- AJ Mass, Fantasy
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Is any Chicago Bears wide receiver worthy of fantasy consideration?
"If it seems too good to be true, it probably is."
That cautionary phrase can apply to guys selling cardboard boxes full of half-price 3-D televisions out of the back of their trucks, e-mail offers from foreign princes looking for your help to transfer their vast overseas fortunes to the United States and, most importantly for fantasy owners, the Chicago Bears' 2010 offense.
On the surface, what's not to like? Jay Cutler threw 555 passes last season, including eight touchdowns in the last two weeks of the season, and now gets the honor of running an offense designed by Mike Martz, the coordinator responsible for the St. Louis Rams teams that turned Kurt Warner from grocery-store bag boy to NFL MVP and three-straight 500-point seasons. Surely this means that Johnny Knox, Devin Hester and Devin Aromashodu are primed to break out as the 2010 version of Isaac Bruce, Torry Holt and Ricky Proehl, right?
If you believe that, let me help you carry that TV to your car; after all, it's as heavy as a pile of bricks.
First off, let's do a quick history lesson on "The Greatest Show on Turf," shall we? Although Warner became a fantasy superstar in this aggressive, take-no-prisoners passing attack, the fact is that even at the Rams' apex, when they went 14-2 in 2001, no wide receiver on the team had more than seven touchdown receptions. In fact, with all those downfield options luring the defense further and further from the line of scrimmage, it was running back Marshall Faulk who led the team in both catches (83) and receiving scores (nine). Perhaps that bodes well for the combination of Matt Forte and Chester Taylor, but it still leaves what essentially amounts to table scraps to be split up among the top trio of wide receivers in Chicago.
So let's talk about that trio, shall we? Taking Earl Bennett (who's coming off knee surgery) out of the equation for now, who is the best of the Bears' bunch? Is it Knox, who had a solid first two weeks of the 2009 season but had just one game with more than 50 receiving yards the rest of the way? Is it Hester, the speedster with tons of promise but whose versatility has not elevated him to that next level, unlike, say, DeSean Jackson in Philadelphia?
No, the best bet for saving Lovie Smith's job and propelling your fantasy team into the postseason is Aromashodu. After missing most of the 2009 season with a bad hamstring, Aromashodu emerged as Cutler's favorite receiver late in the year, breaking out with four scores in the last four games of the season. What makes him stand head and shoulders above his fellow receivers is that he literally does stand head and shoulders above his teammates. At 6-foot-2, Aromashodu relies more on size and strength than speed to get open, and therein lies the difference. Look no further than the Bears' second preseason game against the Oakland Raiders for the sad truth: The offensive line is awful.
In one half of play, Cutler was sacked five times, a harbinger of things to come. Cutler can't sit back in the pocket and wait for complicated downfield routes to develop. He'll need to heave it on up there. Aromashodu is the best bet among the Bears' wide receivers to both catch Cutler's eye and come down with the ball. However, before you start moving him too far up your draft lists, there's one more player who needs to be discussed: Greg Olsen.
Olsen led the Bears in receptions last season with 60, yet naysayers may be quick to point out that the Martz system has never been a boon for tight ends. In fact, the Martz-managed tight end who's had the most receptions was Rams tight end Ernie Conwell, who produced a very ordinary 38 catches in 2001. However, Olsen is far too talented to be discarded, and someone has to step into those multiple-receiver formations where the likes of Az-Zahir Hakim used to live. With Brandon Manumaleuna signed to do the bulk of the tight end-blocking duties, I expect Olsen to be used as if he were a wide receiver. That will further eat into the receiving pie, especially near the end zone, where Cutler likes to look for Olsen as the first, second and third option before finally relenting and throwing the ball elsewhere, assuming, of course, that the quarterback somehow is still standing.
Is it really possible for Cutler to be a top-10 quarterback without a single wide receiver in the top 50? Absolutely. Even if he throws 30 interceptions, the sheer quantity of passes that may be called in the Bears' huddle this season makes a 4,000-yard season a virtual lock even given the obvious troubles along the offensive line.
Every Bears receiver is just as likely to be targeted as any other, game in and game out, but if you're trying to figure out which one has the best shot at consistent success, it has to be Aromashodu. Given that he's likely to be listed as the No. 3 guy on the depth chart, a designation that has little meaning in this system, you'll also be able to sit on him even longer in your fantasy drafts, making his price tag well worth the risk.