The hot topic in fantasy land these days is the allure of stacking lineups with a star-studded cast of wide receivers at the expense of other positions. There are for sure some traditionalists who still prefer two bell-cow running backs as the foundation of their rosters, but in an era where passing and receiving statistics are shattering records, their old school approach has some holes.
Both 2012 and 2013 saw 10 receivers top 1,300 yards receiving. That's in comparison to an average of five receivers topping 1,300 per year spanning a ten year range of 2002-2011. And if receivers are crushing, it only makes sense that more quarterbacks are lighting up fantasy scoreboards. Quarterback is a deep position this year, making it critical to find value relative to ADP, especially in competitive leagues such as the Scout Fantasy Football World Championships. Since you are likely loading up on beast receivers or chasing running backs, you may be waiting on quarterbacks. One QB poised to significantly outperform his current QB ADP of 15 and make a run at top 5 output is Jay Cutler.
On the surface, it's easy to be skeptical of ranking Jay Cutler in the top tier of NFL QBs in 2014. While nobody questions his arm strength and ability to make every throw, his career stats are less than exceptional. He has had various injuries, causing him to miss 12 games over the last three years and perhaps more hurtful for fantasy purposes, was knocked out of two additional games in the first half.
Cutler has regularly come across as a prima donna. Remember Cutler berating his offensive lineman J'Marcus Webb in primetime after a sack? How about being a less than ideal teammate when seen sulking on the bench and immersing himself in his iPod after leaving the 2011 NFC Championship game with a knee injury? Factor in the fact that he has battled his fair share of fumbles and interceptions his entire career, and you have the perfect recipe for a player not given the benefit of the doubt when it comes to ADP ranking.
But this is 2014, and the glass is half full, not empty with Cutler. Just on raw 2013 numbers alone, Cutler is a solid play with significant upside. In 2013, Cutler started 11 games, one of which he was replaced in the 2nd quarter by Josh McNown. McNown finished up that game and started five others as Cutler was sidelined with a nasty groin injury. The combined stats of Cutler and McNown were as follows: 373 completions on 579 attempts totaling 4,550 yards, 32 TDs and a passer rating closing in on 100. All of those figures comfortable place the Chicago Bears in the top 10 in every relevant passing category for 2013. Considering that it was Cutler's first year under Marc Trestman's leadership, the opportunity for Cutler to match or exceed 2013's cumulative numbers is there for the taking as he gets more reps.
Trestman and the Bears have proven to be loyal to Cutler. Despite McNown excelling in Cutler's absence, Trestman repeatedly proclaimed Cutler as the starter when healthy; a somewhat unpopular stance amongst Bears fanatics and fantasy fans who enjoyed McNown flourishing as a cheap waiver wire pick up. Cutler immediately regained his starting role when cleared to play only a day after McNown had a 5TD performance in a Monday Night Football shootout victory over the Cowboys. Cutler shook off some rustiness from being sidelined four weeks with an injured ankle and led the Bears to victory in his first game back, and validated Trestman's continued loyalty. The Bears then displayed their greatest evidence of support in Cutler by rewarding him with a seven-year contract at the end of the season. Meanwhile, McNown was signed to a two year contract by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, paving the way for Cutler to lead the Bears offense going forward.
The Bear's impressive aerial attack in 2013 was thanks in part to the new approach up top with Trestman. Trestman's coaching background specialty is quarterback. He served as either quarterback coach or offensive coordinator for Bernie Kosar, Scott Mitchell, Jake Plummer and Rich Gannon during their most successful seasons. While those names may not excite you, the fact that Trestman was able to generate the best performances of their career speaks volumes to why last year's passing figures are more a sign of things to come than a fluke.
The Trestman led Bears finished the 2013 with 445 points, 2nd in the NFL to the Denver Broncos. This was a 14 spot jump compared to the prior year under Lovie Smith. Clearly Bears brass recognized the importance of hiring a leader who emphasizes offense as a head coach; a complete reversal of the traditional approach of a franchise known for dominant defense over many regimes.
Cutler is in a unique position of being the beneficiary of such a change as he goes into year two of Trestman's quarterback friendly system. Both Trestman and offensive coordinator Aaron Kromer have spent time working with Sean Payton, arguably one of the best offensive minds in NFL history. The change in approach is so drastic that it's reasonable to throw out Cutler's statistical averages with the Bears pre Trestman.
His first few years with the Bears were played in a Mike Martz system with limited proven weapons other than Matt Forte and Greg Olsen. Given that Martz's system doesn't utilize tight ends to their maximum potential, Cutler was left with a handful of mediocre receivers to get the job done. Then, in an attempt to reinvent the offense, Martz was fired as offensive coordinator and replaced with Mike Tice; an experiment that lasted one year before the Trestman/Kromer regime started. Under the new regime, an emphasis was placed on protecting the quarterback. In 2013, Cutler and McNown were sacked only a combined 30 times. That compares to Bears quarterbacks being sacked 56, 49 and 44 times 2010 through 2012. A good trend for those fearful of another Cutler injury, and making it less likely we'll see dirty looks coming from Cutler in the direction of those protecting him.
Coaching tree is one thing but it's tough for extraordinary success without a proper supporting cast. No problem for Cutler there. The Bear's have arguably the best three headed monster of weapons in all of football. Brandon Marshall and 3rd year stud Alshon Jeffery are an incredible WR duo, and Matt Forte is a terrific receiving weapon at running back. The Bears have also upgraded depth at the skill positions. Ka'Deem Carey looks to be a significant upgrade to Michael Bush in providing breathers for Forte. Playmaker Marquess Wilson, speedster Chris Williams and veteran Josh Morgan all look to replace Earl Bennett as another option for Cutler. Factor in continued chemistry between Martellus Bennett, who was a reliable weapon in 2013, and you have an offense with no holes and solid depth.
In a league where free agency dominates the league and continuity is not the norm, the Bears offense looks the part of a cohesive unit that can flourish and easily be in the very top tier in all statistical categories. Marshall frequently raves about his chemistry with Cutler and glows when speaking of his partner in crime Jeffery. Forte, Marshall and Jeffery all have success priced into their current ADP. Forte and Marshall are consistently getting drafted in the first round and Jeffery is being grabbed in the 2nd round, and in some cases at the end of first round wrap. Yet Cutler continues to remain on the board well after quarterbacks are taken that have less upside and opportunity. It can be argued that even if Cutler misses a month, as long as you have a serviceable QB replacement, you can weather the storm, particularly if Cutler dominates the stat line when healthy.
A case can be made that the Bears offense will be on the field more in 2014, meaning more opportunities for points. Even though average time of possession was 31:00 minutes in 2013, a small improvement in a horrific run defense will get the defense off the field quicker. You have to be certain the Bears were embarrassed that their defense made Brandon Jacobs look like Jerome Bettis. It has to get better or at the very least, less bad.
One last factor that just serves as icing on the cake. The Bears schedule has the look and feel for one that will have plenty of shootouts. In particular, check out the fantasy playoffs. Assuming Cutler is standing upright deep into the season, Cutler and the Bears face the Cowboys, Saints and Lions weeks 14-16. All three of those games have to potential to have tecmo-bowl like scoring. And if you need to finish strong to make your playoffs, Cutler is still your guy. The Bears face the Bucs and Lions week's 12 and 13. Cutler going for 325 and 3TDs will make that Thanksgiving dinner that much more enjoyable.
Draft Cutler with confidence after the headline QBs get called and reap the benefits and all the fantasy points that come with it.