Fantasy Football: Will Earl Bennett Be a Diamond in the Rough in 2009?

Chris DiLeoCorrespondent IApril 8, 2009

SEATTLE - AUGUST 16:  Earl Bennett #85 of the Chicago Bears carries the ball during the game against the Seattle Seahawks at Qwest Field on August 16, 2008 in Seattle, Washington. The Seahawks defeated the Bears 29-26. (Photo by Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images)

In a nutshell, a diamond in the rough is a high-value fantasy football prospect that goes beyond just your average “sleeper”. These are picks that can be made beyond round 15 of fantasy drafts, but can yield anywhere between solid and excellent fantasy points.

One player that has the potential to earn this title in 2009 is wide receiver Earl Bennett of the Chicago Bears.

Bennett had a very good career at Vanderbilt, earning all-SEC honors in each of his three years. Despite leaving after his junior season, he is the all-time SEC reception leader with 236.

Despite high expectations, Bennett struggled with his transition into the NFL, and did not record an offensive statistic as a rookie in 2008.

As the end of the season approached, however, the Chicago media started reporting that Bennett was looking more fluid in his routes, and more confident catching the ball.

In an interview with The Chicago Tribune, Bennett replied, “Toward the end, I started grasping the concepts. Once you put things aside and just play, you can play a lot faster."

With Marty Booker and Brandon Lloyd gone, Coach Lovie Smith has indicated that Bennett will be given every opportunity to win a starting job. His main competition for playing time will come from Rashied Davis.

The best news Bennett received was from a call to his cell phone.

While Bennett was in a classroom working on finishing his degree at Vanderbilt, Jay Cutler called him to give the news that they are once again teammates.

Bennett’s response to hearing the breaking news: “Jay joining us does gives me a comfort zone.”

Cutler and Bennett had a great relationship at Vanderbilt, and have remained friends even after Cutler entered the NFL. They had excellent chemistry playing together, including a game versus Kentucky where they connected for five touchdowns..

Now they will be reunited, and the familiarity will further assist Bennett as he enters his first offseason with a solid grasp of the Bears’ playbook.

There are a number of reasons why I believe Bennett will not be much of a fantasy consideration come September.

First, many fantasy players put most of their emphasis on the previous year’s statistics. With Bennett off the stat sheets, he will be overlooked by many people.

Second, at 6’1” and 202 pounds, he has average size to go along with average speed. Not a very enticing package.

Third, the Bears have a reputation for being a run-first team. Many players will not be willing to take a chance that there will be enough passing attempts to make second and third receivers a factor.

Also, I predict the Bears will draft a wide receiver in April’s draft. This will create a buzz among fantasy players to desire the break-out rookie prospect. The diverted attention will help keep Bennett under the radar.

Lastly, with Cutler traded to the Bears, many myopic fantasy players will be salivating solely over the upside of playmaker Devin Hester and tight end Greg Olsen.

Despite some of the negatives I just laid out, I do believe Bennett will be a big fantasy surprise in 2009.

Bennett is a smart player, and he was mature enough to admit he struggled learning the playbook last year. Now that he understands the conceptual aspects of the plays, he has the talent and competitive nature to make significant progress.

The chemistry with Cutler cannot be underestimated. Bennett can be the ideal security blanket as Cutler learns to adapt to a new system as well. The situation creates a framework for Bennett to become an ideal possession receiver, and potentially Cutler’s “go-to guy.”

If the Bears do draft a wide receiver, that player will likely face the same adjustment period that practically every rookie faces when moving on to the next level. Therefore, not hurting Bennett’s production, but helping his fantasy value by diverting attention.

At this point, it is necessary to monitor how Bennett capitalizes on the opportunity the Chicago coaches and management are giving him.

In my opinion, Bennett will make the most of this opportunity, and he will shine in 2009.