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Fantasy Football Preview - Running Bears

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We kick off our fantasy football previews with a major question - which Bears back is best for your squad?

NFL: San Francisco 49ers at Chicago Bears Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Sports

We’re kicking off our 2018 fantasy football coverage with a question that many Bears fans will be asking themselves heading into draft season. Should I draft Jordan Howard or Tarik Cohen? Is it okay to draft both? To help answer those questions, I have enlisted the help of fellow writer and resident hype-extraordinaire Patti Curl to help keep things in the proper perspective.

Jeff Berckes: It’s way too early to know what the draft day price will be on anyone at this point, but according to fantasyfootballcalculator.com, Jo Ho is being drafted in the middle of the 2nd round in standard scoring and slips down to an early 3rd rounder in PPR leagues. Are you in on Howard at those prices? What are your reasonable expectations for production? Show your work.

Patti Curl: I drafted Jo Ho in the second round of my work fantasy league last year and never looked back. He didn’t quite live up to expectations, and my league was ultimately won by Matt Nagy reviving Kareem Hunt’s fantasy value in time for the playoffs. But owning him in fantasy somehow added to the joy of watching him power through tackle-dorks and will his way into all those extra yards he had no business getting. My favorite moment in the league was one of my Bear-denier coworkers was complaining about losing to me week 6 and how all my player’s lucked into touchdowns assuming Howard had at least 2 touchdowns with his 18 points. I showed him the stat line - 167 rush yards. That shut him right up.

After two years of Howard playing as a lead back, we have a good amount of info to use to make an estimate of his points. I expect the total number of carries to go down in what projects to be a less stubbornly run-centric offense. Howard had 276 last year. My best guess would be a 10-20% drop. The fact that I expect more first downs will help balance out the higher pass percentage. Compromising on a 15% drop, leading to 235 carries. Howard earned 5.2 YPC in his rookie year. The drop to 4.1 in 2017 seems pretty easily explained by increased predictability of the offense, more stacked boxes, and fewer runs from shotgun (from which Jo Ho averages over 6 YPC). I have my hopes that Nagy’s offense could push him beyond his previous record, but I will go with his rookie number for my estimate. 5.2*235 would lead to 1222 total rushing yards.

Howard averaged 26 receptions in his first two seasons, but with only 13 starts in his rookie season. If I project his reception rate to a 16 game season in year one, his average goes up to 29. Nagy’s offense will certainly have more RB targets than the Loggains-Suffocated-by-Fox masterpiece the Bears put on the field in 2017, but Tarik Cohen should be swiping a sizeable chunk of them. I expect these two forces to balance out, so I’ll project 29. Howard’s career yards per reception is 8.1, which is similar to what Kareem Hunt saw in Kansas City’s offense last year (8.6) so I can’t find a good excuse to give him a bump. 29*8.1 would give him 235 receiving yards.

Howard had 7 combined touchdowns his rookie year, and 9 in 2017. If again, I project his rookie rate to a 16 game season, his average comes to 8.8. RB touchdowns have a lot to do with overall offensive efficiency. The 2017 Bears had 26 total touchdowns, and the 2016 Bears had 29. The 2017 Chiefs had 38 total touchdowns. I don’t expect the Bears to immediately match the Chiefs, but I think it’s reasonable to expect a bump halfway between the Bears average (27.5) and the Chiefs’ 38. This would put the Bears at 32.75 and equate to a 19% bump. My touchdown estimate for Jo Ho will be 119% of his average 8.8, rounding to 10.5.

So: 1457 total yards, 29 receptions, and 10.5 touchdowns = 208.7 standard points and 237.7 PPR points.

If Howard scored those numbers in 2017, that would have made him RB8 in both standard and PPR. Based on this point estimate, he’s certainly worth the price with current ADP of mid-second to early third rounder. The question is whether he’s riskier than other backs. There is reasonable concern for inconsistency (Nagy recently said that a bell cow running back is something you need, sometimes, depending on the game). There is also some reasonable concern that he will lose work if he’s not able to succeed as a pass catcher out of the backfield to Nagy’s standards. My overall feeling is this risk is not higher than those that come with similar running backs in his ADP range, and Howard’s injury risk is lower than average, never having a major injury and showing an ability to play through the owies and boo boos. Recommendation: Draft dat Bear!

JB: I think there’s a lot of fear out there in the fantasy community about Howard not being a good fit for the Nagy offense. There were whispers that Howard was being shopped around the draft and whether or not there was any truth to those rumors, they have helped contribute to an anti-Howard sentiment in the fantasy community. He is the lead back in this offense and will be counted on to carry the ball more than any other back in this offense. He’s the clear goal line option and, brace yourself, will be used as the closer when the Bears are running out the clock on a victory. As your prediction showed, he’s probably a little underpriced right now, but he’s not so undervalued as to be a league winner. He’s a great pick in the second round once the dynamic stars are off the board. I’ll co-sign at the current price.

The more interesting conversation is probably Tarik Cohen, AKA Chicken Salad. The spread between optimism and pessimism on the shifty Cohen is rather interesting. I’ve seen people wanting Cohen to handle more carries than Howard (scorching hot take) and I’ve seen the suggestion that Cohen will have no success due to the presence of the new weaponry downfield (surface-of-the-sun hot take). Cohen was a useful player in a flex role last year if you caught him on the right week, but John Fox found a way to kill all the fun depending on the game. He’s currently being drafted at the end of the 7th round in standard leagues (RB36) but moves up a full round in PPR (RB32). With Nagy calling the shots, are you excited to take Cohen this year?

PC: My final pick of my work league last year was Alvin Kamara. But before the season started I spent too many hours watching Tarik Cohen highlight videos, so I dropped Alvin and picked Tarik off the waiver wire (I know, my work league is full of dumbos, right?). I felt pretty good after week one and we’ll leave it at that.

Tarik Cohen only played 36% of the Bears offensive snaps last year. Dowell Loggains famously said at a press conference that they took him off the field because people were double covering him. It’s safe to assume that the Nagy/Helfrich offense will be a little more supportive of players who command double teams. But Cohen’s exact role is difficult to predict. At his ceiling, he could be a highly efficient multi-purpose runner-receiver who puts up high level RB2 numbers on a weekly basis with a couple monster weeks when he wins the game for you and the Bears. At his low end, he could be an unpredictable player who ends up primarily as a diversion in some games, winds up averaging RB3 points, but gets them all on the weeks you benched him. Some of pronounced Cohen a lesser version of Tyreek Hill, but if Cohen was just a poor-man’s Tyreek Hill, I find it hard to believe Hill’s offensive coordinator for the last two years would be “giddy” to work with someone as talented as Coh Coh. If you think of Cohen’s production in terms of the Chief’s offense, I imagine he’ll get some of Hill’s pie, some of Hunt’s pie, and some of a new pie that we haven’t seen because there was nobody with Cohen’s exact skill set on the Chiefs.

Tarik Cohen 2017: 87 carries for 372 yards (4.2 yards per carry) and 2 TDs, 73 targets for 53 receptions and 353 receiving yards (6.7 yards per reception) and 1 TD. 1 punt return TD and 1 passing TD. 101.3 standard points and 154.3 PPR points. 360 offensive snaps (36%).

Tyreek Hill’s 2017 stats: 105 targets for 75 receptions and 1183 yards (15.8 yards per reception) and 7 TDs. 17 carries for 59 yards (3.5 yards per carry) and 0 TDs. 1 punt return TD and ZERO PASSING TDS. 776 offensive snaps (76%). 172.2 standard points and 247.2 PPR points.

The most notable differences between Cohen and Hill’s stats are the snap counts and the yards per reception, both of which were more than doubled in Hill’s case. Interesting to note that Cohen scored more points per snap than Hill. For Cohen, I expect an increase in snap count, an increase in yards per receptions (although less targets per snap), and similar rushing output. The range of possibilities is so wide, I don’t feel confident making a point estimate. Instead, I’ll give a range of a 25% to 100% increase of last year’s production.

This would mean between 126.6 and 202.6 standard points and between 192.9 and 308.6 PPR points. The upper end of that limit sounds crazy, but it’s literally just assuming he keeps the same fantasy efficiency on double the snaps (and assuming a second special teams touchdown isn’t called back on a penalty this year which I’m totally allowed to do because this is the best cast estimate!). Recommendation: PPR - draft above ADP. Standard - draft at ADP if he’s your 4th+ RB.

JB: I’m thinking Cohen might be the football equivalent of Javy Baez, the do-everything infielder for the Cubs. Baez is probably the most exciting player in the MLB right now, making crazy tags on baserunners, hitting for power, swiping bags, and playing multiple infield positions. I expect Cohen to do a little of everything this year – return kicks and punts, grab a few carries, catch a few balls, mix in the occasional throw. He’s a live wire and exciting every time he touches the ball. As much as he’s a matchup nightmare, he’s going to be a guy with a high variability. When building a fantasy team, I want high end production from an RB1, steady production from an RB2, and a home run threat in the Flex position. Don’t have a flex position in your league? Well, add one, and there’s a path for Cohen on your team. Otherwise, you’re adding in too high of a level of volatility as an RB2 that may cost you games week to week.

I think the end of the 6th round is probably a fair price for Cohen in PPR leagues, but I don’t think I could go into the 5th round for him. In my first four rounds, I’m going to want to have 2 RBs and 2 WRs. I’d also like to grab a TE if I can get a top tier guy in that first 5 rounds (think Travis Kelce or Zach Ertz). Taking a guy like Cohen earlier than the 6th will force you to miss out on a more bankable asset and you’ll be chasing positional runs the rest of the draft. Honestly, I’d love to get a player like Cohen in the 8th or 9th round, but there’s enough buzz that he’ll be long gone at that point. That will likely make me shift to other options and so I doubt I’ll see him on my team this year.

One idea I’ve seen is trying to get both of these guys on your squad to ensure you get all of the RB points from the Bears offense and they can act as a double insurance policy. Are you buying into that?

PC: I’ve recommended drafting each individually, but the option of drafting both brings more to consider. If you’ve been reading, you’ll know that I had both on my roster last year, and I found I mostly only started one, and it was usually Howard. Starting two RBs on the same team compared to two comparable RBs on separate teams seems like a higher floor, lower ceiling choice. You’ll have a higher floor because whichever RB has the bigger game, you’ll be starting. But you’ll have a lower ceiling since one’s production will come at the expense of the others. If you have an otherwise strong team, this could be a good thing. Other downsides include sharing the same bye, if the team struggles offensively, they will both disappoint, and you will throw your remote at the television every time Benny Cunningham gets a touchdown. The other upside is that they serve as each-other’s handcuffs, which is an adorable image and if one gets injured the other surely becomes more valuable.

I can see two scenarios where drafting both could work well. One, if you believe you understand the mind of Matt Nagy and predict which back will have a bigger day, you could draft both and play the best one each week. Two, if you invest in wide receiver or tight end early, and Howard is your RB 1, you could roll with the low-cost Bears’ backfield and continue to strengthen the rest of your team. I prefer this strategy in PPR, where you could end up with 500 combined RB points to pair with an otherwise strong roster. Now I’m imagining adding Allen Robinson, Tre Burton, and Mitch Trubisky to the team. Grab Cameron Meredith in the later rounds. Slap a lattice crust on it, and that’s a pie I could really dig into. Recommendation: Proceed with caution.

JB: If Jordan Howard misses time, the biggest benefactor is likely to be Cunningham, who I really like. Sure, they’ll throw a few more carries to Cohen in that situation, but Benny would be the man. If Cohen missed time, I don’t really see Howard getting much of a bump. So, I don’t really buy the handcuff thing. However, Nagy is unlike anything we’ve ever had in Chicago and as much as I watched the Chiefs and the Eagles last year, we won’t know for sure how this offense will work until we get into actual games. I could be totally wrong and that’s okay – it’s why we have a game.

I would not draft both. Draft position may determine whether you can draft Howard anyway and if you’re like me, most of your leagues have at least one other Bears fan in it that will push up the value of these guys. I’m probably more interested in grabbing Allen Robinson as my token Bears player in the 3rd over either of these guys, but if I had to pick between Howard in the 2nd or Cohen in the 6th, I’ll take Howard.

Are Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen in your fantasy football draft plans?