Will Marc Trestman make Jay Cutler Fantasy Relevant Again?

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler

What’s the opposite of Rich Gannon, the borderline journeyman signal caller with an adequate arm and a penchant for reading coverage schemes and taking what the defense gives him?

Jay Cutler.

Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler
Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler during the third quarter against the Detroit Lions at Ford Field Chicago won 26 24 Tim Fuller USA TODAY Sports

Cutler, blessed with a canon where his right arm should be, has never seen coverage he didn’t like. He seems to think – much like Matthew Stafford – that his rare arm talent can neutralize tight coverage, especially on his favorite target, Brandon Marshall. He is the very opposite of selective, and combined with his relatively low number of pass attempts, he’s become a fantasy persona non grata.

I postulated what new Bears head coach Marc Trestman’s brand of West Coast offense might look like in Chicago in 2013, but never touched on how this new system might be a boon for Cutler’s fantasy value, the way it was for Gannon during his two years under Trestman in Oakland.

Even a cursory look at Cutler’s recent fantasy production helped me find a defined starting point: things can’t get much worse.

Why Cutler Crushes Your Fantasy Soul

We hear it every year, come late July: Cutler is looking like a nice sleeper at that ADP of (fill in the blank). If I could snag him in the (fill in the blank) round, he’d be a steal.

Let’s see how that has worked out of late.

Cutler in 2010 completed 60.4 percent of his 434 pass attempts, making him the 22nd most accurate quarterback in the NFL. He was 15th among fantasy quarterbacks that year. The next season, racked by injuries, Cutler posted a 58 percent completion percentage, good for 17th in the NFL. He was 26th among fantasy signal callers.

Then came 2012, when reuniting with Marshall was supposed to catapult old smokin’ Jay into QB1 territory. Here’s what happened: Cutler again had 434 pass attempts, nearly 300 fewer than Stafford, and once again posted an ugly completion percentage of 58.8 percent. Twenty-four quarterbacks were more accurate last season, including Christian Ponder and Sam Bradford.

2009 was the last year Cutler was fantasy relevant, and even then, he barely cracked the top-12. Since 2010, Cutler has been the worst of all fantasy worlds. He hasn’t been asked (or forced) to chuck the ball 40 times a game, and in his limited chances, he’s stunk.

What Can Trestman Do For Cutler?

I once again asked Andrew Bucholtz, a knower of all things Canadian football who has tracked Trestman’s offensive success in the Canadian Football League, what Trestman’s style of West Coast offense might do for Cutler’s numbers.

It was a relief to know that a quarterback doesn’t need to be a Gannon clone to succeed in Trestman’s scheme, which relies on quick, accurate passing from a variety of formations, and puts special emphasis on a “pass as run” strategy that could be PPR gold for Matt Forte.

Bucholtz pointed to historically inaccurate signal callers whose completion percentage jumped and interceptions dropped under Trestman’s tutelage. Anthony Calvillo, Trestman’s quarterback during his time with the Montreal Alouettes, posted completion percentages of 69.2, 72.0, and 67.6 in his first three years with Trestman, a far cry from his career 62.5 percent mark.

Even Gannon, who had a surprisingly low 60.2 career completion mark, saw his percentage spike in Tresman’s system. Gannon completed 65.8 percent of his passes in 2001 and 67.6 percent in 2002. Gannon averaged 584 pass attempts per season under Trestman during his stop in Oakland, a significant increase over his years before and after Trestman.

Read more about Marc Trestman’s fantasy impact…
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“Although Trestman quarterbacks tend to be quite accurate, they weren’t all necessarily high-percentage throwers before entering his system,” said Bucholtz, editor of 55-Yard Line. “Cutler seems right on track to fit the Trestman system, and I can see a lot of similarities between him and Calvillo in particular — accuracy over the short routes, but the ability to throw the long ball when asked to. Not all of Trestman’s guys have been able to do that. Given Cutler’s arm, I’d expect Trestman to focus on implementing an offence similar to what Montreal ran in 2011 and 2012: a lot of short balls, but long balls when they’re available.”

The threat of easy quick hits to Marshall, wide receiver Alshon Jeffery and newly acquired tight end Martellus Bennett is designed to dare defenses into crowding the middle of the field within 10 yards on the line of scrimmage. That opens up the deep shot, a ball Cutler can throw.

“It certainly makes Trestman’s offense harder to defend when there’s serious deep-ball potential as well as the short stuff, and the Bears would seem to have that with Cutler and Brandon Marshall,” Bucholtz said.

Trestman, in a March 20 interview with the Chicago Tribune, offered effusive praise for Cutler’s throwing ability, saying his new quarterback “has the power basis to make all the throws. He has an inventory of passes. He can drop it in, drive it in, slide it in, he can slow it down.”

Cutler’s mechanics – including his footwork – were Trestman’s immediate concern.

“I know he has the ability to have precision mechanics, high-level mechanics,” Trestman said. “At times he has them, at times he doesn’t. But that would be for anybody in the league. There are times when you do it the way you want to do it. There are times when you want to get the ball up a little more. Your footwork can be cleaner.”

Bucholtz said Trestman’s critique of Cutler struck him as odd. He pointed out that Trestman has worked with quarterbacks with far inferior footwork inside and outside the pocket.

“I think this isn’t so much criticism as recognition that Cutler’s already bringing mobility to the table, and recognition that said mobility could be an effective passing weapon if he can keep his footwork solid despite not being in the traditional pocket,” he said. “If Trestman can get Cutler to maintain solid footwork and throwing mechanics while evading defenders, I think this could really work out for the Bears.”

Will Smokin’ Jay Dupe Us Again?

There’s a fairly obvious reason Cutler won’t rip your beating heart from your chest this fall: Unless his average draft position swings wildly upward, he’s essentially a late-round flier in 2013.

He’s going in the 13th round of mocks, just after Josh Freeman and just before Philip Rivers. If you draft Cutler there, and Trestman’s scheme bombs in Chicago (that seems unlikely), then your season isn’t circling the crapper by Oct. 1.

I plugged Cutler into the rotoViz Similarity Score machine, and after removing his numbers from Week 10’s injury-shortened performance, 2013 projections seemed at least somewhat hopeful.

Cutler is projected by rotoViz to attempt about 30 passes per game this year, though the app can’t incorporate the impact of Trestman’s West Coast pass-happy scheme. Gannon averaged 38.6 pass attempts per game in 2002, if that’s any indicator of Cutler’s 2013 opportunities.

rotoViz also has Cutler down for a 59 percent completion percentage – a perfectly reasonable number if the Bears hadn’t hired Trestman to overhaul the offense. As Bucholtz said, that number is likely to jump. Cutler’s fantasy ceiling, according to rotoViz, is – appropriately – Cutler’s 2008 season, in which he threw for more than 4,500 yards, 25 touchdowns and 18 interceptions.

It seems Cutler has fantasy zombie potential in 2013: once thought dead, but alive and walking. And smoking.

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C.D. Carter Fantasy Football Analyst
C.D. Carter is a reporter, author of zombie stories, writer for The Fake Football and XN Sports. Fantasy Sports Writers Association member. His work  has been featured in the New York Times.