There haven’t been many players in the NFL’s past decade as polarizing as Jay Cutler. According to Spotrac.com, the Chicago Bear’s quarterback is currently playing out a 7-year, $126.7 million contract that will keep him in Chicago until he is 37 years old. This contract includes $54 million in guaranteed money, and is the 3rd richest contract ever given to an NFL player. (worthly.com)
Cutler hasn’t exactly lived up to his paycheck through the first three years of his gargantuan contract. Some numbers on the Vanderbilt Alum: He has averaged over 14 interceptions per year in his NFL career, and has three times thrown for 18 or more in a season. He has played a full 16-game regular season just twice in his 10-year NFL career and has lead his team to the playoffs just once, back in 2010.
Yet none of those numbers really matter in fantasy football, and he has averaged over 20 touchdowns and 3,000 yards over his career and is regularly at least a QB2 from year to year.
When asked the question if Jay Cutler can have two starting receivers that are fantasy relevant, I think most people would instinctively say yes, despite his issues as a quarterback. Cutler has a big arm, and while he isn’t the most consistent field general in the league, he can sling the rock with the best of them and move an offense in the right direction.
If we take a look at Cutler’s career, you see a guy who has really only had 3 or 4 talented receivers to work with ever, and one of them isn’t even a wide receiver. The departed Matt Forte has been one of the NFL’s best safety valves his entire career in chicago, catching at least 44 balls every year he has played with Cutler, and topping out at 102 catches in 2014, a league record for running backs in a single season. Now that Forte is with the Jets, Chicago’s offense will have to operate with 2nd-year pro Jeremy Langford and rookie Jordan Howard on the ground to keep defenses honest and give Cutler an out when the pocket collapses.
One of the two real talents that he has had are Brandon Marshall, who was traded to the Jets after the 2014 Season, but also played in Denver with Cutler from 2006-2008 before Cutler was traded to the Bears. The other is current star receiver, Alshon Jeffery.
Here is a list of some of the uninspiring talents #6 has had to throw to: Devin Hester, Earl Bennett, Roy Williams, (remember that guy?) Devin Aromashodu, Dane Sanzenbacher, Johnny Knox, Eric Weems, Martellus Bennett, Eddie Royal, (in Chicago and Denver) Brandon Stokley, Marquess Wilson, Josh Morgan, Marc Mariani Javon Walker, and Josh Bellamy. We also won’t count Bronco’s great Rod Smith in Cutler’s rookie year where Jake “the snake” Plummer was the starter for 11 games
Royal and Stokely were decent slot receivers, and Hester is an all-time kick returner, but none were ever capable of being a number 1 receiving option, or really even a number 2 on a capable team. Knox was actually a legitimate deep threat until a neck injury prematurely ended his career.
I also will say that while Javon Walker was a talented player, his time in the league consisted of two solid seasons in a very injury-riddled career. By the time Cutler was the starter in Denver circa 2007, Walker’s career was on the downswing and would never have a relevant season again before exiting the NFL entirely following the 2008 season.
When you really look at it, the only time Cutler had two legit star receivers in Marshall and Jeffery, both put up great numbers. In 2013, both receivers played a full slate of 16 games (albeit with Josh McCown playing in his fair share of contests) and here were their stat lines: Marshall had 100 catches, 1,295 yards, and 12 scores. Jeffery had 89 grabs, 1,421 yards, and 7 scores. Those are WR1 numbers for both guys. Even tight end Martellus Bennett had over 700 yards and 5 scores. Sure Cutler only played in 11 games that year, but next year (2014) before Marshall got hurt in week 14, both receivers were again on pace for low-end WR1 and WR2 stats. That year Cutler played in 15 games and had his best fantasy season in Chicago throwing for 28 touchdowns and over 3,800 yards. Even if you argue that Marshall wasn’t having a dominant year in 2014, Martellus Bennett was. The 6’6” tight end hauled in 90 balls for over 900 yards and took six trips to the end zone.
I think we can answer the question of “can Jay Cutler really make two receivers relevant,” that answer is yes, as long as he has two talented, healthy receivers and he can stay healthy himself. This doesn’t really happen often, but when it does Cutler has shown he can make two fantasy receivers relevant despite his shortcomings. He clearly isn’t making any average receivers look like studs the way Tom Brady does. The better question is, “will Jay Cutler make two receivers relevant this year?”
If Alshon Jeffery stays healthy, there is little doubt he will be in the WR1 conversation as he is one of the top 10 or so receiving talents in all of football. The bigger question mark is 2nd-year receiver Kevin White, who should be Cutler’s number 2 option. White is as physically gifted as any receiver that has come into the league in the past few years, but he spent his entire rookie campaign watching from the sidelines due to a shin injury. The former West Virginia Mountaineer lit the 2015 NFL scouting combine on fire with a blazing 4.35 40 time and 23 reps on the bench press. At 6’3” and 215 pounds, White is an intimidating presence on the outside who has the raw ability to torment defensive backs in this league. In his last season at Morgantown, White finished 6th in the nation with 1,447 receiving yards. White certainly has the talent to be that presence the Bears missed last year without Marshall, but can White adjust to the NFL game quick enough this year to make a fantasy relevant impact? TFA’s own Jen Smith certainly thinks so, given she ranked White/Jeffrey one of her top fantasy WR pairs for 2016.
Here are my projections for Cutler and the Bears talented wideouts (assuming all stay healthy)
Jay Cutler: 3,500 yards, 26 TD’s
Alshon Jeffery: 95 catches, 1425 yards, 12 TD’s
Kevin White: 68 catches, 875 yards, 5 TD’s
Jeffery was on a pace for over 1400 yards last year, and that was when the Bears still had Matt Forte and Martellus Bennett as red-zone options. That’s 20 red zone targets (per NFLsavant.com) that will have to be distributed elsewhere. While I think White can snag a few, I would expect Jeffery to be the go-to in the red-zone. He had 17 red-zone targets in just 9 games last season. At those projections, Jeffery is a clear-cut WR1, and White is a WR3/4. Projecting White to put up higher numbers in a pseudo-rookie year is a little ambitious. These projections would still outpace the rookie campaigns of Marshall, Jeffery, and even Calvin Johnson among others.
Jay Cutler’s ADP (per the FantasyPros) indicates that he is going as a low-end QB2 in fantasy drafts. Seeing as Ben Roethlisberger missed 3 more games than Cutler did last year, and still finished ahead of Cutler, this seems fair. There are simply better options with more upside than Cutler, and you can definitely wait until the later rounds to find them.
Jeffery’s is currently being drafted as a low-end WR1, and that could represent decent value if he meets expectations. A lot of the receivers that are going around the same time all have the potential to outplay their draft stock. Receivers like Jordy Nelson, Dez Bryant, and Alshon Jeffery could all finish in the top-5 receivers if the dominoes fall their way.
White’s current ADP is around WR 35 which means fantasy owners think similar to the projections I laid out and he will be in the WR3/4 territory. He’s being drafted around the same time as other talented receivers such as Donte Moncrief, Michael Crabtree, DeVante Parker, and Tyler Lockett. I would probably rather take any of these receivers as they all at least have 1 year of NFL experience under their belts.
Also, don’t sleep on tight end, Zach Miller. Bennett is now a Patriot, but if you project Miller’s stats from the last 8 games of 2015 over the course of a full season (which I know is a dangerous thing to do) Miller would have had 62 catches for 808 yards and 10 scores, or the 8th best tight end season in standard fantasy leagues. Miller is either going very late or undrafted, so if your strategy is to wait on drafting a tight end, he could be an interesting target.