|By Shawn Childs, Monday, August 28, 2023|
2023 Chicago Bears Outlook
Chicago brought in Matt Eberflus to take over as their head coach in 2022. He went 3-14 in his rookie campaign while not improving the team in any area. Over his previous four seasons, Eberflus worked as the defensive coordinator for the Colts. He's been in the NFL since 2009, with most of his experience coming with the Cowboys (seven years).
The offense is in the hands of Luke Getsy for a second season. He earned his way up the coaching ranks in Green Bay as their quarterback's coach and passing game coordinator from 2019 to 2021. His first seven seasons of NFL coaching experience came with the Packers.
The Bears bumped to 23rd in points scored (326) while sliding to 28th in yards allowed. They've had a bottom-tier scoring offense eight times over the past nine seasons.
Alan Williams returns for his second year to run the Bears' defense. His first opportunity came with the Vikings in 2012 and 2013. He worked under Matt Eberflus in Indianapolis as their defensive backs coach for three seasons. Williams has been coaching in the NFL since 2001.
Before 2022 (29th), Chicago ranked in the top 11 in the NFL in yards allowed for six consecutive seasons. Their Bears gave up the most points (463) in the NFL last year, giving them the honor of having the worst-scoring defense in Chicago's history in the Super Bowl era.
The Bears addressed their shortfall on defense by signing five players – LB Tremaine Edmunds, LB T.J. Edwards, DE Rasheem Green, DT DeMarcus Walker, and DT Andrew Billings. Edmunds was their big ticket item ($72 million for four seasons). LB Nicholas Morrow took a minimal deal with the Eagles.
RB David Montgomery jumped to the Detroit Lions. Chicago brought in RB D'Onta Foreman to replace him on the roster. The Bears took a flier on TE Robert Tonyan.
The only other addition was G Nate Davis, who signed for $30 million for three seasons.
Chicago had 10 selections in the 2023 NFL Draft, starting with T Darnell Wright as the 10th overall pick. He slides into their starting lineup at right tackle. His base skill set is a power player, pointing to an upgrade in the Bears' already potent run game. He isn't quite there yet in pass protection due to questionable hands and vision.
In the second and third rounds, the Bears invested in three defensive players (DT Gervon Dexter, CB Tyrique Stevenson, and DT Zacch Pickens).
Dexter comes off the ball slowly, putting him on his heels after the snap. He has the power to recover and hold his ground as a run clogger, but better quickness would raise his ceiling in all areas. His pass rush starts with his push while having a feel for breaking free from contact.
Stevenson is tentative in zone coverage with questionable vision. He plays with strength and trail techniques in press coverage with the tools to be an asset in run support. His step is working on his off-the-ball coverage and transitions.
Pickens gets off the ball quickly while offering the tools to get into the backfield and rush the quarterback. His challenge comes when locked up with bigger bodies on the interior of the line, leaving him vulnerable to a power run game. The depth of his game requires more bulk and strength.
Chicago added a pair of offensive players in the fourth round – RB Roschon Johnson and WR Tyler Scott.
Johnson brings plenty of bulk (6'0" and 220 lbs.) to the NFL while offering below-par running back speed (4.58 40-yard dash). His smash-mouth style plays well with open holes at the line of scrimmage while shining vs. defensive backs at the second level of the defense. Johnson does have some wiggle in his moves, with a willingness to use a stiff or jump to add yards after the catch. He does grade well in pass protection while having a limited ceiling and role expected in the passing game.
Scott is an undersized wideout (5'10" and 175 lbs.) who projects well in the deep passing game. His experience at running back earlier in his career gives him extra juice in the open field while having the quickness and acceleration to turn short passes into long scores. His route running needs refining, along with his flow back to the football on comeback patterns. Scott will struggle when matched up with physical defenders if they get a hand on him. The Bears may give him chances in the return game in his rookie season.
The remainder of Chicago's draft was dictated to the defensive side of the ball – LB Noah Sewell, CB Terell Smith, DT Travis Bell, and S Kendall Williamson.
Sewell projects as an attacking power player in run support. He has a thinker mentality, leaving him a tick behind on his reads and decision-making. His game loses value when asked to change direction, and offenses will try to draw him inside to take advantage of his lack of makeup speed on the outside. I don't expect him to be on the field on passing downs.
Smith should prove to be a valuable addition to the Bears' defense. He has the tools to match receivers in press coverage while showing an excellent foundation skill set to cover off the ball. Smith grades well in run support. His one lacking trait is creating turnovers.
Bell comes from a small school (Kennesaw State), inviting a development year in the pros. He showed power and quickness at the NFL combined. His style plays well when asked to slip past his man in the pass rush, but offensive linemen will use this to their advantage in the run game. Bell must improve his anchor and prove he can shake his assignment to make quick tackles.
Williamson shows vision and athletic ability, but his coverage area may be limited. He's willing to help in run support, but his tackling can be suspect in space. Chicago will try to find a role for him while helping him develop his skill set.
Chicago led the NFL in rushing yards (3,014) with 18 rushing touchdowns and 20 runs over 20 yards. Their ball carriers gained 5.4 yards per rush while averaging 32.8 carries. Their eight runs of 40+ yards doubled 29 other teams in the league.
The Bears had the worst pass defense in the NFL (2,598), attempting only 22.2 passes per game. They finished with 19 touchdowns and 15 interceptions, with weakness in their completion rate (59.2).
LT Braxton Jones jumped into the starting lineup in his rookie season after getting drafted in the fifth round. As expected (based on the team's success), he played well in run blocking while being helped by an explosive mobile quarterback. Jones did allow a ton of pressure when considering the low number of pass attempts.
LG Teven Jenkins missed 11 games in his rookie season after getting drafted in the second round in 2021. Last season, the Bears shifted him to right guard, where he made strides in run blocking over his 11 starts while allowing minimal pressure.
C Cody Whitehair missed five games last season with a knee injury. When on the field, he had problems in one game (Philly) in pass protection. His run blocking faded to a neutral area over the past two seasons.
RG Nate Davis is an upgrade to the Bears' offensive line in run blocking. His value in pass protection improved in 2022 while missing five games with an ankle injury.
RT Darnell Wright slides into the starting lineup after getting drafted 10th overall this season. His best value early in his career will come in the run game.
Based on talent, this offensive line doesn't match up with the best teams in the league. Justin Fields makes the line better with his big runs, but he needs a cleaner pocket and less pressure to make more winning plays in the passing game.
QB Justin Fields - Solid/Safe Pick
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.
Despite some impressive stats, Fields came 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 break 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.
Fields went 2-8 in his rookie season with more interceptions (10) than touchdowns (7). His completion rate (58.9) and yards per pass attempt (6.9) showed weakness, but he ran the ball well (72/420/2). Over his first six starts, Fields passed for more than 210 yards in one matchup (291/1) while delivering only five combined scores. He missed time late in the year with an ankle issue and Covid-19.
For the second consecutive season, Fields lost momentum late in the year due to an injury. He took a nasty hit in Week 11, leading to a missed game, while also sitting out Week 18 with a hip issue. Despite having high hopes as a QB2 in the fantasy market in 2022, Fields played his way off rosters after a dismal first four games (34-for-67 with 471 yards passing, two touchdowns, and four interceptions plus 34 runs for 147 yards and a score).
The Bears allowed him to run more from Week 6 to Week 11 (80/640/6), leading to an impressive run (21.30, 26.15, 27.55, 43.95, 42.05, and 25.15 fantasy points). His electric game (301 combined yards with four touchdowns) vs. the Dolphins helped me win $250,000 at DraftKings. Fields never threw more than 28 pass attempts in any matchup. His rushing stats (160/1,143/8) accounted for 49.0% of his fantasy points. He gained more than 20 yards on 10 rushes, with four plays reaching the 40-yard mark.
Fantasy Outlook: Chicago gave Fields an upgrade at WR1 (DJ Moore) in the offseason. His secondary receiving options (Darnell Mooney and Cole Kmet) should be better in 2023. Fields finished 11th in quarterback scoring (331.40) in four-point passing touchdown leagues. I can't expect him to have as many long runs this year, but he still gained 5.8 yards per carry in 2021 with three runs of 20 yards or more. With 17 games played, he should run the ball 170 times with 1,000 yards and six to eight scores. To reach 3,000 yards passing, Fields must average 176 yards and 25 passes per game. With 20 passing touchdowns, my quick math adds up to 360.00+ fantasy points. He ranks 7th at quarterback in mid-June in the high-stakes market. I sense a player close to 10th, but I also understand Fields could outperform my early outlook.
Other Options: PJ Walker, Nathan Peterman, Tyson Bagent
RB Khalil Herbert - Sleeper (undervalued)
Herbert has early-down potential and needs rhythm timing to excel through the line of scrimmage. When on the move, he flows to the hole with vision and acceleration to reach the second level of the defense. Herbert gets in trouble when hitting roadblocks due to his gearing and taking a couple of steps to reach peak speed. His pass protection needs to improve, with minimal early value in the passing game.
Over five seasons at Virginia Tech, Herbert finished with 3,214 combined yards with 23 touchdowns and 34 catches. His highlight year was 2020 (1,361 combined yards with nine scores and 10 catches).
With David Montgomery injured over four games in 2021, Herbert gained 388 combined yards with one touchdown and nine catches on 87 touches. Unfortunately, he barely touches the ball over his other 12 matchups (141 yards on 30 touches).
The Bears gave him the starts in Week 3 vs. the Texans last season with Montgomery out. Herbert responded with an impact game (20/157/2 with two catches for 12 yards). His touches fluctuated over his final nine matchups (77/414/1 with four catches for 20 yards) while missing four weeks with a hip injury. Chicago had him on the field for 29.1% of their plays. Herbert scored 6.00 fantasy points or fewer over his last five games.
Fantasy Outlook: This season, the Bears should try to get him on the field for 40 to 45% of their plays as their RB2. Herbert gained an impressive 5.7 yards per rush in 2022, helped by two rushes of 40 yards or more. He ranks 34th at running back in mid-June, with drafters expecting him to be Chicago's top fantasy back. I will set his bat at 11 to 13 touches per game for 850 yards, six touchdowns, and 20 catches. His inconsistent opportunity in the passing game invites some highs and lows in his production.
RB Roschon Johnson - Fantasy Handcuff
Over four seasons at Texas, Johnson rushed for 2,190 yards on 392 carries with 23 touchdowns. He caught 56 of his 77 targets for 420 yards and three more scores. Four (21/121, 23/105/3, 14/139/3, and 3/112/1) of his five games with more than 100 yards rushing came over his first 26 contests in college. He failed to deliver an impact game in his senior season.
Fantasy Outlook: It wouldn't surprise me to see Johnson out rush D'Onta Foreman this year. He has a similar style, with potentially more layers to his mission. I don't expect him to be drafted in 12-team redraft formats while having a low ceiling in catches. I view him as a handcuff to anyone investing in Foreman.
Other options: Trestan Ebner, Travis Homer
RB D'Onta Foreman - Gamble (high risk)
After an injury to Derrick Henry in 2021, Foreman worked his way into serviceable snaps late in the year. He finished 689 combined yards with three scores and nine catches. Tennessee gave him 20 touches or more in four of their final six matchups, leading to 542 yards with three touchdowns and six catches (13.03 FPPG in PPR formats).
Foreman appeared to have a minimal role in 2022 after signing with the Panthers as depth behind Christian McCaffery. Over the first six weeks, he only had 12 rushes for 37 yards with no chances in the passing game. When Carolina decided to trade their star running back, Foreman responded with more than 100 yards rushing in four of his first six starts (15/118, 26/118/3, 31/130/1, and 24/113). Unfortunately, he puts up six short fantasy games (4.30, 2.40, 8.50, 0.90, 3.50, and 6.80) over his final nine matchups. His only other playable outcome came in Week 16 (21/165/1).
Fantasy Outlook: UPDATE: In danger of being cut. Proceed with caution. Foreman has the inside track on the Bears to be their big back with almost no value on passing downs. He'll have to hold off incoming rookie Roschon Johnson in the preseason before determining his potential in the fantasy market. Possible 200/850/5 player with more upside if given 14 or more starts.
WR Tyler Scott - Dynasty Only
Over his last two seasons in college, Scott caught 84 passes for 1,419 yards and 14 touchdowns over 136 targets. His best output came in 2022 (54/899/9), highlighted by four games (8/119/1, 10/185/3, 10/139/2, and 7/140/1).
Fantasy Outlook: Scott may not get enough catches to help fantasy teams, but Chicago has to get him on the field in three wide receiver sets. His speed is what the Bears' lacked in 2021, and he'll make Justin Fields better this season. When catching the ball downfield on comeback routes, Scott does a tremendous job getting defenders flat-footed, allowing him to finish off catches with touchdowns.
Other Options: Equanimeous St. Brown, Dante Pettis, Velus Jones
WR D.J. Moore - Solid/Safe Pick
Moore delivered almost identical stats in receiving yards (1,175, 1,193, and 1,157) and touchdowns (4, 4, and 4) from 2019 to 2021. He finished with a career-high in catches (93) in 2021 due to a spike in targets (163). However, his catch rate (57.1) came in below his first three years (62.1) while also seeing a decline in his yards per catch (12.4 – 18.1 in 2020). His best value came over the first four weeks (6/80, 8/79/1, 8/126, and 8/113/2). He scored only once over his final 13 starts, with over 100 yards receiving (4/103) in one matchup. Moore had a floor of six catches in eight games. The Panthers gave him double-digit targets in 10 matchups.
Moore stumbled out of the gate in 2022 due to his lack of rhythm with Baker Mayfield. Six weeks into the season, he only had 20 catches for 204 yards and one touchdown on 44 targets. A switch at quarterback led to two productive games (7/69/1 and 6/152/1), followed by three more empty showings (2/24, 4/29, and 3/24). Moore played well in four (4/103/1, 5/73/1, 5/83/1, and 6/117/1) of his final six contests, helping fantasy teams when league championships were on the line. He failed to catch a pass in Week 14 while ending the year on a down note (1/10).
Fantasy Outlook: His opportunity (118 targets) matched 2020 with a similar result in catches (63 – 66 in 2020) and catch rate (53.4 – 55.9 in 2020), but Moore gained 205 fewer yards. His bump in touchdowns (7) might be repeatable in Chicago. In 2021, the Bears gave Darnell Mooney 140 targets, showing that Moore can have a WR2 fantasy opportunity in a low-volume passing attack. He ranks 21st at wide receiver in the high-stakes market. I see a wide range of outcomes, along with peaks and valleys during the year. I'll take the stance that Moore shines in the deep passing game, pointing to 70 catches for 1,050 yards with five to seven touchdowns.
WR Darnell Mooney - Bye Week Fill-in
The Bears selected Mooney with their third pick in the fifth round of the 2021 NFL Draft. He came into the league with a deep speed skill set while having questions about his value over the short areas of the field. Mooney is an undersized receiver (5'11" and 180 lbs.) with the wheels to run faster than 4.40 in the 40-yard dash.
In his second season in the NFL, Mooney led the Bears in catches (81), receiving yards (1,055), and targets (140). He finished 24th in wide receiver scoring (219.70) in PPR leagues. His best game in catches (12/126) came in Week 18. Mooney had three other showings with over 100 yards receiving (5/125, 5/121/1, and 5/123) with a floor of five catches in 12 matchups. His catch rate (57.9) was well below the best wide receivers, but he ranked 11th at wideout in targets.
Mooney rarely hit his 2021 stride last season over his 11 full starts. He posted five playable games (4/94, 7/68, 5/70, 7/43/1, and 4/29/1) in the season-long formats. Chicago gave him six targets or fewer in nine matchups. His catch rate (65.6) was much improved. Mooney was on pace to catch 62 passes for 762 yards and three touchdowns if he played 17 games.
Fantasy Outlook: With DJ Moore added to the Bears' roster, Mooney opens up the season as their WR2. He can make plays over the entire field, giving him a chance to match Moore in production. My starting point for him will be 65 catches for 850 yards and about five scores.
WR Chase Claypool - Bust (overvalued)
Pittsburgh invested in Claypool in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft. I don't expect him to outwork any defenders over the short areas of the field due to questionable explosiveness out of complicated routes. His release will also be an issue when facing physical defenders in press coverage. Claypool will present a problem on slants, crossing patterns, and down the seam where his straight-line speed is an edge if given a step or two in coverage. Notre Dame used him on many fades at the goal line, but his footwork and ability to make plays will be slowed down if challenged early at the line of scrimmage or by adding a second defender to his side of the field.
After surprising in his rookie season (62/873/9), the buzz and momentum in Claypool as a rising young wide receiver moved in the wrong direction in 2021. He played well in Week 3 (9/96) and Week 5 (5/130/1) while sitting the game in between with a hamstring issue. Over his final 12 games (including the playoffs), he scored fewer than 10.00 fantasy points in seven contests (2/17, 3/30, 2/52, 0/12, 4/41, 3/17, and 3/25) while averaging only 6.4 targets. His catch rate (56.2) had repeated weakness (56.9 in 2020).
Last year, Claypool failed to make an impact in seven of his eight games with the Steelers, leading to a midseason trade to Chicago. In Week 6, he posted his only game (7/96/1) of value. Claypool only had 14 catches for 140 yards with the Bears while missing two weeks with a knee injury.
Fantasy Outlook: At this point in his career, Claypool has much to prove while starting the season as the fourth option in the passing game for Chicago. He has size and potential scoring ability, but Claypool will be found in the free-agent pool.
TE Cole Kmet - Sleeper (undervalued)
After a quiet rookie season (28/243/2), Kmet more than doubled his production in catches (60) and yards (612) in 2021 while failing to find paydirt. His season started with a quiet eight weeks (22/197 on 36 targets). He posted three playable games (6/87, 8/65, and 6/71) over his final nine starts. The Bears gave him only 5.5 targets per game. His catch rate (64.5) should command more looks this year.
In 2022, Chicago gave Kmet only 20 targets over the first eight weeks, leading to 14 catches for 159 yards and one touchdown. He delivered two impact games in Week 9 (5/41/2) and Week 10 (4/74/2). Over his final seven starts, Kmet caught 27 of his 36 targets for 270 yards and two scores.
Fantasy Outlook: As I worked my way through the Bears' receiving options, I have a giddy feeling their passing game will be much better in 2023. In a way, Chicago should look at how Philadelphia ran their offense last year. They can't match their offensive line, and their receiving options don't bring as much start power. Either way, Kmet will regain his lost momentum this season. My starting points will be 60 catches for 700 yards and six scores.
TE Robert Tonyan - Low Potential
After a breakthrough season (52/586/11 on 59 targets) in 2020, Tonyan failed to live up to his draft expectations the following year over eight games (18/204/2 on 29 targets). His only value came in two matchups (3/52/1 and 4/63/1). He suffered a torn ACL in his left knee in late October.
Last year, Tonyan set a career-high in catches (53) and targets (67), but he gained only 8.9 yards per catch. He scored over 10.00 fantasy in only three matches (2/22/1, 10/90, and 3/52/1). The Packers gave him four targets or fewer over his final nine games.
Fantasy Outlook: Tonyan gives the Bears experience off the bench at tight end. He'll have minimal opportunity in 2023.
Other Options: Jake Tonges, Chase Allen, Stephen Carlson
PK Cairo Santos - Low Potential
Over his three seasons with the Bears, Santos made 77 of his 85 field goals (90.6%). He missed five of his 32 extra-point tries in 2022. His leg gained value last year from long range (4-for-5).
Fantasy Outlook: Chicago scored 37 touchdowns last season while creating 27 field goal chances. Santos has to clean up his extra point if he wants to keep his job in 2023. He'll offer only matchup value this year.
Chicago - Bye Week Fill-in
The Bears fell to 31st in rushing yards allowed (2,674) with 31 touchdowns. Opponents gained 4.9 yards per carry while averaging 31.9 rushes per game.
Chicago ranks 18th in passing yards allowed (3,716). Quarterbacks gained 8.0 yards per rush with 22 touchdowns and 14 interceptions. Their defense only had 20 sacks.
Their defensive line doesn't have one impact player, and their best hope for upside comes in this year's draft class at defensive tackle. Chicago hopes to make some progress slowing down the run up the middle in 2023.
LB Tremaine Edmunds posted more than 100 tackles in all five of his seasons in the NFL. His tackling and pass coverage improved last year, but he has never been an impact run defender. LB T.J. Edwards delivered 289 tackles over the previous two seasons in Philadelphia. His run defender should be a plus for the Bears in 2023. The third linebacking position is an open competition. The second level of Chicago's defense doesn't project to deliver many sacks.
CB Kyler Gordon struggled in his rookie season after getting drafted in the second round. Receivers finished with a high catch rate with poor tackling. The Bears hope incoming rookie Tyrique Stevenson can seize the other cornerback slot. S Jaquan Brisker showed flashes in his rookie year, except for his tackling. He'll rush the quarterback and add value in run support. S Eddie Jackson continues to be an asset in coverage and stopping the run.
This defense should improve against the run while remaining below the league average. I don't see enough sacks or turnovers to help in any way in the fantasy market.