-16). If the Seahawks want to build on the success that made them look like the best 6th seed ever, keep throwing it downfield to guys like Baldwin.

11. Sammy Watkins, Buffalo Bills

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In his sophomore season, Sammy Watkins dealt with injuries but still busted out some serious speed and big play ability on opposing defenses. 17.4 yards per reception was enough proof of that, as were the 6 catches,158 yards, 2 TDs against KC and the 11 and 136 on the Jets. If the Bills are going to make any noise in the AFC East, it’s going to be from putting the ball in Sammy’s hands.

12. Alshon Jeffery, Chicago Bears

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Chicago Bears

In the 6 games Alshon Jeffery was mostly healthy (2 less than the games he played), he averaged 105.6 yards and 8 catches per. Unfortunately, that’s all Bears could get from him and that’s why he slides on my list for now. There were a lot of questions around how hurt he was and whether the missed time had to do with his contract status, but when he’s on the field he’s too good to just pass up.

13. Dez Bryant, Dallas Cowboys

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Health and effort issues last season were pretty eye-opening for Dez Bryant. He got his big pay day, got hurt, and then was a complete non-factor without Romo playing. The 41 total touchdowns from the 3 seasons before make it hard to let Dez slide too much further though.

14. Larry Fitzgerald, Arizona Cardinals

Larry Fitz

Larry Fitzgerald had a great bounce back year with 109 catches (5th in the league) for 1,215 yards. A big reason for it was his use in the slot position, as John Brown and Michael Floyd occupied the outside, and making the most of his size, hands and speed. Another season like that is not out of the realm of possibility.

15. Jordy Nelson, Green Bay Packers

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I don’t think people realized how much Jordy Nelson would be missed when the season started. We all assumed that Aaron Rodgers just made everybody better. Randall Cobb couldn’t fill Nelson’s shoes or match his route running ability. Not sure what Nelson will be like coming off a knee injury, but the 1,500+ yards and 13 touchdowns from the year before are an upside worth hoping for.

16. Allen Hurns, Jacksonville Jaguars

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Don’t know if you’ve heard, but the Jaguars wide receivers are REALLY good. Robinson got his, but Allen Hurns scored touchdowns in 9 of his 16 games, 7 of them in a row. Add 1,031 yards and you’ve got a solid WR2/WR3.

17. Brandin Cooks, New Orleans Saints

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Brandin Cooks is the definition of a home run threat. When Brees needs to dial up the deep ball, there’s Cooks underneath a floater downfield. He averaged 13.3 yards per catch, and caught 84 passes and 9 touchdowns in 13 starts last season.

18. Martavis Bryant, Pittsburgh Steelers

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Martavis Bryant’s numbers were hampered by his early season suspension and injury, but he was still capable of looking like Antonio Brown WITH Antonio Brown on the field with him. I rate him higher based more on potential, but the guy has as much ability as anyone on very talented offensive squad.

19. Jeremy Maclin, Kansas City Chiefs

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Remember when the Chiefs went a whole year without throwing a touchdown to a wide receiver? Enter Jeremy Maclin, who caught 8 of them along with 87 receptions and 1,102 yards from scrimmage. While I don’t particularly trust the arm of Alex Smith, I do trust Maclin’s talent and knack for getting open.

20. Amari Cooper, Oakland Raiders

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Amari could and should move up this list, as he looked like about as natural a pro receiver as there is. We’ll see how he builds on his rookie effort of 72 catches, 1,067 yards and 6 touchdowns. He and Michael Crabtree did a heck of a job working the sidelines for Derek Carr.

21. Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers

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Count Mike Evans as another player who has the talent to move up this list. He improved on both his reception and yardage numbers, but his touchdown total between his rookie and sophomore years dropped from 12 to 3. If he fixes his drop rate, he could be devastating paired with Jameis Winston’s deep ball game.

22. Keenan Allen, San Diego Chargers

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Paired with Philip Rivers, Keenan Allen was the most targeted player in football before going down for the season with a kidney laceration. Through 8 games, Allen was on pace to almost match Antonio and Julio for the league lead in receptions too. If he comes back healthy, as expected, Allen’s 90 yards and 11 targets per game will be a nice pickup in the middle rounds.

23. Emmanuel Sanders, Denver Broncos

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Similar to Thomas, I think Sanders had his numbers effected by the weird goings on under center for the Broncos. When used in underneath and possession routes, Sanders is a killer, and that could be huge in the Super Bowl this week…as well as next season with either Brock Osweiler or Peyton Manning’s heir.

24. Eric Decker, New York Jets

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Eric Decker’s production in 2015 (80 catches, 1,027 yards, 12 touchdowns) suggests he should be higher on this list, but I’m sticking to my bad feeling that Ryan Fitzpatrick’s “Fitzmagic” isn’t going to be all that next season. Still a very solid W3/Flex option though.

25. T.Y. Hilton, Indianapolis Colts

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T.Y. Hilton’s stock is only as good as whoever is throwing to him. If Andrew Luck is back and in “40 touchdown” form, then you could Hilton as a steal. He’s as good a deep threat as there is in the league. Just needs someone to get the ball down there.

26. Michael Crabtree, Oakland Raiders

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Michael Crabtree was a nice story, statistically, in 2015. He had bounced back after injuries and being associated with the San Francisco sinking ship that led to Jim Harbaugh’s departure. He caught 85 passes for 922 yards and 9 touchdowns. He won’t ever be the Heisman candidate type that he was in college, but he’ll get plenty of looks while Amari Cooper draws double-coverage.

27. Randall Cobb, Green Bay Packers

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The other player besides Rodgers who could benefit the most from Jordy Nelson’s return is Randall Cobb. When put into Nelson’s role, Cobb saw his touchdown total cut in half, as well as his catches and yardage drop dramatically as well because of tougher coverage. James Jones might have had a comeback, but nobody else was freeing up Cobb like Jordy used to.

28. John Brown, Arizona Cardinals

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John Brown made big strides in 2015, improving in every category from his rookie season. His 65 catches, 1,025 yards and 7 touchdowns would have increased too if it weren’t for a couple goose eggs in his box score, which were attributed to injuries. Excited to see him play better in his 3rd season with a sick WR group.

29. Julian Edelman, New England Patriots

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Getting knocked out for 7 games with a foot injury hurts Edelman’s stock a little, but you remember how much of a grinder the guy is. You also can’t forget the Welker-esque amount of targets he gets either.

30. Golden Tate, Detroit Lions

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With Calvin Johnson retiring, Golden Tate is currently the #1 receiver in Detroit. You may remember that Tate’s numbers spiked in 2014 when Megatron was out for much of the time, with 99 catches for 1,361 yards and 4 touchdowns. I don’t expect the Lions to be satisfied with Tate as their top guy, so we’ll see what roster moves are made in the offseason.

31. Stefon Diggs, Minnesota Vikings

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Stefon Diggs showed flashes of being a #1 caliber receiver in Minnesota last year, but was weirdly inconsistent down the stretch. The Vikings offense still lives and dies by Adrian Peterson, but Diggs is capable of taking the top off opposing defenses…as long as Teddy Bridgewater can throw it that far.

32. Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina Panthers

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The Panthers are heading to the Super Bowl. Cam Newton is coming off an MVP caliber season. A band of no-name wide receivers and Greg Olsen proved they can hang with anyone. And then…

*glass shatters* 

“It’s Kelvin Benjamin’s music!”

Yes, Kelvin is Stone Cold Steve Austin in this analogy. But seriously, the Panthers are getting back one of the best red zone targets and rookie WRs from 2014.

33. Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia Eagles

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Jordan Matthews improved on his rookie season but not as dramatically as he was expected to. Blame Chip for that. He has size, speed and a new offensive minded head coach coming in.

34. Tyler Lockette, Seattle Seahawks

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Tyler Lockett is a burner, and definitely faster than Baldwin. He’ll make a strong late round pick that should improve on a Pro Bowl rookie season where he scored 6 touchdowns receiving and 2 returning.

35. Michael Floyd, Arizona Cardinals

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When healthy, Michael Floyd is as effective as Fitzgerald. However, it’s his health that is usually a question. The Cardinals go about 5 deep in quality receivers, so having their #3 (with #1 talent) isn’t too shabby.

36. Travis Benjamin, Cleveland Browns

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The Browns and Travis Benjamin need a quarterback. Not Josh McCown. Not Johnny Manziel. An actual starting quarterback. Benjamin clearly has talent having recorded 1,302 all-purpose yards last season. His next season will depend greatly on who is throwing him the ball.

37. Steve Smith Sr., Baltimore Ravens

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Steve Sr. decided that he wasn’t going to let his career end on injury and will come back for one more go in 2016. I’m not certain how good he’ll be or if his body will hold up, but he does have a knack for proving people wrong.

38. Willie Snead, New Orleans Saints

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Other than Cooks, Brees has another deep threat option in Willie Snead. After being cut by the Browns and the Panthers, Snead made the Saints practice squad…then he played 15 games and caught 69 passes for 984 yards and 3 touchdowns. An offseason training with Brees in San Diego should build a rapport to be confident in.

39. Rueben Randle, New York Giants

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While ODB got most of the attention from defenses, which he’ll get more of, Rueben Randle scored 8 touchdowns and made 57 catches for 797 yards. His numbers dipped a little after 2014, and that’s to be expected when a majority of the targets go to Beckham. He might be better for a spot start, but he still has back end of the draft talent.

40. Kamar Aiken, Baltimore Ravens

Aiken If Steve Sr. is healthy, Kamar Aiken becomes another option for Flacco if he’s double covered. If Steve Sr. gets hurt, Aiken is his #1 option (unless they suddenly feel good about Breshad Perriman)…until Baltimore adds more viable options.

Anyone too high or too low? Was anyone left out? Let me know on Facebook or Twitter.

For more position rankings:

Quarterbacks / Running Backs / Wide Receivers

 

 

Who The Bears Are 8 Games Into 2015

Following their win on Monday Night Football against the San Diego Chargers, the Chicago Bears are a 3-5 team. Your team is what your record is, which has the Bears placed 3rd in the NFC North and 3 games back behind the 6-2 Packers and Vikings. Being 0-3 in the division doesn’t help and the playoffs are the last thing on anybody’s mind, but finding their identity is more encouraging than you would expect.

The Bears are a much better coached team than they were the last 2 seasons. A Matt Forte quote from Week 1 seems to have held true for most of the season.

The benefit of good coaching is most evident in Jay Cutler’s play so far. It’s amazing that it took 7 years for the Bears to hire an offensive coordinator who would scheme to Cutler’s strengths. OC Adam Gase’s offense allows Cutler to get the ball out faster on quick hitting pass plays, roll out and throw on the run, and to also check in and out of play-calls at will. A commitment to the running game sets him up very well in play-action and limits the opportunities to turn the ball over. As of now, Cutler is just 20th in interceptions through Week 9 with 5. That’s half as many as Blake Bortles and Sam Bradford, and 8 less than league-worst Peyton Manning with 13. Andrew Luck is one pick behind Peyton.

Cutler isn’t perfect, of course. He has 4 fumbles on the season, that have come as the result of both poor blocking and an inability to protect the ball. Cutler has also thrown interceptions at costly moments, notably on a comeback drive against the Packers and in the Lions’ end zone. The difference this season, as opposed to those with Marc Trestman, Mike Tice, and Mike Martz calling plays, Cutler and Gase shake off the bad turnovers with a more aggressive attack. Case in point, following a pick-6 by Jason Verett on what appeared to be a misstep with Alshon Jeffery on the outside, Cutler answered with a touchdown in 3 minutes on 7 plays. In the four games prior, we’ve seen very similar drives giving the Bears chances to win at the end of regulation.

Zach Miller touchdown

The Bears are a project, but one that is improving as the season goes on. After starting 0-3 against a murderers row of Green Bay, Arizona and Seattle, the Bears are 3-2 in their last 5 games. Just a handful of unfortunate plays have resulted in the Bears losing by field goals to Detroit and Minnesota. It’s probably sad to find optimism from that, but it beats the average margin of 15.3 points per loss a season ago. The coaches and GM Ryan Pace are accountable of their players, especially on the defensive side of the ball. Rather than allow Jared Allen to take up snaps and be unproductive as a 3-4 linebacker, Pace moved him to Carolina for a 6th round draft pick and opened a spot on the roster for Sam Acho. While the Bears are paying Alan Ball $3 million to play cornerback, DC Vic Fangio has plugged in 8-year veteran Tracy Porter instead, who has proven to have better coverage and ball instincts. Porter is making $850,000 on a 1-year deal.

The coaching staff’s trust in young players has also been a positive sign for the team’s growth. Rookie safety Adrian Amos has started all 8 games this season and has provided some stability to what’s been a glaring need for years at the position. Amos is always where he needs to be and tackles well. After injuries to Ego Ferguson and the eventual release of Jeremiah Ratliff, 2nd round pick Eddie Goldman looks as good as advertised. 2nd-year defensive lineman Will Sutton has transitioned well from 3-technique to end. Then the inside linebacker position has been manned better with Christian Jones and Jonathan Anderson in place of Shea McClellan. Both Anderson (rookie) and Jones (year 2) were undrafted and spent time on the Bears practice squad.

Jeremy Langford’s performance against the Chargers was another case for optimism as the Bears move forward, possibly without Forte after this season. Not knocking Forte at all, but Langford has a very similar skill set running, receiving and pass blocking. Langford also has fresher legs, less mileage and an exceptional 2nd gear once he breaks the line of scrimmage. It will be interesting to see what Forte’s prospects are after the season. Whether a team closer to contending is willing to pay big or if he’s just more comfortable in Chicago, the Bears appear to be fine at the running back position.

The Bears are not a team with much depth. This comes from years and years of bad drafting and poor offseason signings, but the Bears don’t have much after either of their offensive or defensive starters. You know things are bad when the drop off from Bryce Callahan to Sherrick McManis at the nickel results in a game-tying Stefon Diggs touchdown against the Vikings, before losing to a Blair Walsh field goal in Week 8. A pleasant surprise at tackle has been Charles Leno Jr. filling in for former pro bowler Jermon Bushrod, and apparently keeping his starting spot. But if the Bears lose another interior linemen, they may have to start converting defensive tackles to the position…(sorta kidding).

Outside of the quarterback position, the difference between Jeffery and the rest of the Bears’ healthy wide receivers is probably the vastest. It’s a shame we haven’t had a chance to see Jeffery paired with 1st round pick Kevin White yet, which would have allowed Eddie Royal to be the slot receiver he was intended to be this season. Having to throw to Cameron Meredith, Josh Bellamy, and Marc Mariana isn’t particularly ideal for Cutler on key passing downs and important drives, but he’s had to do it. Marquess Wilson has been a bright spot though as a downfield option with quality speed.

Despite low expectations the rest of the way, the Bears are likable. There’s something to be said about the team’s resiliency when having to deal with so many injuries and adversity. Besides their 48-23 loss in Week 2 to the Cardinals, they’ve always had a chance to win. After going to the pro bowl in each of his two seasons as a guard (the first to do so since 1970), Kyle Long is developing into an excellent right tackle. Also moving over from guard, Matt Slauson has taken on line calls and has had to start as the 3rd string center with injuries to Will Montgomery and Hroniss Grasu. Both Slauson and Long have provided the leadership, along with Cutler, that seemed to be missing from the offense since Olin Kreutz departed from the team 5 years ago.

Big free agent signee Pernell McPhee is doing the same with the defense. When McPhee is pressuring the quarterback, good things tend to happen and he sets the tone for his unit as well. He ranks 6th among DL/OLB pressures on the quarterback with 31 (JJ Watt, 1st with 45) this season. For a fan base that talks a lot about having pride in being all “blue collar”, there’s definitely a workman like personality that the McPhee and the front 7 bring.

The next 3 games for the Bears will be quite a test. They face the two best defenses in the league, St. Louis and Denver, back-to-back and then have the Packers on Thanksgiving night. Realistically, the second half of the season will be for evaluation going into 2016, but the Bears are competitive, entertaining, and a lot less painful to watch than they were a year ago. Stay tuned to see if that keeps up…

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NFL Week 6 Fantasy Mailbag

The Arizona Cardinals are playing like a Madden team on Easy Mode right now. If you started a whole lineup of Cardinals players last weekend, I have a feeling you would have done pretty well…

QB – Carson Palmer: 11/14, 161 pass yards, 3 TD

RB – Chris Johnson: 103 yards

RB – Andre Ellington: 63 yards, 1 TD

WR – Larry Fitzgerald: 5 catches, 58 yards, 1 TD

WR – John Brown: 4 catches, 73 yards, 1 TD

TE – Darren Fells: 2 catches, 25 yards, 1 TD

Flex – David Johnson: 3 carries, 6 yards, 2 TD

DEF – 2 Forced Fumbles, 4 INT, 1 Sack

K – Chandler Catanzaro – 6/6 PAT

I don’t know if the Cardinals will sustain these video game numbers all season, but I don’t see it slowing down this weekend in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have the worst pass defense in the league at this point, so Carson Palmer owners should be pumped. St. Louis boasted the only viable defense Arizona faced and beat them at home, however…

Quick Hits

  • Tonight the Atlanta Falcons take their 5-0 record to the Super Dome, and hope to stay undefeated with the help of Devonta Freeman. In Freeman’s last 3 games, he’s averaging 179.6 yards from scrimmage per game (539 total). He’s also leading the league in touchdowns with 8, 7 over those last 3 games, all on the ground. Freeman faces a Saints defense that is allowing the 3rd most rush yards in the league.

Freeman Week 6

  • In the last 3 weeks, Browns TE Gary Barnidge has recorded 20 receptions for 319 yards and 3 touchdowns. His pass catching total in that time is HALF of his entire career total, and he’s 30. Barnidge’s production has attributed to his quarterback’s incredible run as well. Josh McCown is averaging 384 yards and 2 touchdowns over his last 3 games, but now runs into a buzz saw with Denver coming to town. The Broncos pass defense is tops in the league with the kind of pass rushers that always seem to bring McCown back to Earth. Barnidge will be his best option to survive as the Broncos allowed 60+ receiving yards to Eric Ebron, Travis Kelce and Clive Walford.

Barnidge Week 6

  • The #TomBradyRevengeTour heads to where it all started this weekend. I imagine the Colts had this game circled on their calendar in the preseason, expected it to be Brady’s first game after a 4-game suspension, and would try to settle whatever score they had over a football they thought wasn’t inflated enough…In reality, the Colts are dealing with Wyatt Earp on his rampage in Tombstone. They’ve only won when their franchise quarterback has sat out and Brady is throwing 11 touchdowns and no interceptions coming in with fully inflated footballs. Brady is also throwing to two matchup nightmares in Rob Gronkowski and Julian Edelman. Edelman is averaging 99.75 yards per game, 8.5 catches, and has 3 touchdowns as well. 

Mail Time!

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I start with Duke Johnson Jr, especially in PPR. Denver is very good against the run, yes, but they are susceptible to pass catching backs. Isaiah Crowell got his numbers last week against Baltimore, but Johnson had as many touches and was the feature back down the stretch. I expect Cleveland to be trailing and throwing. The Duke is their man in that scenario.

Next I lean toward Ronnie Hillman, partially because Ameer Abdullah is in the winless Jim Caldwell’s doghouse for fumble issues. Hillman goes against a horrendous Browns run-defense that is allowing 5 yards per carry. If neither Hillman or CJ Anderson can get it going against Cleveland, I would then recommend looking elsewhere.

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When the Chargers are trailing, Danny Woodhead is getting a majority of the workload from Melvin Gordon. I know you’re fully aware of what the Packers are capable of scoring-wise, so you should expect Woodhead to get plenty of work. I don’t trust Abdullah’s usage at this point in the season like I do Theo Riddick’s.

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As I pointed out earlier, the McCown thing has been fun but he’s in for a rude awakening this weekend. While the Falcons defense is improved, the only decent quarterback they’ve faced is Eli Manning (that was a struggle for me to type). Drew Brees has thrown 335+ yards in 3 of his 4 games and seems to have figured something out with Willie Snead and Ben Watson downfield. Go with the proven player in a better matchup this weekend, Breesus. If McCown can match his production from the past 3 weeks against Denver, then I’ll start to believe in his hype.

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Really aren’t making this easy, are ya?

Hillman is your best option against a bad Cleveland run defense. Already said why I don’t like Abdullah. Golden Tate could burn the Bears secondary, which has improved in coverage recently, but I don’t like Stafford against their pass rush. And Pierre Garcon has a one-way ticket to Revis Island.

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QB: Is Blake Bortles available? He’s probably better than all four in a spot start going up against Houston. Out of the 4 though, at least McCown done something worth writing home about in recent weeks. Tyrod looks doubtful this week, so I would prioritize McCown (1) then Mariota (2).

WR: Already mentioned why I don’t like Pierre this week, and really it’s now or never for Jordan Matthews. In their first meeting, Matthews had 8 catches, 105 yards and 1 TD against Philly. I don’t know if he’ll get the same numbers, but the gameplan is there…as opposed to Garcon vs. a stellar Jets pass D.

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(1) – Breesus.

(2) – Sammy Watkins says he’s planning to return, and I believe him. I would also go with him over Martavis. Shaky quarterback situation, but at least he’s the #1 pass option. Both he and Bryant are taking on tough pass defenses, and Bryant has to work his way into a WR group with Antonio Brown and Michael Vick’s new favorite target, Darius Heyward-Bey.

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Alshon Jeffery is FINALLY getting work in practice, which is encouraging to me. If he plays, he’s a must-start with the way Jay Cutler is playing as of late…If he doesn’t go, Rueben Randle (if healthy) is your next best option. Stevie Johnson becomes even less valuable with Antonio Gates back (and Philip Rivers’ obsession with Gates). And Torrey Smith is currently stuck in the worst offensive dumpster fire in the league.

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Not a great passing matchup for either quarterback at all. I see both quarterbacks having to make more plays with their feet than their arms, but I also see Russell Wilson benefitting more from Marshawn Lynch returning for play-action. That, plus the defensive backs that Cam will be throwing against, gives Cam the slight edge.

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There really isn’t a team in the league who doesn’t have viable fantasy options. I mentioned San Francisco being a dumpster fire, but they do have Carlos Hyde finding life again against a tough Giants defense.

Bad teams also always adjust their identity as the season continues, which allows the emergence of diamonds in the rough. As the Jaguars went on their slow death march a year ago, they committed to running the ball and Denard Robinson became a consistent 100 yard rusher for at least a month. And as team’s with bad defenses consistently have to play from behind, there’s always a wide receiver benefitting from the “catchup” mentality with garbage time targets and yardage.

Players individually are a different story. I gave up on Jonathan Stewart after 3 weeks of no production, and I don’t blame other owners for doing the same with CJ Anderson. When a top half draft pick doesn’t give you much return after the first quarter, you either try to flip him, or relegate him to your bench and wait for him to turn it around.

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RB: Crowell’s game against Denver is way less effective than the Duke’s. That alone has me leaning toward Miller, and I like your thinking. New play-calling and a new attitude can’t hurt Lamar Miller’s usage.

WR/T: I am no longer a James Jones hater like I was for the first 3 weeks of the season. His 5 touchdowns with Rodgers tossing them makes him WR2 value for anyone. Then I go with Tyler Eifert against a Buffalo defense that his given up too much against tight ends this season…If your league gives points for returning yards, Jarvis Landry shoots the top of your group.

Have more lineup questions? Feel free to ask on both Facebook and Twitter! Also, don’t hesitate to post any questions for next week’s Mailbag. Good luck this weekend! 

Fantasy Cheat Sheet 2015: Wide Receivers

As the NFL trends toward more passing and scoring, the receiver position has become more and more valuable. If you play in a PPR league, receivers are as important and some even more than running backs.

There are a handful of WRs who are worth taking before the big producing quarterbacks (Luck & Rodgers), and one who can be as good as any player in the league. Here’s my Top 40 to help you prepare for your upcoming draft. 

1. Antonio Brown, PIT

Antonio

2014: 1,698 receiving yards, 129 catches, 15 TDs, 319 return yards

Brown is probably the best offensive weapon in football. Incredible speed, always has the ball thrown his way, and he scores from everywhere on the field. Has also proven it 2 years in a row

Pick: Middle-Late 1st Round

2. Odell Beckham Jr, NYG

ODB

2014: 1,305 receiving yards, 91 catches, 12 TDs, 171 return

ODB accumulated those numbers playing less games than most starting NFL receivers. Absolute difference maker for fantasy teams and carried some to the playoffs and championship last year.

Pick: Late 1st Round

3. Demaryius Thomas, DEN

Damaryius

2014: 1,619 rec yards, 111 catches, 11 TDs

Manning has a year or two left and he’s going to go out guns blazing. Thomas is his go-to guy with both Julius Thomas and Welker gone. Expect him to get the ball early and often.

Pick: 2nd Round

4. Dez Bryant, DAL

ns_08cowsGIANTS_26

2014: 1,320 rec yards, 88 catches, 16 TDs

Dez is the best in the red zone. Without a designated feature running back, expect Romo to be throwing more than last year and likely throwing to Dez.

Pick 2nd Round

5. Julio Jones, ATL

Julio Jones, Quentin Jammer

2014: 1,593 rec yards, 104 catches, 7 TDs

Julio used to have an annual injury that holds him out for significant time but he held his own pretty well last year. One of the fastest guys on the field, even when injured, and Matt Ryan’s favorite target.

Pick 2nd Round

6. Calvin Johnson, DET

Wild Card Playoffs - Detroit Lions v New Orleans Saints

2014: 1,077 rec yards, 71 catches, 8 TDs

It’s weird ranking Megatron behind multiple guys, but he is getting older and coming off of an injury plagued season. Healed up, he still has the ability to win games by himself, and I trust him the most on the Lions roster.

Pick: Late 2nd Round

7. AJ Green, CIN

AJ

2014: 1,041 rec yards, 69 catches, 6 TDs

Big reason for Andy Dalton’s drop-off was AJ Green’s injury last year. Green is back healthy and will be as solid as ever if Cincinnati sets him up with their running game.

Pick: Late 2nd – Early 3rd 

8. Randall Cobb, GB

Cobb

2014: 1,287 rec yards, 91 catches, 12 TDs, 112 return

Ridiculous how Cobb and Nelson were able to have such high numbers last season, but that’s how it works in the Green Bay system. With Nelson down, Cobb jumps up in value, but by how much? That’ll depend on how the next man up performs?

Pick: 2nd-Early 3rd Round

9. Alshon Jeffery, CHI

NFL: Chicago Bears at Minnesota Vikings

2014: 1,133 rec yards, 85 catches, 10 TDs

Alshon has a chance to be a superstar with Brandon Marshall gone. He’ll be expected to play a Demaryius Thomas role in the new Bears system that will be set up by the run. Eddie Royal in the slot will also help get Jeffery open. He’s missed time in the preseason due to injury but is expected to be good to go for Week 1.

Pick: 3rd Round

10. TY Hilton, IND

T.Y. Hilton

2014: 1,345 rec yards, 82 catches, 7 TDs

Colts still added a few more weapons for Andrew Luck, but T.Y.’s still the #1 guy. He’s always downfield and, if anything, Andre Johnson will help him get more open.

Pick: 3rd Round

11. Mike Evans, TB

NFL: Preseason-Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Buffalo Bills

2014: 1,051 rec yards, 68 catches, 12 TDs

Jameis Winston looks okay so far this preseason and is a much better quarterback than Josh McCown. All Mike Evans needs is someone who can throw the ball down field and he’ll go get it. 

Pick: 4th Round

12. DeAndre Hopkins, HOU

Hopkins

2014: 1,210 rec yards, 76 catches, 6 TDs

This will be the guy that jumps up people’s draft boards because of Hard Knocks. This time, I think it will be justified because DeAndre is the best player on that offense not named Arian Foster (who is out because of injury). Brian Hoyer was just named the starting QB, and Hopkins should feel better about his consistency. 

Pick: 4th Round

13. Emmanuel Sanders, DEN

San Diego Chargers v Denver Broncos

2014: 1,404 rec yards, 101 catches, 9 TDs

Sanders went under the radar as one of the most productive WRs last year, and he’s going under the radar here too because of the low expectations for Peyton Manning. Just like Randall Cobb a year ago, Sanders gets open when Thomas gets more attention. Could be a really good WR2.

Pick 4th Round

14. Brandin Cooks, NO

Cooks

2014: 550 rec yards, 53 catches, 3 TDs

Cooks started last season as one of the best rookie WRs in a great class…and then got hurt. If Breesus is going to bounce back after an up-and-down season, Cooks will be the key to that. Best athlete on their team.

Pick 4th or 5th Round

15. Jordan Matthews, PHI

Matthews

2014: 872 rec yards, 67 catches, 8 TDs

Philly is trying to sell people on Matthews being a stud, but the truth is that there is nobody better ahead of him. If Jeremy Maclin’s #1 receiver production a year ago is any indication, the Chip Kelly system may pay off big time for owners. 

Pick 5th Round

16. Andre Johnson, IND

Andre

2014: 936 rec yards, 86 catches, 3 TDs

Andre dealt with a really bad quarterback situation in Houston the past few years but also wasn’t getting open in the end zone. With so many weapons demanding coverage for Indy, he will have better opportunities to score. Andrew Luck will see to that.

Pick 6th Round

17. Golden Tate, DET

Golden

2014: 1,331 rec yards, 99 catches, 4 TDs

Based on last year’s production, Tate should ranked higher. A lot of that was thanks to Megatron either being hurt or drawing coverage away from him. I wouldn’t expect the same catch and yardage numbers, but he would make a solid low end WR2/Flex guy.

Pick 6th Round

18. Julian Edelman, NE

Edelman

2014: 972 rec yards, 92 catches, 5 TDs, 299 return

Tom Brady’s favorite receiver will have to step it up if #12 misses any time. Not very consistent but gets a lot of catches for PPR and will pick up those random return yards that make you mad if you sat him. (Personal experience)

Pick 6th or 7th Round

19. Brandon Marshall, NYJ

Brandon Marshall

2014: 721 rec yards, 61 catches, 8 TDs

Brandon Marshall’s starting quarterback just got punched in the face and is out 6-10 weeks with a broken jaw. The Jets don’t have any quarterbacks and Marshall isn’t getting any younger either. I would also be worried about his injuries from last season being a sign that he may miss time again. Still has potential to have big TD games, but I wouldn’t depend on him for yardage.

Pick 7th Round

20. Amari Cooper, OAK

Amari

Rookie

Definitely the best of the rookies in this year’s class. Could give you great value if he plays to his potential right away. Fast and has knack for getting to the end zone.

Pick 7th Round

21. Keenan Allen, SD

Keenan

2014: 783 rec yards, 77 catches, 4 TDs

Allen was one of the most targeted players in the league last year but wasn’t making the catches. He settled in later on, but the Chargers seem like a run heavy team going into the season. With Eddie Royal gone, he’ll definitely get more attention from Rivers (Batman-Woo!)

Pick 7th Round

22. DeSean Jackson, WAS

NFL: Washington Redskins at Philadelphia Eagles

2014: 1,169 rec yards, 56 catches, 6 TDs

I don’t like the Washington offense at all. RG-III is a broken player and that makes DeSean a hit or miss player. He’ll have great games because of speed, but then he’ll be invisible because nobody can get him the ball.

Pick 8th Round

23. Sammy Watkins, BUF

Sammy

2014: 982 rec yards, 65 catches, 6 TDs

Sammy is clearly the best receiver in Buffalo, but the bad trio of quarterbacks battling for the starting spot make you worried as to how consistent his production will be. They are going to run a lot and that may open things up for Sammy. WR isn’t a very valuable position on Rex Ryan teams.

Pick 8th Round

24. Jarvis Landry, MIA

Landry

2014: 758 rec yards, 84 catches, 5 TDs, 1,158 return

Landry was an under-the-radar productive rookie last year and I expect him to play even better in his second year. With Wallace gone, he’ll be much more depended on by Tannehill.

Pick 8th Round

25. Davante Adams, GB

Davante

2014: 446 rec yards, 38 catches, 3 TD

Davante just became a lot more valuable with Jordy being lost for the season. Week 1 will be an audition for him to see if he can fill the role opposite Cobb. He had flashes last season but also dropped some important passes. The best bet is to draft him later and take the risk than pass up on Rodgers’s next best WR.

Pick 8th Round

26. Victor Cruz, NYG

Cruz

2014: 337 yards, 23 catches, 1 TD

With two knee surgeries in as many years and currently a calf injury that is keeping out of the Giants’ 3rd preseason game, Victor Cruz seems like a liability going into the 2015 season. Cruz is confident he’ll be good to go in Week 1 and could put up his old production with defenses paying more attention to Beckham. 

Pick 8th Round

27. Eric Decker, NYJ

Decker

2014: 962 rec yards, 74 catches, 5 TDs

Oddly, I trust Eric Decker more than I do Brandon Marshall in New York. You can see Marshall getting double-teamed and opening things up over the middle and deep for Decker, which is something that works better for Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback…Marshall is going to hate Fitzpatrick.

Pick: 8th Round

28. Jeremy Maclin, KC

Maclin

2014: 1,318 rec yards, 85 catches, 10 TDs

Maclin was one of the best receivers in the league last year. Unfortunately, Alex Smith is his quarterback now. Kansas City WRs didn’t catch a TD pass until the backend of the season. Maclin may improve those numbers reuniting with Andy Reid, so he could be steal here.

Pick 8th Round

29. Roddy White, ATL

Roddy

2014: 921 rec yards, 80 catches, 7 TDs

Roddy is a pass catching machine and sometimes gets to the end zone. His issue in recent years is staying healthy, but should benefit from Julio getting most of the attention.

Pick 9th Round

30. Mike Wallace, MIN

Wallace

2014: 862 rec yards, 67 catches, 10 TD

Wallace is very good at finding the end zone and is the most proven among the Vikings receivers. As Teddy Bridgewater gets more comfortable as an NFL quarterback, I would trust Wallace the most in the group.

Pick 9th Round

31. Steve Smith Sr., BAL

Smith Sr.

2014: 1,065 rec yards, 79 catches, 6 TD

I expect Steve Smith to go way too early in drafts because he’s a name people know. It’s his last season, so he’s going to try to ball out, but that’s only going to work if Joe Flacco can get him the ball. The WR group in Baltimore is pretty thin so if Flacco is playing well, so will Smith Sr.

Pick 9th round

32. Anquan Boldin, SF

Boldin

2014: 1,062 rec yards, 83 catches, 5 TDs

Boldin is a badass and he has good chemistry with Kaepernick. You can expect, the Niners to play a lot of catchup this season because their defense is so depleted, which means Boldin will be getting a lot of targets.

Pick 9th Round

33. John Brown, AZ

NFL: St. Louis Rams at Arizona Cardinals

2014: 696 rec yards, 48 catches, 5 TDs

Among the Cardinals receivers, John Brown is the Home Run player for Carson Palmer to throw to downfield. May be boom or bust if Michael Floyd returns and stays healthy. Theoretically can be open a lot if Larry Fitzgerald and Floyd draw most of the coverage. 

Pick 10th Round

34. Vincent Jackson, TB

VJax

2014: 1002 rec yards, 70 catches, 2 TDs

I always feel like VJax would be a better player on a different team, but he makes due with the quarterbacks throwing to him. If Jameis Winston is able to read defenses quickly, VJax will benefit from it. Mike Evans will be the first option, but the floor isn’t very low on VJax either.

Pick 10th Round

35. Allen Robinson, JAX

ARob

2014: 548 rec yards, 48 catches, 2 TDs

It’s easier to trust Jacksonville RBs than their WRs, but Allen Robinson can be a stud. His problem is staying healthy, as he broke his foot last year after heating up. Blake Bortles can sling it though, so keep an eye on A-Rob late.

Pick 10th Round

36. Eddie Royal, CHI

Royal

2014: 778 rec yards, 62 catches, 7 TDs

I think Eddie Royal is going to surprise a lot of people this year with the Bears. He’s reunited with Jay Cutler, and both players had their best statistical seasons playing together. Royal provides something Cutler hasn’t had in years, which is a true slot receiver. So as Alshon Jeffery is getting covered deep and Martellus Bennett is drawing attention, Royal will be open in the middle.

Pick 10th Round

37. Kendall Wright, TEN

Wright

2014: 715 rec yards, 57 catches, 6 TDs

Kendall Wright has been inconsistent for a long time, and part of that is thanks to bad quarterbacks being in Tennessee. Early reviews though, are that he’s playing well in practice with Marcus Mariota and that’s encouraging. If Mariota transitions well, he should be able to extend plays with his feet and that helps Wright downfield a lot.

Pick 11th Round

38. Stevie Johnson, SD

Stevie

2014: 435 rec yards, 35 catches, 3 TD

Stevie was in a bad situation with San Francisco, as that offense turned out to be a mess. In San Diego, he’ll be depended on a lot more especially with Antonio Gates out for the first 4 weeks. Coaches say that he can average 7+ catches, which could make him a steal this far back.

Pick 11th Round or later

39. Nelson Agholor, PHI

Algohor

Rookie

Agholor is expected to do big things for the Eagles as they selected him in the first round. He’s now taking 1st team reps, and should be a starter Week 1. If Chip Kelly’s weird offense works, Agholor could be big if Jordan Matthews is getting the attention most people expect him to.

Pick 11th round or later

40. Michael Floyd, AZ

Floyd

2014: 841 rec yards, 47 catches, 6 TD

Floyd is returning from a dislocated finger injury but is on track to be ready for Week 1. If he can stay on the field, Floyd can do big things as John Brown takes the top off opposing defenses. Potential steal late in your draft. 

Draft 11th Round or later. 

Do your rankings look different? Let me know on Facebook and Twitter

Also…

Quarterbacks Cheat Sheet

Running Backs Cheat Sheet

Tight Ends Cheat Sheet

Defenses & Kickers Cheat Sheet

Your Chicago Bears: Preseason Week 1 vs. Miami

The Chicago Bears kickoff the John Fox/Ryan Pace era tonight at 7 PM CT off Lakeshore Drive with an exhibition matchup against the Miami Dolphins. For those who haven’t had an opportunity to make the trek down Route 55 to Boubonnais, this is will be your first look at the run-heavy Adam Gase offense and the Vic Fangio 3-4 defense…Albeit watered down, but still a first look.

The expectations for each year’s first preseason game are usually as follows. Maybe a series or 2 for the offensive starters. The first team defense may get a little bit more time as they are adjusting to a whole new scheme with players in new positions. Then it becomes time for backups and fringe players to show what they’ve got. Regardless, the players on both sides of the ball are going to carryout game plans from their respective coordinators for the first time, and that should be exciting for Bears fans.

Wednesday afternoon, the Bears released their first unofficial depth chart on the team’s website. Here are the different phases for the 2015 Bears squad, and what to look for while they get to hit someone else for the first time this summer.

The Offense

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Quarterbacks

Jay Cutler will start under center, as expected, with zero interceptions thrown all training camp. Gase has focused on running the ball in camp and playing to Cutler’s strengths which include rolling out of the box and throwing on the run. Cutler’s “see it, throw it” mentality works better when he can extend the play, and play-action should suit that better.

After Cutler exits, it will be his backup from a year ago Jimmy Clausen and undrafted rookie free agent Shane Carden from East Carolina. Clausen saw time in 4 games last season and 1 start before being concussed. The preseason is like the backup’s regular season with an opportunity to instill some confidence that he’s right for the job…or the general manager will look elsewhere.

Running Backs

As mentioned before, the emphasis of the Bears’ new offense will be on running the ball and Matt Fortesounds more than welcoming of that.

“When you run the ball, it’s more like an attack feeling,” Forte told the Chicago Sun-Times. “They like smash-mouth football, where you can bloody somebody’s nose and run and hit people.”

In contract year, Forte would much prefer that mentality as opposed to the RB-record 102 passes he caught last season. No surprise that veteran Jacquizz Rodgers is the second string back, but Jeremy Langford will have a chance to showcase his speed, pass catching, and third down strength. Daniel Thomas is the only other proven back and has out-shined both Ka’Deem Carey and Senorise Perry in camp.

Receivers

The Bears seem set at the position for the time being, despite 1st round pick Kevin White trying to return from a shin injury. Alshon Jeffery is the clear #1 receiver with Brandon Marshall gone, and Eddie Royal fills a need that has been missing for year as the slot receiver. Anticipate Royal to see a lot of targets during the season if Jeffery commands double teams.

With White on the sidelines, the stage is set for Marquess Wilson to try proving he can be a playmaker and also stay healthy. Josh Bellamy is a familiar name who will get plenty of snaps tonight, and return specialist Marc Mariani has impressed everyone in camp when he gets his reps with the first team.

Tight Ends

The Bears don’t have any fullbacks on their roster, so the tight end position gets two different slots on the depth chart. Martellus Bennett is the clear #1 while Dante Rosario gets listed first on the second line. Rosario will be in competition for second TE time against newcomer Bear Pascoe and 2014 preseason hero Zach Miller. Miller needs to prove he can make it out of the preseason in one piece, but could be an excellent red zone option if he can.

Offensive Line

The current starting offensive is the same as it was to break camp the past two seasons, with the addition of former Bronco Will Montgomery at center. Keep an eye on rookie Hroniss Grasu from Oregon, who ranked 2nd among centers in the draft and should get a lot of time with the twos. Jordan Mills is looking to bounce back from a bad sophomore season that was also plagued by injuries, but the massive Charles Leno will look to provide insurance to the tackle position. More than likely, Kyle Long will be mixing it up with somebody…because that’s what he does.

The Defense

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Defensive Line

It will be very different from what Bears fans have seen for the last decade and a half. There are no longer “defensive tackles” and defensive ends fill the 5 technique on the line. Slated as the #1 nose tackle is Jeremiah Ratlif, who is one of the few D-Linemen with 3-4 experience. While he is penciled in at the nose, he can also play DE. Eddie Goldman was highly regarded coming out of the draft from Florida State and was expected to make a run for a starting spot at either nose or DE. He should get plenty of snaps tonight, but will have to prove he’s in shape enough to handle it. Previously, he left the field early in both camp and OTAs because he wasn’t.

I’m looking forward to how the two DL rookies from last year transition to end. Early reviews say Ego Ferguson was one of the most improved players from offseason workouts while Will Sutton  seems to be struggling with the move. Jarvis Jenkins is slated as the other #1 defensive end opposite of Ferguson. Jenkins is the only other DE with 3-4 experience besides backend defender David Carter. He’s a better run defender but hopes to prove he can get upfield quicker to prove he can rush the passer in Fangio’s system. Cornelius Washington will be one of the most interesting watches tonight as he has hung around the roster for the past few years without seeing much regular season playing time.

Outside Linebackers

It’s funny seeing the two biggest defensive signees from last season not only in different positions now, but one slated ahead of the more expensive one. Jared Allen is currently the starter ahead of Lamarr Houston and both are trying to prove they can learn a new position. I have a hard time seeing either one drop back in coverage which is why I anticipate they are going to get more pass rushing snaps than anything.

Purnell McPhee is this season’s big free agent signing and he describes himself as “violent”. Tonight we get our first look at how violent he can be for the Bears and how much chaos he can cause for opposing offenses. Sam Acho is set behind Purnell in the depth chart, but he’s probably a better OLB than both Allen and Houston. Willie Young will have the most to prove as he has had the toughest time changing positions. He’s always played a wide DE position and it has to be awkward playing without your hand on the ground when you haven’t done it for your entire career.

Inside Linebackers

No, you read that correctly. Shea McClellin the Bears starting inside linebacker alongside last year’s undrafted rookie free agent signee Christian Jones. Jones has always looked like a player who deserved to be drafted and given more respect, but McClellin is auditioning for his 3rd different position. This is the Shea-Train’s last chance to prove he isn’t a draft bust and so far he has shown Fangio this may be his natural position. If not, Mason Foster has plenty of experience and skill to fit in better. Jon Bostic has missed most of the offseason due to injury and is still catching up to learn the scheme and his position.

Cornerbacks

The Bears secondary is currently their weakest position in terms of depth, and maybe talent as well. Kyle Fuller has a full year under his belt, one that saw a lot of success in the first month and disaster the rest of the way. The Bears hope he can emulate that first month for an entire season. Tim Jennings is a former Pro Bowler, but is also coming off a rough 2014 campaign. Jennings has always been best in man coverage though, so the scheme change should be helpful. Alan Ball was priority signing for Pace in the offseason and will get plenty of time to show why next to Tracy Porter. 

Safeties

Many were surprised to see 2nd year safety Brock Vereen as one of the starting safeties, not so much of a surprise with Antrel Rolle. Ryan Mundy was expected to be one of the starters and will have to earn that spot beginning tonight. Keep an eye on the rookie out of Penn State, Adrian Amos, who was one of the best coverage safeties in the Big Ten a year ago.

Special Teams

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There’s not much to say about the Special Teams units other than the fact that they can’t be worse than last year’s. And on the cover of tonight’s program at Soldier Field is punter Pat O’Donnell. 

Follow along for updates and conversation on Twitter.