I've come to a realization watching the NFL Playoffs, and that is that the Chicago Bears have a horrendous group of receivers. I've always known they have limitations, but seeing the game changing talent making athletic play, after athletic play makes it obvious that the Bears wide-outs aren't capable of doing certain things. No one on the Bears roster can leap over a defender for a catch, out muscle a DB for the ball, hurdle a diving would be tackler, consistently run through arm tackles, do a sick flip into the end zone, or dive with the ball outstretched for the pylon. The best receiver on the roster, Earl Bennett, is a tough player with good hands that runs good routes, but at best he's a #3 slot guy.
Out friends over at Pro Football Focus are allowing us access to their Premium Content to help break down the Bears roster. To be fair, the wide-outs were without Jay Cutler for 6 games, so that could have something to do with the not so hot PFF grades.
Johnny Knox - Signed through 2012 - Early reports about the Knox injury is that he should make a full recovery, but until he takes his next big hit the Bears won't know for sure how he'll respond mentally. That was a gruesome injury. I think after 3 years in the NFL, Knox is what he is, a vertical threat. Nothing more, nothing less. He added some bulk last off season, but it didn't translate to the field. He still wasn't fighting for the ball or walling off the defender with his body. Ideally Knox should be a situational player that comes in and stretches the field on occasion. He was 2nd in the NFL with a 19.7 average gain per reception.
PFF had Knox graded as the Bears best receiver in 2011. He was 40th overall with a positive 2.0, and on the year they only had him with one negative game, week 15 against the Seahawks they gave him a -1.6.
Earl Bennett - Signed through 2015 - Bennett signed his new deal in December, and it's not outlandish number one receiver money. He'll be around next year and he should be the slot. He does have some chemistry with Cutler and if he's allowed to work underneath with an honest to goodness #1 drawing attention on the field, I think Bennett could thrive.
PFF had him taking quite a tumble from last year. In 2010 his 6.3 grade placed him 18th, but in 2011 he fell down to 53rd with a, what PFF consider's neutral, -0.4. Even though Bennet is knocked for his lack of speed, he's a tough runner and his 5.6 yards after catch was tied for 22nd in the NFL.
Devin Hester - Signed through 2013 - I think we can all officially say the Devin Hester wide receiver experiment is over. He's been returning both kicks and punts of late and his offensive snaps have decreased. I'm interested to see hoe Mike Tice will utilize him. I'm OK with him getting reserve reps from the Z and from the slot, and I'd love to see him used more on the end around. Not necessarily getting the ball every time, but at least once per game the Bears should show the end around action.
Hester was way down at #112 according to PFF. His -11.9 grade may have been aided by his nagging injuries, but his 6.3 yards after catch led the Bears wide outs and was 13th in the league.
Roy Williams - free agent - The Bears can't re-sign Williams, can they? He didn't bring anything to the table that was advertised. His height didn't translate to any fade route jump balls, his savvy didn't allow for any back shoulder throws, and his experience in the Martz offense didn't lead to 70 receptions.
PFF had him at a -1.2 and ranked as the 56th receiver. His 7 drops tied for most on the Bears, and on 5 occasions a ball throw Roy's way was picked off. I would not be surprised if he's out of football next year.
Dane Sanzenbacher - Signed through 2013 - I like Dane Sanzenbacher. I think he may develop into a good slot receiver some day, but it might not be in Chicago. If the Bears sign a guy and draft a guy, it may push Dane off the roster. Especially if they don't carry as many wide outs as last year. He might have to excel on special teams ala Rashied Davis to justify sticking around.
According to PFF he only caught half the balls thrown his way and he also had 7 drops. He was the 101st graded receiver and he had a -7.8 overall grade. His 3 TD catches led all Bears WRs.
Kevin Jurovich - terms undisclosed - He ended the year on the practice squad and that may be the highlight of his NFL career.
Jonathan Haggerty - terms undisclosed - Ditto...
2012 OUTLOOK - This position is in need of the biggest upgrade on the roster. Sign a free agent and draft a player in the first few rounds. No more 7th round projects and no more castoff retreads. Get the position some talent. The free agent crop of receivers is a deep one, Marques Colston (PFF grade of 17.3 good for 5th overall), Dwayne Bowe (10.5, 12th), Steve Johnson (6.0, 23rd), and Vincent Jackson (5.0, 28th) to name a few. And from the college ranks, the Bears should be able to grab someone that could step in and start in either the 1st or 2nd rounds.
Brandon Marshall and Jay Cutler have been talking it up via Twitter, but Marshall is under contract and with the Peyton Manning to Miami Dolphins rumors heating up, you'd think they would want to keep their #1 WR on the roster. I wouldn't expect the Bears to add a WR via trade.
Then again with a GM finally in place, a GM that may want to make a quick stamp on his team, I wouldn't rule out any possibility.