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Faceoff: Jay Cutler

July 23rd

Ryan Hester: Despite only playing in 10 games last season, Jay Cutler was beginning to show promise both as a real-life quarterback and as a fantasy quarterback. The Bears were among the very short list of teams most experts thought could contend with Green Bay at the time of Cutler's injury. In fantasy land, though, Ws and Ls are secondary to stats and numbers so let's examine Cutler's numbers.

In 10 games, he put together a 2,319-yard / 13-TD / 7-INT line. Projected over 16 full games, that line looks like a very respectable 3,768-yard / 21-TD / 11-INT line. For comparison's sake, here are the quarterbacks who finished 11th through 14th in standard FBG scoring last season:

  • Michael Vick: 3,303 / 18 / 14 (plus 589 rush yards and 1 rush TD)
  • Ben Roethlisberger: 4,077 / 21 / 14
  • Ryan Fitzpatrick: 3,832 / 24 / 23
  • Joe Flacco: 3,610 / 20 / 12

Cutler's projected 16-game line compares favorably with the guys in that range, which would make him a borderline fantasy starter in a 12-team league or one of the top backups. There are other factors besides more playing time that are working in Cutler's favor as well.

The most obvious of those factors is the addition of Brandon Marshall. Roy Williams, Devin Hester, and Johnny Knox are all fine players, but none has ever been a true No. 1 WR for an extended period of time. In his last two seasons with Cutler, Marshall caught 206 passes for 2,590 yards and 13 touchdowns. Cutler used Marshall as his safety blanket, and Denver's 2008 passing offense ranked No. 2 in the NFL. While they may not rank that high this season, Top 10 isn't out of the question.

The other reason that Cutler will improve this season is the change at offensive coordinator. Under Mike Martz, Cutler threw often but was sacked seemingly almost as often. In a new offense that will be balanced under Mike Tice, Cutler will be able to get the ball out quickly and be more effective. Along with that change is a new quarterbacks coach in Jeremy Bates. Bates had the same title in Denver during Cutler's fantastic 2008 season. The Bates - Cutler - Marshall trio will lead to improvement in Cutler's fantasy output.

He's being drafted somewhere between 14th and 16th among quarterbacks, but the upside he provides is top-10. If you're an owner that likes a QB by Committee approach and drafts your first quarterback later than most and second quarterback earlier than most, Cutler is a nice target for either of those selections in a 12-team league.

Jeff Haseley: There's a lot of interest in Jay Cutler this year, for several reasons. He quarterbacked the Bears to a 7-3 record last year, before a broken thumb ended his season after Week 11. Chicago never recovered and missed the playoffs as a result. It's obvious that Cutler was the glue to the offense. He is completely recovered from his thumb injury and is expected to be healthy for the 2012 season. The Bears traded for Brandon Marshall in the offseason, who of course was Cutler's favorite target in his days in Denver. Chicago even brought in Cutler's former quarterback coach in Denver, Jeremy Bates to hold the same position. The Bears are pulling out all of the stops to rekindle a winning connection.

What's not to like? One key stat stands out with the Denver Jay Cutler and the Chicago Jay Cutler, and that's sacks.

Cutler is a gunslinger and is prone to throw a lot of interceptions, especially on the Bears, who have a less than stellar offensive line. Digging deeper, getting pressure on Jay Cutler is the key to making him throw inaccurate and errant throws. In 2007 and 2008, Cutler's biggest years in Denver, which also included two consecutive 100-reception years for Brandon Marshall, he was sacked just 38 times. In three years in Chicago, he was sacked 110 times.

  • 1.18 sacks per game in DEN 2007, 2008
  • 2.68 sacks per game in CHI 2009, 2010, 2011

He is clearly seeing more pressure in Chicago than he did in Denver, and the end result could mean not-so-great numbers for the Cutler to Marshall combination. Aside from offensive line woes, that Cutler himself has voiced concern about, he has also missed time each of the last two years with an injury. That may not be a red flag, but it's definitely a yellow flag with some concern.

In a relatively deep quarterback field, Cutler is being drafted as a QB2 with an ADP of QB15. His highest finish in Chicago has been 13th and that came with a career-high 27 touchdown passes. I think he is a great value at QB15, but in order for him to finish in the Top 10, he will have to minimize his interceptions and sacks, which has been his Achilles heel ever since coming to Chicago. I fully expect his stock to rise as we get closer to the season. More and more people are starting to realize his value as a mid round quarterback selection that could turn into an every week start if everything goes well. The higher his stock becomes, the less value he has. If the Bears offensive line, which is arguably the weakest in the league, doesn't hold up, we may see just another typical year from Cutler - good, but not great - and that's if he plays all 16 games.