The Chicago Bears offense has not been one to produce fantasy-viable tight ends in recent seasons, ever since Greg Olsen left town after 2010. In fact, Chicago tight ends had the fewest receptions in the NFL in 2011 and 2012. This season, things are getting a good old fashioned shake up on offense for the Bears, including a new play-caller, offensive line help, and the free agent signing of Martellus Bennett.
Bennett was overshadowed during his early NFL years by starter Jason Witten in Dallas. Bennett saw plenty of blocking duty, but never eclipsed even 50 targets in a single season. After four touchdowns as a rookie in 2008, Bennett had a three-year drought without a score on over 90 total targets. Bennett signed a one-year deal with the Giants prior to 2012, giving him a chance to prove his worth as a lead tight end and to warrant a larger free agent contract. As a secondary option in the passing game for the Giants, Bennett saw a career-high 89 targets, including 15 of those in the red zone, nearly as many as his previous four seasons combined. While a significant uptick usage, Bennett was still the clear third option in the Giants offense behing Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz.
Bennett has consistently been one of the stronger blockers at the tight end position and 2012 was no different. Jay Cutler and the recent struggles of the offensive line in Chicago welcome Bennett's forte in that capacity. Kellen Davis, the de facto starting tight end for Chicago in 2012, was a downright liability in the passing game. Davis dropped nearly 30% of his catchable targets, second-worst among tight ends with more than 35 targets to only Delanie Walker. While Bennett is not the second-coming of Tony Gonzalez in terms of sticky hands, his drop rate has hovered around 10% (the NFL average for tight ends) in recent seasons. One concerning statistic from 2012 was the four interceptions on targets towards Bennett, one of the highest totals among tight ends, offset by just five touchdowns. That ratio will need to improve for Cutler and Bennett to have a successful relationship in the passing game.
Bennett was very active in the red zone for the Giants last year and his 15 targets inside the 20-yard-line nearly matched Hakeem Nicks and Victor Cruz for the team-lead. In three of his five NFL seasons, at least 15% of Bennett's targets have come in the red zone. That is a high figure to sustain over a significant stretch, which means Bennett is more touchdown threat than down-the-field option. Looking ahead to Bennett's place in the Chicago pecking order, Brandon Marshall was the clear first option with 23 red zone targets last year. With no other receiver seeing more than six looks, the secondary option is wide open. Alshon Jeffery is the most likely competition with Bennett for double-digit red zone targets.
Marc Trestman is also new to the offensive equation in Chicago as the head coach and play-caller. Of his seven seasons as an NFL offensive coordinator, just twice has his tight end had an above-average share of the offensive targets, a reason to temper expectations of a breakout season for Martellus Bennett. Going one step further, only Trestman's two seasons as coordinator in San Francisco in 1995-96 produced a fantasy tight end even in the top-15 at season's end. The biggest takeaway from examining previous offenses where Trestman was the coordinator is the production of the secondary wide receiver. For Chicago this season, that is historically a good sign for Alshon Jeffery, not Brandon Marshall or Martellus Bennett in the passing game.
- Bennett was signed to a significant free agent contract and will have an unobstructed path to significant playing time
- As a quality blocker, Bennett will be on the field often near the goal line
- Bennett has shown solid hands and the ability to beat linebackers in coverage
- The new offense of Marc Trestman has not been known to produce strong tight end production through seven NFL seasons as an offensive coordinator
- Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, and Matt Forte are all strong candidates to be ahead of Bennett in the Bears passing game pecking order
- As a pass-catcher, Bennett has been largely average in terms of efficiency through five seasons
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It takes going all the way back to 2009 to find a fantasy relevant Bears tight end. That was Greg Olsen, a former first round pick that barely eclipsed 600 yards receiving. Bennett is likely to be at least the third option down the passing depth chart with two big-bodied wide receivers in the mix in the red zone. A common trait for impact fantasy tight ends is great quarterback play. Jay Cutler has long been more of a frustrating block to fantasy production than dominant distributor. Bennett has an average draft position of TE14, putting him in the range of a committee member for fantasy teams in 2013. Considering the lack of upside Bennett's profile presents, there are better options late in fantasy drafts at the tight end position.
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FF Ninja said:
If Bennett had been brought in last year, I'd have been worried that his top notch blocking skills would keep him in to help out the atrocious offensive line, but they've made a concerted effort to improve the line this year. I think Bennett's versatility will keep him on the field for a lot of plays and I think the improved o-line will allow him to run a lot of routes to help out this relatively thin receiving corps.
There's a general consensus (with which I agree) that there's very little difference for FF purposes between TE5 and, say, TE14 this year. There's a great big group that includes Olsen, Pitta, Rudolph, Gonzo, Daniels, Davis, etc. that are likely to cluster around 60 rec / 700 yds / 6 TD's, give or take 100 and 2. The question for Bennett's purposes is: should he be considered part of that group, or not? And I'd argue he absolutely should.
A lot of people may think the Bears don't use the TE, well when you have Kellen Davis as the tight end, that may explain it a bit.....he was terrible. And Martz never used the tight end much. So I can see Bennett slipping under the radar, and you can get a TE1 for a TE2 price.
More from Chad Parsons:
2014 Rookie Primer Part 4: Pre-Combine Tight Ends - February 19
2014 Rookie Primer Part 3: Pre-Combine Wide Receivers - February 17
2014 Rookie Primer Part 2: Running Back College Receiving Production - February 11
2014 Rookie Primer Part 1: Pre-Combine Running Backs - February 9
The New Reality No.23 - A Gift for Every Stocking - December 26
The New Reality No.22 - Hard to Believe - December 18
The New Reality No.21 - Offseason Shopping List - December 11
The New Reality No.20 - Stocking the Cupboard - December 5
The New Reality No.19 - Playoff Pressure Cooker - November 27
The New Reality No.18 - Escaping The Self-Made Box - November 21