We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2021 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.
The Bears haven’t exactly fulfilled their Super Bowl hopes in recent seasons, but it’s tough to deny that they have still experienced plenty of success. All in all, coach Matt Nagy has peeled off 12-4, 8-8 and 8-8 regular season records, posting a combined +122 point differential along the way.
Of course, the reality of the situation is that this team has regressed in consecutive seasons following its electric 2018 campaign. The defense remains one of the stronger overall units in the league; the problem has been consistently mediocre performances from the team’s revolving door of meh signal-callers.
There has truly only been one constant positive inside of the Bears offense over the past three seasons: undisputed No. 1 WR Allen Robinson, who has regularly made the most out of this typically poor situation. What follows is a breakdown on just how good A-Rob has been since taking his talents to Chicago and what to make of his fantasy football stock entering the 2021 season.
Robinson can do anything you’d ever want an alpha WR1 to do
Robinson was selected in the second round of the 2014 draft by the Jaguars. A huge 2015 campaign (80 receptions-1400 yards-14 TDs) was followed up by a disappointing encore (73-883-6 on 151 targets) before a torn ACL ended his 2017 season after a mere three snaps.
This all led to Robinson joining the Bears, where he’s been a consistent real life and fantasy stud (particularly over the past two years):
- 2018: WR31 in PPR points per game, PFF’s No. 28 WR in receiving grade
- 2019: WR10, No. 12 WR
- 2020: WR13, No. 6 WR
A-Rob is eighth in receptions, 11th in receiving yards, tied for 19th in TDs and (perhaps most tellingly) first in total contested catches since joining the Bears. This isn’t a knock on Robinson’s separation ability; a brief tape-watching session will show even an average fan that we’re looking at one of the league’s better route-runners here.
Rather, we’ve seen the Bears struggle to consistently provide Robinson with anything resembling even average QB play. This generation’s Andre Johnson in terms of playing with awful QBs: In college, A-Rob caught passes from Christian Hackenberg and Matt McGloin, his Jacksonville tenure included Blake Bortles as well as Chad Henne and so far the windy city has added Mitchell Trubisky, Chase Daniel and Nick Foles to this infamous list. Sheesh.
All in all, Bears QBs grade out at 26th in terms of PFF passing grade over the past three seasons. This drops to 30th from a clean pocket. They’re 21st when targeting a receiver considered open or wide open.
To reiterate: Robinson has consistently been operating as a truly exceptional talent during this entire stretch.
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 31, 2021
Moral of the story: Chicago QBs have been nothing short of horrific over the past three seasons relative to the rest of the league — and it’s not a guarantee things will improve all that much in 2021.
This passing game (again) looks rather bleak on paper
I have absolutely no idea why the Bears are insisting on handing Andy Dalton the starting job instead of promoting a competition with No. 11 overall pick Justin Fields, but apparently that’s the reality we’re living in. Coach Matt Nagy stated in March: “Andy is the starter,” and that “Andy’s going to get the one reps.”
Also note that in the same interview Nagy noted that Dalton “is essentially like a rookie as well.” It’s somewhere between annoying and funny if someone like Bruce Arians says that Tom Brady is competing for his job every day just like every other player on the team; Nagy actually sticking with this idea that Dalton and Fields are his versions of Alex Smith and Patrick Mahomes is at worst grounds for an intervention and at best coaching malpractice. As Nagy literally noted himself: Dalton hasn’t even been in the building any longer than the team’s first-round pick.
There’s also the whole issue that Dalton was largely a mediocre (at best) QB inside of an offense that we saw Dak Prescott absolutely ball out in last year:
- PFF passing grade: 72.7 (tied for No. 21 among 44 qualified QBs)
- Big-time throw rate: 3.3% (No. 36)
- Turnover-worthy play rate: 2.7% (No. 12)
- Yards per attempt: 6.5 (tied for No. 33)
- Adjusted completion rate: 76.2% (No. 21)
- QB Rating: 87.3 (No. 29)
Dalton has always been a sum-of-his-parts QB; there’s a reason why the best years of his career came when the Bengals were able to take advantage of his rookie contract and stock up elsewhere. Trubisky actually posted better marks than him in big-time throw rate, yards per attempt and QB rating last season; largely the only certainty that The Red Rocket brings to the table is a reduced turnover-worthy play rate. This is great; it’s just not enough of a reason to hand him the starting job over the 11th overall pick without even pretending to hold a competition.
There’s plenty of potential for Fields to provide a noticeable upgrade as soon as he takes over. The dual-threat talent might just be the league’s most fantasy-friendly rookie QB; the potential problem is that his insertion into the starting lineup could limit the number of overall opportunities available in this passing game. Chicago ranked eighth and 14th over the past two seasons in total pass attempts; we should be careful about projecting A-Rob for his usual dose of 150-plus targets even though the Bears (again) declined to put any sort of real resources into the rest of their WR room.
Add it all together and …
Treat A-Rob has a quality WR2 as opposed to a high-end WR1
As a Columbus, Ohio lifer: I love Fields and believe wholeheartedly he has what it takes to be an excellent professional QB. Of course, this pipe dream could come to fruition without the luxury of a fast start to his career inside of an increasingly uninventive offense that we’ve seen sputter to a halt for the majority of the last two seasons. Perhaps Fields is already on an Andrew Luck-esque level and capable of elevating an entire offense immediately; we just can’t assume this to be the case out of the gate, particularly since we don’t even know when the rookie will be under center.
And then we have Dalton, who sunk the ceiling of everybody involved in the Cowboys offense last season. Note that Dalton did miss two of the games noted below with a concussion and helped lead this offense to at least 30 points in three of their final four games; the difference between him and Dak was still sorely felt by every WR involved.
- Amari Cooper Weeks 1-5: PPR WR10. Weeks 6-17: WR12.
- CeeDee Lamb Weeks 1-5: WR11. Weeks 6-17: WR27.
- Michael Gallup Weeks 1-5: WR32. Weeks 6-17: WR38.
Robinson stands as my WR15 at the moment. He’s at the bottom of my third tier: “Alpha receivers, even if there might be two of them in the same offense.” Carrying an Underdog ADP as the WR12; I’m lower on him than the public by a decent chunk at the moment. I would take guys going later like Lamb, Terry McLaurin and Diontae Johnson over Robinson thanks to their combination of similar target ceilings and (likely) better situations under center. Credit to Robinson for overcoming his poor situation under center over the past two seasons; I’m skeptical he continues to do so with such flying colors while being forced to adjust to not one but two new QBs.
It’s tough to be too excited about the other receivers in this offense as well. Don’t be surprised if Tarik Cohen is far more involved in this passing game than people would hope. Darnell Mooney flashed more than your typical fifth-round rookie and was also a victim of poor QB play; the problem is that even his status as the offense’s No. 2 WR doesn’t afford him much of a ceiling inside of a passing game that figures to continue to lean heavily on various RBs and TEs. I’d be down to invest more heavily on rising second-year TE Cole Kmet for that reason; the problem is Jimmy Graham still hasn’t been cut even though there was no incentive for the Bears to wait until after June 1. Let this be your monthly reminder that Graham hilariously has a no-trade clause.
Credit to the Bears for splurging on Fields and largely winning the draft; be careful about deploying too much confidence in the same coaching staff we’ve watched underachieve for the better part of the last three years when selecting any of these players close to their ceiling in fantasyland.