This is Earl Bennett after a pass to him was broken up.
This shouldn't come as any big surprise to anybody - the Bears' wide receivers in 2011 were not productive this season. There are going to be a few numbers after the jump illustrating this, but it isn't going to be anything that Bears fans haven't figured out for the last two seasons. You know, the last thousand-yard receiver for the Bears was Marty Booker, Matt Forte led the team in receptions the last two years, all that good stuff. We've also heard that Jay Cutler was supposed to make the receivers better and that a downfield passing attack of one Mike Martz, which led to then-record seasons in St. Louis and strong improvements in the passing attacks of the other teams he stopped at, would also improve the numbers of the quarterback and receivers.
I'm not going to sit here and complain that the struggles of the passing offense are all the fault of the receivers. There's plenty of other factors - for instance, Cutler's numbers in two of the games were directly held down by coaching decisions: Carolina got run to death by Forte and Barber, and there was no reason for Cutler to throw against Detroit in Round Two. And the offensive line - often mentioned as the other main priority, particularly tackle - while it has not been as good as necessary, under a new offense that possibly doesn't continually require straight-back blocking that the lineman isn't quite capable of consistently doing, might not be as big of a requirement as we think.
But there's a few numbers that just spell out how bad the receivers really were last year, in context throughout the NFL.
1) No Bears player is in the Top 60 in Receptions.
If you think about each team starting 3 receivers (just for example's sake), that means you get to... A) fill 20 teams before you get to a Bears player (Matt Forte with 52 is at 62), and B) Forte would be one of the last #2s in the league. And if we're just going to the receivers, no Bear was in the top 100 in receptions. Johnny Knox and Roy Williams were tied with 37... which was good for rank 109 and 110.
The saving grace of the Bears' receivers was their yards-per-catch. Knox was ranked 52 in yardage, and even Roy Williams was 89th in yardage with 507. Given where the two stood in total receptions, that's a decent margin. And that's also considering Williams didn't have an "awful year" per se, more of a "continuing his gradual decline" year.
Also, Forte fit in just behind Williams, with only about 460 yards receiving.
2) Dane Sanzenbacher Led All Bears Receivers With 3 Touchdowns
That's excluding Kellen Davis' 5 TDs, but I'm looking solely at receivers. I like Sanzenbacher, I really do, but he's not a particularly good receiver - he had an excellent start to the year, but could barely sniff the field after Earl came back, and once he was on the field, he dropped everything in sight. I'm not convinced at this point that he's a real solution to any part of the receiver bit - he has trouble holding on to the ball, he's not that big, he's not very strong, although he will make a tough catch at times, and he doesn't get very much after the catch.
Also, no other receiver had more than two. That's not a good thing.
3) The Bears have No Go-To Target
Back about a year and a half or two years ago, I tried to answer the question of "what is a number-one receiver" with "whatever the size, it's the guy that you can go to in just about any situation when you need a big play - tough catch, big first down, et cetera." Looking down the receptions-per-game listing, guess where the first Bears receiver lands.
(Elevator music... Done.)
Give up? Johnny Knox. Rank 108, with 2.7. When you're getting less than 3 receptions from your "go-to" (read: highest ranked) receiver, something isn't working. I love Johnny Knox's YPC as much as anyone (19+), I really do. But if he's only getting 2.7 receptions per game, it's a problem, whether it be he's just not getting open on the field, or the coaching staff doesn't want him on the field (like remember earlier in the year when he was benched for Roy Williams?).
4) Right now, the best receiver on roster is Earl Bennett.
And I say that because right now, the Bears' top reception-getter is a running back, there's no guarantee Johnny Knox will be ready for football to start next year, and Roy Williams is a free agent who may or may not be back next year (and I'm not sure how many people want the second-best receiver on last year's team back... if that says anything).
So leaving Knox and Williams out of it, that brings us to Bennett, Hester, Sanzenbacher, Hur-- Oh wait... Max Komar?
Things are set up this year for the Bears to land a decent receiver in free agency and another immediate starter in the draft, and they really need to. They just don't have enough talent at the position to take the next step as a team offensively.