As the NFL draft approached in April, most of the league’s bottom-dwelling teams wheeled and dealt in an attempt to feast on the glut of quarterbacking prospects.
The Chicago Bears, on the other hand.
Rather than tying their fortunes and No. 1 pick to Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young, Bears general manager Ryan Poles pulled off the offseason trade of the year. And he believes in the third-year quarterback, who appears poised to join the league’s elite.
Last season, Justin Fields was the Bears’ lone standout on offense. He had the second-most rushing yards by a quarterback in history: 1,143. Over 76 yards per game. Only five NFL running backs averaged higher. And, among quarterbacks, his eight rushing touchdowns were second only to Philadelphia’s Jalen Hurts.
What are the passing numbers for the fields? Less impressive, owing in large part to a scarcity of receiving targets. His 17 touchdown passes and 2,242 yards pale in comparison to his numbers at Ohio State, where he averaged 244 yards and three touchdown passes per game.
This year, thanks to the headliner of the Bears’ big trade, standout wideout D.J. Moore, that changes. More to come on him later.
With an improved offensive line and the Bears’ continued lack of a top-tier running back, Fields should at least match his prolific rushing numbers from last season.
Fields isn’t the only player we expect to outperform expectations this season. Our baker’s dozen is as follows:
Some of our favorite running backs
Titans’ Derrick Henry — King During Tennessee’s season-ending seven-game losing streak, Henry’s stock fell along with it. However, he led the league in both rushing touchdowns (13) and rushing average (96.1 yards per game). With the addition of WR DeAndre Hopkins, the passing game should improve, easing some of the pressure on Henry. As a result, his preseason ranking of No. 6 among running backs appears to be low. What’s the story behind Atlanta rookie Bijan Robinson? Not a chance in hell.
Steelers’ Najee Harris — Harris, who had 10 touchdowns in each of his first two seasons, has dropped out of the fantasy top ten after his total yardage dropped by more than 400 yards as a sophomore. However, he came alive during the Steelers’ season-ending four-game win streak and will undoubtedly benefit from the continued development of QB Kenny Pickett and the Pittsburgh offensive line.
Chiefs Isiah Pacheco — By the end of last season, the rookie from Rutgers had taken over as the Chiefs’ leading runner, rushing for 76 yards and a touchdown in the team’s Super Bowl victory. Because of his premium role in the world’s best offense, his preseason ranking in the mid-20s appears absurdly low. Expect him to play a larger role in the passing game for the Kings. While he only had 13 receptions in 2022, he had five in the AFC title game against Cincinnati.
Eagles’ D’Andre Swift — According to the “experts,” Rashaad Penny, Philly’s top rusher, is frequently injured. However, the Eagles traded for Swift, who struggled last season while watching Jamaal Williams vulture all goal-line opportunities. He’s ranked first, and he’ll enjoy running behind the league’s best offensive line. Swift could break out after three meandering years in the Motor City. And he’s still available in Round 6 of your draft.
Our favorite recipients
Bears’ D.J. Moore — All eyes are on this Carolina import as he attempts to establish chemistry with Justin Fields. Moore will be the Bears’ No. 1 wideout, but with Darnell Mooney, Chase Claypool, and Cole Kmet alongside him, he won’t have to deal with ridiculously tight coverage. He’ll be available in the fourth round of your draft, and he’ll more than likely outperform his yearly averages of 1,040 yards and four touchdowns.
(49ers) Deebo Samuel — Sure, the Niners’ quarterback situation is uncertain due to Brock Purdy’s injury, but Samuel is likely to return to his 2021 form, when he threw for 1,770 yards and 14 touchdowns. Last season, he had more rushing touchdowns than receiving touchdowns. That will not occur again. He’ll also benefit from teammate Brandon Aiyuk’s development. Another WR in the fourth round.
Jaguars’ Calvin Ridley — The newest addition in Duval County, who had 1,374 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in his last full professional season, has also dropped to the fourth round this year. Of course, that was in 2020, before personal issues and a year-long suspension for betting on the Falcons derailed the second-team all-pro. He’ll wear number 0 this season, but he’ll be anything but a zero when he’s working with quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Buccaneers’ Chris Godwin and Mike Evans — Yes, Tom Brady has finally retired. And, no, Baker Mayfield and Kyle Trask will never be confused with TB 12. But these two Pro Bowlers have dropped into the eighth round, which is a bit much. Godwin had 104 receptions last season, and Evans has surpassed 1,000 yards in each of his nine seasons. They’ll both put up surprisingly good numbers for a mediocre offense in the NFC South.
Some of our favorite quarterbacks
Russell Wilson, Denver Broncos Only the Duke and Duchess of Sussex had a worse 2022 than the quarterback who Seattle decided couldn’t cook anymore. He spent the majority of his first season in Denver on his backside, taking a league-high 55 sacks. And his performances while upright weren’t much better. But this borderline Hall of Famer, who has been coached by everyone from Nathaniel Hackett to Sean Payton, is due for a comeback and is worth a late-draft flier.
Cardinals’ Kyler Murray — If DangeRuss isn’t risky enough for you, how about an injured QB who is only keeping the seat warm for future No. 1 draft pick Caleb Williams this season? Murray will be out until October anyway due to offseason knee surgery. If you’re in a keeper or dynasty league, you couldn’t do much better with your last pick than a QB who has accounted for 107 touchdowns in four years… and we’ll see where he ends up in 2024.
Some of our favorite tight ends
Giants’ Darren Waller — Formerly regarded as one of the league’s top three tight ends, the former Raider now finds himself in the Meadowlands after two subpar seasons. He’ll be a welcome sight in the ninth round of the draft, as well as a new target for Giants quarterback Daniel Jones. Particularly in the red zone. We predict he’ll surpass his 2022 total of three touchdowns by the end of September.
Saints’ Taysom Hill — Take a long look at this occasional diamond in the rough tight-end ranks when it comes time to make your final pick at the bottom of the draft. Sure, he’s a third-string tight end and a fourth-string quarterback. In ’22, he rushed for seven touchdowns, tying him for 16th in the league. You know what they call it when you leave Hill as your lone tight end until the final round? It was a lot of fun.
Coming on August 20: Players we’re not particularly excited about this season.