2012 NFL Fantasy Power Rankings: Can Jay Cutler Be a Top-5 QB?
I don't always agree with Trent Dilfer. But when I do, I prefer it to be his opinions on Jay Cutler. Dilfer thinks Cutler is going to "blow up" this year. And I tend to agree, and agree for the purposes of fantasy football. Christopher Harris of ESPN has Cutler ranked as the 15th QB and 113rd-best player overall. I tend to believe he can mightily outperform that draft stock.
Lets' look at Cutler's progression throughout his career. He started well in Denver under Mike Shanahan with his big buddy, Brandon Marshall, catching passes from him. His final season in Denver saw him throw for 4,526 yards with 25 touchdowns, impressive numbers at the time while the league was still breaking the dawn on the era where everyone passes for 4,000 yards.
He goes to Chicago, and his first season is mired by 26 interceptions behind a brutal offensive line that still has questions to this day. But even behind a questionable line, during a lockout shortened offseason, and one of the worst receiving corps in the league, Cutler played well through 10 games, throwing for 2,319 yards and 13 TDs. Not gaudy numbers, but we can chalk that up to the emphasis of the offense being on Matt Forte. That's what happens when your No.1 receiver is a kick returner and you give away your best tight end.
Lets fast-forward to today. Mike Martz, the man who was responsible for trying to implement an outdated passing offense in a team without the personnel to do so, and almost getting Cutler murdered in the process, is gone. Mike Tice replaces him, and he places special emphasis on run-pass balance and solving the offensive line.
The Bears have bolstered Cutler's supporting cast in every way. Starting with his receivers, he gets Brandon Marshall back, a true No. 1 receiver who was catching most of his passes during his best season in Denver. They then draft Alshon Jeffery, a huge receiver who, if he learns anything from Marshall, can be another huge end-zone target for Cutler. His most trusted guy, Earl Bennett, is still around. Hester, who is not a great receiver if you're expecting him to beat his man deep by creating separation, but is awesome if you want him to be a slot guy catching screens and dump-offs, will be a good option for Cutler.
Lets assume Chicago isn't dumb enough to not pay its best offensive guy from last season, Matt Forte. He's pretty much good for around 600 receiving yards a season just on dump-offs. Red-zone efficiency also gets better with the addition of Michael Bush, a big back to complement Forte's shifty style. The balance of run-pass that Tice loves helps any quarterback succeed.
Finally, and what's perhaps most important, is the offensive line. Former guard Chris Williams, who will be converted to tackle this season, was a first-round pick who has been dogged a bit by injuries. He's finally healthy now, and another former first-round pick, Gabe Carimi, will come back to help nail down the other tackle spot. It's like they're getting two first-round talents on the line without drafting any. And the most important thing for a great offensive line is communication, which, with Cutler's improved leadership and full offseason, will help this line be above-average.
And for fantasy, we notice that the Bears are loaded on receivers, but only have one real starting tight end in Kellen Davis. This tells me that the Bears plan to keep up on the aerial game by copying their NFC rivals. That tells me that when they pass, they will run lots of single-back and spread formations rather than two-tight end formations. Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Matt Ryan all run the spread religiously with a dearth of talented wideouts. This will give Cutler the chance to maximize each receiver he has at his disposal, and he'll be expected to air it out a lot.
Jay Cutler will post a 4,500-yard, 30-touchdown season in 2012 if he is healthy. Book it.
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