Preseason - 2021 Chicago Bears Outlook
Chicago Bears Outlook
After a breakthrough season in 2018 (12-4), Chicago slipped to 8-8 in each of the past two years. Despite scoring 92 more points in 2020, the Bears still ranked poorly in scoring (372 – 22nd). In addition, they have not had a top 20 finish in offense yards since 2016.
Chicago brought in Matt Nagy to be the head coach after a successful 2017 season as the offensive coordinator for the Chiefs. Nagy had 10 seasons of NFL experience working under Andy Reid. He went 28-20 over his three years as a head coach with two appearances in the playoffs.
Bill Lazor took over as the offensive coordinator in 2020 after spending the previous season as an analyst for Penn State. He has four other seasons of experience with the same job in Miami and Cincinnati. His NFL career started in 2003 while coaching in the league for 14 years.
The Bears' defense faded to 14th in points allowed (370) and 11th in yards allowed while being less opportunistic in the turnover department.
Chuck Pagano retired in the offseason, prompting Chicago to upgrade Sean Desai from safeties coach to defensive coordinator. He has been in the Bears' coaching tree since 2018.
Chicago brought in Andy Dalton to provide experience at the quarterback position.
Dalton went 4-5 in relief of Dak Prescott, but he gained only 6.5 yards per pass attempt. Over 10 seasons in the NFL, he had a 74-66-2 record with no wins in four chances in the postseason.
The Bears moved on from Trubisky after drafting him second overall in the 2017 NFL Draft. His career started with a 4-8 record in his rookie season. Over his last 38 starts, he went 25-13 while tossing 57 touchdowns with 30 interceptions. He ran for 1,057 yards and eight touchdowns on 190 carries over four seasons of action.
Their offensive line lost G Kyle Long. He retired from football in 2020 after battling a hip injury. The Chiefs added him for bench depth while understanding his pedigree (first-round draft selection in 2013).
They added T Elijah Wilkinson for bench depth. Over the past three seasons, he made 19 starts, with most of his playing time coming at right tackle. His game offers risk in both run and pass blocking.
On defense, the Bears signed CB Desmond Trufant while DT Brent Urban and DT Roy Robertson-Harris found new homes.
Trufant is a former first-round pick (2013), but injuries led to poor play, and many missed games over the past two seasons. Receivers beat him for an increased number of touchdowns over the previous four seasons.
Over four seasons with the Bears, Robertson-Harris only had 75 combined tackles and 7.5 sacks. His best help will come in run support while heading to the sidelines on most passing downs.
Urban projects as a rotational run defender who will head to the sidelines on passing downs.
The only other addition was WR Damiere Byrd. His opportunity increased over the last two seasons for the Cardinals (32/359/1) and Patriots (47/604/1). He'll compete for the WR4 role in Chicago in 2021.
The Bears were happy to snatch up QB Justin Fields with the 11th overall pick in the 2021 NFL Draft. Despite some impressive stats, Fields does come with knocks from some NFL scouts. He needs to improve his pre-snap reads when facing the blitz, plus show more quickness in his release under duress. His strengths come from his toughness and playmaking ability while having the base to protect the pocket after getting hit. Fields takes what the defense gives him as a runner, which gains value at the goal line.
His arm has the strength to make all the NFL throws. Fields plays well when asked to throw on the run. Reading defenses is the most significant area of growth needed.
The next two selections in the second and fifth rounds went to improving the offensive line – T Teven Jenkins and G Larry Borom.
Jenkins should hit the ground running in his first year in the pros. His hands paired with his power and feel in run blocking set the tone for a rangy player with an attitude. Jenkins brings vision, but he may struggle at times with speedy pass rushers with the ability to keep him at a distance.
Borom has experience at tackle, but his game projects better at guard in the NFL. He plays with power while having a limited range. Borom has a break-the-door down style that plays well in a quicker hitting run game. Bull rushers should stall after contact, but speed outside his reach will be an issue.
With three picks in the sixth round, the Bears invested in RB Khalil Herbert, WR Dazz Newsome, and CB Thomas Graham.
Herbert has early-down potential who needs rhythm timing to excel through the line of scrimmage. When on the move, he flows to the hole with the vision and acceleration to reach the second level of the defense. Herbert gets in trouble when hitting road blocks due to his gearing, taking a couple of steps to reach peak speed. His pass protection is below par with minimal early value in the passing game.
Newsome brings a playmaking, open-field running style, which points to him upgrading the Bears' return game. His route running needs plenty of work, but Newcome has the change of direction quickness to improve in this area. Chicago may run a play or two for him a game to see what he can do with the ball in his hands.
Graham lacks the foundation skill set to match receivers in pass routes, and his makeup speed leaves him vulnerable when losing a step in his coverage assignment. He has a safety feel while lacking the size (5'10" and 190 lbs.) to play the position.
The Bears took a flier on DT Khyiris Tonga in the seventh round. He has a bully feel when given an edge in strength. His game plays well against the run while earning any passing rush with power. Tonga needs to up his game when facing top-tier blocking who can match him in strength.
Chicago bumped up to 25th in rushing yards (1,647) with 12 rushing touchdowns and eight runs over 20 yards. Their ball carriers gained 4.2 yards per rush.
The Bears improved to 22nd in passing yards (3,925 yards) with 26 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. Their offensive line allowed 36 sacks with a league-low three completions over 40 yards.
LT Teven Jenkins
The Bears need Jenkins to slide into the starting lineup and play at a high level in his rookie season. His run blocking should be an asset out of the gate with some work to do in pass protection.
LG James Daniels
Daniels missed 11 games in his third season with the Bears after suffering a pectoral injury in Week 5. His run blocking is trending higher with a reasonable floor in passing blocking. Chicago drafted him in the second round in 2018.
C Cody Whitehair
Whitehair has been one of the better run-blocking centers after getting drafted in the second round in 2016. Whitehair played left tackle in college while his natural position is at guard. He will give up some pressure on the quarterback while also having a pair of seasons where he ranked highly in this area.
RG Larry Borom
Borom is the second rookie player that Chicago needs to make a push for a starting job in 2021. A switch to guard should lead to a higher ceiling. His run blocking will be his strength early in his career.
RT Germain Ifedi
Ifedi spent 2020 starting at right guard and right tackle. His run blocking appears to be slightly better on the interior of the line while never being an asset in his career. His pass protection looked improved in his first year in Chicago, but Ifedi does allow too many sacks, and defenders can beat him to the spot off the snap.
This offensive line has a lot of moving parts with a risk/reward feel in 2021. The Bears look better positioned to improve in run blocking than in pass protection. Overall, I rank this group in the bottom third of the league.
Chicago ran the ball 39 percent of the time last year while ranking eighth in passing attempts (596). Unfortunately, they gained only 6.4 yards per pass play, leading to a 24th place finish in passing yards (3,913).
QB Justin Fields, CHI - Sleeper (undervalued)
Fields played for one of the best football programs in the NCAA in 2019 and 2020, and he did them proud by going 20-2 despite failing to win a national championship. He passed for 5,373 yards with 63 touchdowns and nine interceptions. Fields finished his college career with 260 rushes for 1,133 yards and 19 touchdowns.
He has been a great player in high school and college. Ohio State hasn't produced a winning NFL starting quarterback in the Super Bowl era, which may be a strike against his ceiling.Fantasy Outlook: Heading into training camp, the Bears will take the high road on Fields starting in Week 1. His competition has a low ceiling with dull results over the past few seasons. Fields needs time to develop, but he knows how to win games with the tools to be much better than a game manager. Fields should prove to be the best quarterback in Chicago over the summer, putting him on a path to start all 17 games while delivering 4,250 combined yards with just over league average production in touchdowns. Fantasy owners price him as a low-end backup fantasy quarterback in the early draft season in mid-June.
QB Andy Dalton, CHI - Not Draft Worthy
The Cowboys gave Dalton the keys to their passing game in Week 6 due to an injury to Dak Prescott. He finished with 266 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions before getting knocked out of the next game with a concussion.
After missing two games, Dalton made seven starts with only one successful outing (377/3) while turning in dull results in his six other matchups (203/3, 215/1, 285/2, 185/2, 209/2, and 244/0). He gained only 6.9 yards per pass attempt compared to 8.4 by Prescott over his first four games.
Dalton has a career 74-77-2 record in the NFL, but only 24-40-1 over the past five years. In his last four seasons, he has a short completion rate (61.1) while gaining only 6.7 yards per pass attempt.
Fantasy Outlook: His best days in 2021 will be cashing his paycheck. Dalton has a low ceiling, which points to a clipboard job for the Bears this season.
Other Options: Nick Foles
RB David Montgomery, CHI - Solid/Safe Pick
Chicago lost Tarik Cohen in Week 3, which was part of the reason for the Bears throwing fewer balls (84 targets – 147 in 2019 and 127 in 2018) to their running backs. Their backs finished with a rebound in yards per catch (8.2). In the run game, Chicago showed more bounce in their chances (334/1,442/11).
Montgomery started the year with minimal running room (3.6 yards per rush) over nine games while failing to rush for over 90 yards in any matchup. His best showing over this span came in Week 2 (127 combined yards with one touchdown and three catches).
After missing Week 10 with a concussion, Montgomery strung together six straight impressive games (824 combined yards with eight touchdowns and 24 catches) while averaging 23.3 touches per game. He scored over 20.00 fantasy points in each matchup, pushing him to fourth in running back scoring (265.80 fantasy points) in PPR leagues.
Over his hot run, Montgomery averaged 5.2 yards per rush and 9.4 yards per catch.
Fantasy Outlook: Despite his success, fantasy owners won't fight for Montgomery in fantasy drafts in 2021. His early ADP (36) prices him as the 19th running back drafted, pointing to a buying opportunity. The return of Tarik Cohen does lower his ceiling, but Montgomery deserves the bulk of the running back chances in 2021. His next step should be 325 touches for 1,650 combined yards with a dozen scores and over 60 catches.
RB Damien Williams, CHI - Deep-league Only
In 2019, Williams ended up being a bust, highlighted by his bad start to the year (215 combined yards with three touchdowns and 15 catches over six games). Over this span, he missed a pair of games while gaining only 2.1 yards per rush.
After flashing in Week 9 (12/125/1) and Week 10 (109 combined yards with five catches), Williams missed three more games with a rib injury.
He looked much better over his final five games, including the playoffs (536 combined yards with nine TDs and 18 catches).
Williams opted out of 2020 with Covid concerns.Fantasy Outlook: The Bears brought in Williams for early-down insurance. Over two seasons with the Chiefs, he gained 127 combined yards with 11 touchdowns and 53 catches.
RB Khalil Herbert, CHI - Dynasty Only
Over five seasons at Virginia Tech, Herbert finished with 3,214 combined yards with 23 touchdowns and 34 catches. His highlight year came in 2020 (1,361 combined yards with nine scores and 10 catches). Definitely flashed well in his first pre-season action. Good deep league dynasty stash, especially for Montgomery owners.
Other Options: Ryan Nall, Artavis Pierce, CJ Marable
RB Tarik Cohen, CHI - Quality Backup
A quality pass catcher, Cohen has averaged 90 targets annually playing in two full season with Matt Nagy but was limited to just three games a year ago with a torn ACL. As dependable as Cohen has been in the passing game, his recovery has been slowed and the fifth-year back has been placed on the PUP list as training camp opened.
Fantasy Outlook: Cohen is one of the better change-of-pace PPR backs in the league but is looking like a risky investment due to the slow recoverty. If he's able to suit up for 17 games, Cohen is an excellent value and source of receptions.