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Bears will yield several elite fantasy options
Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - Bears quarterback Jay Cutler understands the phrase "absence makes the heart grow fonder" better than anyone -- he's spent three years with a running back as his best receiver after forging a strong connection with one of the game's best wideouts Brandon Marshall back in Denver.

Cutler and Marshall performed so well together with the Broncos that it was impossible not to forecast big things for both of them this season when the trade went down to bring the receiver to Chicago, but I think we actually underestimated the exponential growth of Cutler's love for Marshall after spending three seasons throwing to the likes of Devin Hester, Johnny Knox, and Earl Bennett.

Marshall was targeted 15 times in the Bears' Week 1 tilt with the Colts, catching nine passes for 119 yards a touchdown. That target number was second in the NFL among receivers to Indianapolis' Reggie Wayne's 18 (Oakland RB Darren McFadden also had 18 targets on Monday night).

The thing is, Cutler only threw the ball 35 times, compared to 45 times for Andrew Luck. That means Marshall was targeted on 42.8 percent of the passes Cutler threw. If Cutler throws the ball 560 times this season and that percentage sticks, we could be looking at upwards of 200 targets for the Bears' new weapon.

If that number seems farfetched, consider that Marshall led the NFL with 170 targets in 2007 and 183 in 2008 with Cutler at the helm.

Marshall has also averaged a 59.3 percent catch rate over the last five seasons (474-of-799), almost identical to his 60 percent rate from Week 1.

If Marshall, a 6-foot-4 matchup nightmare out of UCF, gets 200 targets (12.5 per week) and catches 60 percent of those balls, fantasy owners would be looking at a 120-catch season for the physical receiver.

The only thing fantasy owners shouldn't expect from Marshall is big touchdown season. He's only scored more than seven touchdowns in a season once in his career, and that came with Kyle Orton at QB in 2009. In 92 career games, Marshall has just 35 touchdowns on 503 receptions, an average of .07 touchdowns per catch. Even if Marshall performs at his career average in touchdowns-per- catch rate, 120 catches will only yield 8-9 touchdowns.

Because of that, I don't expect Cutler to be a week-to-week QB1 in fantasy this season despite his 333-yard, two-TD game in Week 1. It just seems like the Bears are going to lean heavily on Michael Bush around the goal line, and Matt Forte is still going to be a major part of the offense between the 10s.

Most of Cutler's touchdowns are going to have to come on deep balls like the one he threw to rookie Alshon Jeffery for a 42-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter Sunday, but there will be fewer of those plays to go around against better defenses, not to mention fewer drives ending up in the red zone like the six the team had Sunday.

Cutler will likely top 4,000 passing yards for the second time in his career and first time with Chicago, but he'll settle in at 24-26 passing touchdowns this season.

Bush, meanwhile, entered the conversation as a legitimate flex play and even a RB2 in deeper leagues with his two-TD game Sunday. The bruiser is going to get at least 10 carries a game and will handle most of the red zone carries as well -- Forte punched in a six-yard TD Sunday, but as I said Chicago's six red zone drives gave everyone a chance to get in on the action.

While 550-600 yards rushing seems like his ceiling with Forte around, 12-14 rushing touchdowns are entirely possible.

Forte owners shouldn't worry though; the veteran Bears back is still the focal point of the offense. He touched the ball 19 times (16 carries, 3 catches) Sunday and turned that into 120 total yards. While his value is significantly higher in PPR leagues, his yardage output should be enough to make him one of the most consistent RB1 options around in standard scoring leagues.




Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Thomas J. Harrigan at tharrigan@sportsnetwork.com.


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