The Chicago Bears hired former Chiefs OC Matt Nagy as their head coach, who promptly tabbed former Oregon head coach Mark Helfrich as his offensive coordinator. Nagy is a relative unknown, with only six games of NFL play calling under his belt, while Helfrich hasn’t stepped on an NFL sideline. Still, both have garnered high praise as offensive minds, and inherit a few equally exciting but untapped talents on the Bears. In their hunt for the next “QB Whisperer” ala Sean McVay, the Bears become a crucial fantasy football situation to breakdown and monitor, given the Nagy-Helfrich combination could take a once stale and sputtering offense to new heights.
General Background / Philosophy
As mentioned, both Nagy and Helfrich are as green as possible when it comes to NFL play calling. Nagy has already announced he will be officially calling the shots, but will rely heavily on Helfrich for designing concepts and schemes in the overall game plan.
Nagy earned play calling honors versus the Jets in Week 13 after the Chiefs attack began sputtering. The team put up 31, 26, 30, 29, and 27 points for the remainder of the regular season, and a 21 point playoff performance, that was highlighted by an epic second half collapse.
Meanwhile, Helfrich was the Oregon head coach from 2013-2016, going 37-16 over four seasons and leading Oregon to the first College Football Playoff Championship Game after the 2014 season. Helfrich’s teams averaged 42.6 points per game and 536.7 yards per game, which ranked second and third among FBS schools, respectively, during that time period. Even in his disastrous 4-8 season, offense was never the issue, as the Ducks scored 35.4 points per game. An abysmal defense that allowed 41.4 PPG (126th of 128 teams) ultimately led to his firing.
To learn the intricacies of Helfrich’s Oregon offense, we talked to the “Godfather of Oregon football,” Charles Fischer of FishDuck.com:
Scheme / System – Up Tempo West Coast?
Early this offseason, Nagy summarized his offense with the following line:
“Overall, we’re going to be much more aggressive than we are conservative.”
After slugging through years of John Fox’s insultingly conservate offense, Bears and fantasy fans alike can rejoice with Nagy’s desire to attack:
“It’s going to mean the pace of play,” Nagy said. “It’s going to mean downfield throws. We’re going to always attack you downfield.”
This is where Nagy really adds his own spice to his Andy Reid “West Coast” upbringing. In general, West Coast offenses stretch defenses horizontally via a quick-strike passing attack that features plenty of ins and outs. The goal is to minimize the risk, get the ball in your play-makers hands, and let them do their thing. Contrastingly, Nagy’s “West Coast” offense will bring far more vertical flair (normally conservative Alex Smith led the NFL in deep passing yardage in his first year with Nagy).
Additionally, whereas most West Coach attacks are slow and methodical, early signs point to an aggressive, fast-paced attack. In particular, OC Mark Helfrich hails from the rapid fire, frantic spread attack of Oregon that was made famous under Chip Kelly. Despite different alignments, Helfrich’s overall philosophy featured many similarities: Tons of quick strikes. Allowing playmakers to get in space and rack up YAC. Heavy usage of the running backs in the passing game.
Both Nagy and Helfrich also specialize in moving players all over the place to create mismatches, and capitalizing on versatility. “Offensively, to have a bunch of different guys that can do different things is important,” Nagy said.
Specifically, two “chess pieces” Nagy will incorporate are the a “U” move tight end (Travis Kelce) and the “Zebra” WR (Tyreek Hill). Nagy loves guys with speed who can find mismatches against linebackers, ill-fitting nickel-corners, or too slow of safeties. As we dive into later, he has plenty of intriguing options to fill these roles in Chicago.
With a severely limited sample size, projecting the exact scheme and shakeout here is near impossible. Still, one common word is thrown around when describing both Nagy and Helfrich: aggressive.
Though “aggressive” is a bit unusual for the more horizontal West Coast scheme, Nagy is credited with bringing tons of verticality to this team in 2017. As explored in this excellent PFF Breakdown, the Bears’ new coach reportedly brought a handful of ‘college’ concepts to the pro game which led to Smith leading the league with 1,344 deep passing yards.
Former Chiefs coach Brad Childress, who worked side-by-side with Nagy, added further evidence, saying he expects an “aggressive attack.” He explained his respect for Nagy while hinting at his tendencies, noting:
“I thought he was excellent as a playcaller,” Childress said. “I thought he was able to put together the openers — the first 15 plays each game — and keep teams off balance. He’s not conservative. He’s a guy that understands that you have to be able to throw the football in the National Football League, but still has a great appreciation for the run. You got to be able to run it when everyone knows you are going to run it.”
Nagy himself described his system as “aggressive but calculated about it.” Let’s dive deep into what this could mean for specific Bears players:
“It will be different in some regards, which is only fair to our coaches on offense and the ideas they have,” Nagy said, per The Athletic. “But the identity is going to be the same. It will feel very similar to Kansas City’s. We’re in the lab now. That’s the fun part. All the coaches are giving their ideas and thoughts. Coach [Andy Reid] always said he had 51 percent of the say. So ultimately, he had final say. Now I have that. There are plays I liked that Coach [Reid] didn’t like, so now those plays are in.”
Passing Game Impact
Summary: In Nagy’s 6 games as a play caller, the Chiefs sported a 58% Pass / 42% Run ratio, including games where they had large leads early. This suggests that, similar to Reid, the air will remain under the ball early and often. More importantly for fantasy, the chunk plays and deep shots should remain a staple.
Past QBs under Nagy:
A picture can speak 1,000,000 words, and this one is beautiful:
Smith undoubtedly had the best year of his career under Nagy’s tutelage, posting bests in yardage (4042), TDs (26), and YPA (8.0). The “conservative” Smith also led the league in deep passing yardage and TDs. He finished fourth in total fantasy points (295) and second in points per game (19.7), behind only Russell Wilson.
It’s no mere coincidence that Smith’s statistical explosion, especially in the vertical game, occurred during Nagy’s first year as coordinator.
2017 – Alex Smith (KC): 341/505 (67.5%), 4042 yds, 26 TDs, 5 INTs
2018 Expectations – Mitch Trubisky:
The development of No.2 overall pick Mitch Trubisky was undoubtedly the driving factor for the Bears hiring Nagy, and also why the coach selected the Bears. In his brief time with the team, the new head coach has only spoken glowingly of the sophomore signal caller: “After six hours of being with Mitch, it was unbelievable. He did a wonderful job — thought he’s a helluva person and thought he knew football inside and out. It was fun talking ball with him. So to see him get here just today, it was neat.”
Childress shone light on what those meetings entailed, noting:
“I know for a fact, because I sat in on the Mitchell Trubisky interviews before the draft with Matt and Coach Reid — we had him for seven hours –– I know that Matt still has his notes from that interview. He’s very excited about him [Trubisky]. I thought he was a bright-eyed guy. We put him in a tough environment when teaching him plays and making him regurgitate details and specifics. I couldn’t have been more impressed with that guy.”
More importantly, however will be Trubisky’s fit in the system. Arm strength and deep accuracy were Trubisky’s calling cards, and he shone at the NFL level in his limited opportunities. According to PFF, only 9.1 percent of Trubisky’s attempts traveled at least 20 yards downfield, the fifth-lowest rate of any starter. This, despite Trubisky holding a 108.1 passer rating on those throws — third-best in the league.
The most obvious excuse could be the low surrounding talent that Trubisky was stuck with during his rookie season. After a revamping of the offense and winning free agency, there will be no excuse for the sophmore quarterback. They added a bonafide WR1 in Allen Robinson, one of the best burners in the game in Taylor Gabriel and an athletic tight end to fit Nagy’s important ‘U’ position in Trey Burton. They also got one of the draft’s steals at wide receiver with Anthony Miller, who may start in the slot right away. One would expect those deep ball numbers to increase by a boatload under Nagy. Trubisky could genuinely be 2018’s Carson Wentz with this loaded cabinet of weapons.
“I think he is the perfect coach for Mitch Trubisky,” Kanell said on CBS Sports HQ. “Much like (Sean) McVay brought a lot of success for Jared Goff because he was a quarterback guy — he had a history of success; so does Matt Nagy. You know, Andy Reid disciple. Played the position. I think he is going to make this as easy as possible on Mitch Trubisky.” (Helfrich developement link Fischer)
Summary: The 58% Pass / 42% Run Ratio certainly suggests the opportunity will be there for high-end receiving outputs. Moreover, Nagy’s vertical tendencies within the West Coast Scheme, combined with Helfrich’s frenetic offensive pace, furthers the upside of said volume. Expect Nagy’s staples of “Out & Up,” “Flood,” and “Trickery” (outlined here) to be heavily leaned upon.
Before free agency and the draft, we were skeptical if the Bears had enough talent to catapult Trubisky into fantasy-relevancy. But now with the addition of those pass-catchers, the sky is the limit for the young quarterback.
Target Distribution and Yardage Under Nagy:
- Travis Kelce’s 121 targets, 8 TDs, and 83 receptions paced the team, suggesting the TE is heavily involved. Of course, Kelce is also an elite talent at the position and was by far the team’s top intermediate threat, so this can’t be a straight correlation. Interesting stat: Kelce caught more 20+ yard passes (19) than speedster Tyreek Hill (15), suggesting Nagy likes to go vertical down the seams with his big boys.
- Despite being miscast as a “one-trick,’ “gadget” type of player, Tyreek Hill was utilized heavily and paced the team in yardage. The team lacked much else to target, but Hill’s usage leap and overall production shouldn’t be discounted. Nagy knew who his playmakers were and put them in positions to succeed.
2018 Expectations – An uber-talent increase on the perimeter will have the greatest impact
Starting with the receivers, Allen Robinson is the big name who should bring the most fantasy value. Coming off ACL surgery, Robinson has participated in practice and should be good to go for training camp — where he can build some rapport with his new quarterback. Don’t forget, just three seasons ago Robinson put up a 80-1400-14 season with Blake Bortles as his quarterback. Trubisky possesses much more arm talent that Bortles and should be able to return Robinson to his 2015 form.
The addition of Taylor Gabriel should boost Trubisky’s downfield numbers. As noted above, Trubisky ranked 32nd in the NFL with only 30 deep-ball attempts. It’s clear that GM Ryan Pace made it a point to attempt to replicate Nagy’s pieces from Kansas City, into Chicago. Gabriel was able to take the top off defenses during Atlanta’s Super Bowl run and he’ll look to do the same in Chicago. Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Tarik Cohen will operate out of Nagy’s “Zebra” position — which will mostly be run out of the slot. All three possess speed to burn and can be used in a variety of ways. Helfrich’s experience at Oregon should also turn this position into a real mismatch.
Bears wide receivers coach Mike Furrey’s first impression of Taylor Gabriel was about what you would expect of a player nicknamed “Turbo.”
“He can run,” Furrey said. “He sure can run.”
“He’s able to do a lot of things we’ve done in the past, with jet motions and quick screens and some of the (run-pass option) stuff,” Nagy said. “But what I’m happy with … is he has taken to the teaching that we’re giving him. This isn’t something where he’s coming in and just trying to do his own thing at all. He’s coming in here, he’s listening to how we’re teaching and he’s trying to get better every day.”
“Once we get closer to training camp, and once he learns our system and knows exactly what he should do and be able to apply it to what he’s done in the past … I’m really intrigued to see how far he’ll go,” Furrey said. “I don’t think he’s at his ceiling yet, and I think that’s what’s interesting.”
Both men can fly. Cohen ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at last year’s NFL Scouting Combine. Gabriel, who’s built like a slot receiver but often played outside with the Falcons, ran a wind-aided 4.27 at his own pro day four years ago.
That, Gabriel said, fits Nagy’s offense.
“It’s a lot of catch and run,” he said. “That’s one thing I’m good at — catching and running.
“This offense is going to be very exciting. That’s one thing you saw [from Nagy in Kansas City]. And I’m pretty sure he’s going to bring it this year to Chicago.”
Robinson’s arrival gives the Bears’ a true No. 1 receiver — “He’s a guy that presents a lot of problems to defensive backs,” Nagy said — but Gabriel’s abilities will change the offense in Nagy’s “Zebra” role.
“[The ‘Zebra’ is] that third receiver who can go inside and run different,” Nagy said. “We’ll move you around. Sometimes we’ll get you on the ball, off the ball. We’ll put you in motion. But that third guy normally plays in the slot.”
In this case, Gabriel’s speed — ESPN rated him as the ninth-fastest player in the NFL in 2017 — can lead to mismatches. It opens up the field.
“When you have a guy that can take the top off the defense with the safeties, again stretching the field vertically, you need that,” Nagy said. “We have that.”
As for the tight ends, the Bears added former Eagles’ tight end Trey Burton. Burton is best known for his touchdown pass to Nick Foles in the Super Bowl, but he is a physical freak — with top performances at his position in the 40 (4.62), the 3-cone (7.14) and the 20-yd shuttle (4.32). Nagy has already been on record saying Burton will fill the Kelce-role in his offense, aka the ‘U’ position where he will split out often. He was barely featured in the Eagles’ high-flying offense, but he still managed to score five touchdowns on only 23 receptions. With how much Nagy likes his quarterback to target the tight end, Burton definitely possesses TE1 upside. He can get vertical and athletically he can be a tremendous mismatch in the passing game.
Nagy’s first conversation with Pace regarding new personnel revolved around adding a tight end who could fill what’s called the “U” position in Nagy’s offense. It’s a receiver/tight end hybrid role that Travis Kelce handles at a Pro Bowl level with the Chiefs.
Enter Trey Burton, who received a four-year, $32 million contract despite limited production with the Eagles. Simply put, Nagy needed him.
“It’s an important role,” Nagy said. “It’s easy to create some plays for. And when you have a guy that has the size that Trey has and the speed that he has, it’s about mismatches.”
Burton’s size can beat smaller nickel backs, while his speed can be a problem for larger players, i.e. linebackers.
“That’s one of the things that I learned through coach Reid is getting mismatches throughout, and that’s what Trey does,” Nagy said.
Then there’s Adam Shaheen, who stands a monstrous 6’6″ and 278 lbs and can still blaze a solid 4.78 forty. He’s another classic “basketball” convert, and thus has impressive foot quickness and solid ups, but is very raw. Still, he drips in moldable athleticism, and could emerge as a legitimate red zone target for Trubisky. If Burton stays healthy, he possesses little-to-no standalone value, but he could be a streamer option if you’re in a pinch for a touchdown at some point this season.
Running Game Impact
Summary: From Brian Westbrook to Jamaal Charles, Andy Reid’s offenses have typically featured one back as a true three-down horse that’s heavily utilized as a pass catcher. Entering 2017 and on the back of these workloads, Reid’s RB1s averaged 19.5 PPR points per game, and Kareem Hunt only boosted those numbers after a stellar rookie campaign. Nagy falls from this tree and displayed a similar philosophy in his six game sample size.
With a powerful line already in place, some highly talented backs, and enormous opportunity shares up for grabs, the Bears RBs could be 2018 fantasy heroes:
RB Performances under Nagy:
Kareem Hunt: 272 carries, 1327 yards, 8 TDs; 53 receptions, 455 yards, 3 TDs (295 PPR FPs, RB4)
More importantly, Hunt tallied 24+ carries on only four occasions in 2017. Three of these four came from Weeks 13-17, when Nagy became the overall play caller. If he has the guy to ride, Nagy will do so.
2018 Expectations: Will a horse emerge, and would a Jordan Howard / Tarik Cohen committee sustain value if not?
As mentioned above, Nagy would ride a horse if he had one. Unfortunately, he inherits two highly talented, but role-specific backs in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. Thus, a committee feels likely, but both backs possess the talent to do damage in a timeshare.
Howard would likely see the early down carries and red zone looks, and stands to benefit from this offense taking a step or five forward under a new coach. He should have more red zone opportunities to capitalize on, less stacked boxes to face, and overall more positive game scripts that allow him to bleed more clock. Expect high-end RB2 numbers, and a stat line similar to his 1,200ish, 8ish TD average, with upside to hit 12+ TDs if this offense really hits its groove.
Unfortunately, Howard is among the worst pass catching backs in the league, closing the door on true three-down horse work. This does cap his ultimate ceiling, but creates a monster opportunity for Cohen to completely explode. Hell, if there’s one concern with Howard, it’d be Nagy turning the reins over to Cohen full time.
Cohen drips in insane explosiveness and huge play ability. Though criminally underutilized by John Fox and co., he perfectly fits the “Reid” mold as an elite receiver with underrated power up the middle ala Jamaal Charles and Brian Westbrook. At minimum, Cohen should pile on at least 30 more receptions to his 2017 total of 53. As suggested, there’s a fair chance he emerges as an 12-15+ carry guy, given he makes this offense far less predictable. I expect plenty of formations and offensive sets that feature both backs.
In summary, I expect Howard to benefit from the overall offensive improvement, and maintain his high-end RB2 value. However, Cohen ends up the ultimate beneficiary here, exploding with a tsunami of targets while producing similar FPs to Howard for a fraction of the cost. He’s the Bear I’m most excited about now.
Tarik Cohen arguably is busier learning coach Matt Nagy’s offense than anybody except quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
The second-year running back figures to be all over the field — running inside and outside, coming out of the backfield on pass plays, pass-protecting and lining up as a wide receiver. Ideally, he’ll be a threat, a decoy and a dynamic weapon who helps keep opponents on their heels and allows the Bears’ offense to zig when the defense zags.
It’s a lot to ask of a player coming off his rookie season. But Cohen’s playmaking ability and versatility make him an ideal weapon in Nagy’s offense. The Bears aren’t babying him. They’re doing all they can to maximize him and fully coach him up so when opponents respond — as they did last year with success — the Bears will be able to respond right back.
“It’s a great thing that he has a lot to learn because that means we’re trying to get him the ball in so many different ways in this offense,” Trubisky said Wednesday before veteran minicamp practice. “But Tarik’s a really smart player; that’s the great thing about him.
‘‘Not only is he dynamic with the ball, but he understands the offense and knows how to open up his other teammates, whether it’s just doing his job or making a block or running a specific route without the ball.
“But we all know what he can do with the ball in his hands, and for him to be a smart player who understands the offense, we can pretty much line him up at any position — and he could argue he could play my spot right now, too.”
I feel like I fit very well into the offense. I’m doing a little bit of everything — outside receiver, in the slot and at running back as well as special teams. I feel like this is the offense for me.”
“You may look like you can run routes, but can you really run routes? He’s able to run routes,” Nagy said. “Sometimes that can be a disadvantage to a defense because they’ve got to cover him all over the field. You can’t just put him in the backfield and say to the middle linebacker, ‘Cover him.’ So we’ll try to do some things there. He’s an athletic kid who does a lot of things well. We’ll have some fun with him.”
Making “locked-in” conclusions on a six game sample size would be foolish. Even so, the Bears seem destined for some major steps forward under Nagy’s aggressive, West Coast scheme combined with the frenetic-pacing and spread philosophies of Oregon’s Helfrich.
Mitch Trubisky should have far more chances to show off his powerful but accurate arm, and could truly be 2018’s Carson Wentz now that he has the weaponry around him. Meanwhile, Reid’s offense historically ticks with the RBs, making Jordan Howard an intriguing third rounder while sending Tarik Cohen‘s stock soaring. Cohen will be utilized far more properly in 2018, and expect his explosiveness to shine through to massive point production.
Additionally, the additions of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Trey Burton and Anthony Miller make this offense ooze in fantasy potential. The high passing volume and Nagy’s vertical tendencies should put this offense, and especially Trubisky on your fantasy map.
Sure, this may all seem hyperbolic, but similarly built teams have taken quantum leaps forward under the right guidance. The line is already strong, the defense is underrated, and with the infusion of receiving talent, the Bears could be the next team to genuinely explode with Nagy steering the ship. Given their lackluster 2017, the free agency and draft domination should create some insane investing opportunities for fantasy owners.