Way back when in January, when the Bears unceremoniously told Jerry Angelo to walk out the door (and later, Mike Martz showed himself out), much ado was made of "bridging the talent gap," a phrase I looked at as kind of a summary of how much work the Bears had to do this offseason to make up the difference between themselves and a division that hosted the number one seed overall as well as the first wild-card.
Now that free agency and the draft is over, I'd like to take a step back and break down the division teams and compare them to the Bears, and see just where things stack up currently. We'll start with a very high profile position that the Bears obviously marked as a top priority - the receiving corps.
2011: Johnny Knox, Roy Williams, Sam Hurd, Earl Bennett, Devin Hester, Dane Sanzenbacher
Add: Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Eric Weems, Devin Thomas
Subtract: Roy Williams, Sam Hurd (Johnny Knox?)
As It Stands: Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffery, Earl Bennett, Devin Hester, Eric Weems, Devin Thomas, Dane Sanzenbacher
The reason Johnny Knox is marked with a question mark is, well, the only one that knows is Johnny himself, and it doesn't look too good. But the Bears clearly took a step forward here. Spinning Williams and Hurd out and replacing them with Marshall and one of the draft's top receivers (often projected as a first-round pick) is a really good way to go about it, and filling the Knox return void with Weems as a solid veteran option helps. Overall, it's most certainly a stronger unit, but for now, I hesitate to mark it as a top 5 receiving corps when it might not be the top-2 in their own division.
The Packers are pretty much bringing back the same receiving group as last year. If Driver doesn't get cut, he might take a step down, but he's continued to produce year after year somehow. And Jennings, Nelson and Jones aren't exactly the big names that intimidate fans, but Nelson put up an excellent 68 reception, 1,263 yard, 15 TD campaign (with a great 18.6 yards-per-reception). The Packers still have enough tools to be dangerous here, and if you're willing to count Jermichael Finley as a receiver (which for purposes of this, I'm not), arguably the most devastating aerial attack in the NFL.
2011: Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young, Rashied Davis, Stefan Logan
Add: Ryan Broyles
Subtract: Rashied Davis
As It Stands: Calvin Johnson, Nate Burleson, Titus Young, Ryan Broyles, Stefan Logan
For some reason, Rotoworld lists Logan as a running back, but whatever. Johnson is arguably the best receiver in the game currently, and behind him sits the moderately okay Nate Burleson and some promising young talent. Young turned in a fairly solid rookie campaign with 48 catches and six touchdowns, and Broyles is just about certain to be an upgrade over Rashied Davis. Logan isn't really as much of an offensive contributor, but will make some appearances in special packages.
2011: Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins, Devin Aromashodu, Greg Camarillo, Bernard Berrian
Add: Greg Childs, Jarius Wright, Jerome Simpson
Subtract: Greg Camarillo, Bernard Berrian
As It Stands: Percy Harvin, Michael Jenkins, Jerome Simpson, Devin Aromashodu, Greg Childs, Jarius Wright
Last year, the Vikings receivers were pretty much Percy Harvin and... well, it wasn't pretty. Jenkins added 38 catches to pair with Harvin's 87, but beyond that, the Vikings had no passing attack out of the receivers whatsoever. So their additions consisted of two fourth-round picks - Wright and Childs both have potential, Wright more so on the inside and Childs on the outside. Simpson comes over from Cincinnati (with an arrest for having reefer mailed to his house, nonetheless) and has some ability (50 catches, 725 yards, 4 TD in 2011), but whether he can contribute to the Vikings' pedestrian passing attack remains to be seen.
Stacking up the units, I'd say it's a clear choice for the Vikings at 4 - it's got some youth that might pan out into solid talent, but needs to show more than Percy Harvin to rank any higher divisionally. Third... At this point I have to put the Bears, and not because I'm not a Marshall believer - I am. The problem is I'm just not sure exactly how deep the Bears are (it's the same problem as the Lions, and they have freaking Megatron, hence why they're second). Marshall adds the number one the Bears have needed in their passing attack, and we think Jeffery is going to be a pretty good number two, if not a number one himself, but between him being a rookie, between the absence of Johnny Knox, and between Bennett and Hester, I'm just not sure where the sustained depth of the team has a significant advantage. The Lions have a similar problem - Megatron, then Burleson's near-guaranteed 700 yards, and plenty of unprovens. The Packers retain their corps from last year, as deep as ever.
Where do you have the Bears' receiving corps ranked? Do you think it could be a top-5 NFC corps by season's end?