Martellus Bennett has almost immediately made himself a favorite among Bears fans, and not just for his on-field performance. Bennett's off-field persona, through interviews and his Twitter feed, has allowed him to showcase his goofiness and humor. My wife Ashley says he's the new Anthony Adams in that regard.
But that still wouldn't matter to fans if the on-field production wasn't there. But, oh man, was the production there last year.
After the dumpster fire that was Kellen Davis and the inconsistency of the Greg Olsen era, Bennett has been a breath of fresh air at the tight end position. Bennett tallied career highs last year when he caught 65 passes for 759 yards, and tied a career-high with five touchdowns.
Bennett had a lingering shoulder injury for much of last season, which he suffered in week two. Even so, though, Bennett was able to develop a rapport with QB Jay Cutler and be productive with back up Josh McCown.
The tight end position has seen a rapid evolution in recent years with former basketball players bursting into the pros, bringing size and athleticism to the gridiron. The trend can be traced back to Tony Gonzalez but has exploded with players like Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas and Jordan Cameron. Other tight ends like Vernon Davis and Greg Olsen have brought WR-like speed to the TE position, making the position more important in the passing game than ever before.
Bennett had a slow start to his career playing behind Jason Witten in Dallas but, two seasons ago in New York, he burst out with 55 catches for 626 yards and five TDs. Those numbers got him his four-year-deal with the Bears.
In the lead up to training camp NFL.com writers are doing a couple of different position rankings. Bucky Brooks is doing "Bucky's Best" where he is ranking skill-based categories, rather than the standard traditional position rankings, while the Around the League team's Chris Wesseling is doing a position power rankings.
Coaches and scouts love tight end prospects with basketball backgrounds because their athletic skills are transferrable from hardwood to gridiron. Bennett, a standout high school hoopster who also lettered twice on the Texas A&M basketball team, routinely uses his post-up skills to outmuscle defenders between the hashes. In addition, Bennett possesses enough speed and quickness to stretch the field on vertical routes. Thus, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler has a viable option to target down the middle when opponents use Cover 2 to bracket Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery on the outside. If Marc Trestman continues to keep his foot on the gas as a play-caller, Bennett could see his numbers spike in 2014.
Wesseling's rankings go as follows: All-Pro, Next Level, Solid Starters, Potential vs. Production, Diminishing Roles and Impact Rookies. These are somewhat arbitrary ratings but he puts Bennett in the "Solid Starters" group:
Other TEs in the "Solid Starters" category are Washington's Jordan Reed, the Vikings' Kyle Rudolph, Colts' Dwayne Allen, Ravens' Dennis Pitta, Olsen, Miami's Charles Clay, Gates, Eagles' Brent Celek, Titans' Delanie Walker and Jags' Marcedes Lewis.
For what it's worth, I'm not sure Bennett puts the "hybrid" label on himself. Last week he was tweeting about TEs in the NFL and while he didn't mention himself, he did try to educate about the position around the league:
There's only a few Y type Tight Ends left the league. All of the others are more of an F type Tight End. There's way more Fs than Ys.— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) July 3, 2014
Jimmy Graham. Antonio Gates. Jared Cook. Vernon Davis. Are examples of the F type Tight End.— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) July 3, 2014
He got into with a few people when he said that certain guys get production because of their system and/or their roles in their systems.
If you have to take him out on third and short or 4th and 1 he's probably not your stud TE.— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) July 3, 2014
There's a TE that everyone was talking about being so awesome last year so I watched his tapes. 65% of his catches were flat routes— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) July 3, 2014
A Y isn't a do anything first. He's a do whatever is needed to be done at that moment player. He's your Batman utility belt.— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) July 3, 2014
Bennett does fall into the Y category because he stays in and blocks; he is the Batman utility belt in the Bears offense, run blocking, pass blocking, running routes and even flexing into the backfield on occasion. Furthermore, Bennett likely disagrees with these rankings because in his opinion the best TE in the league is his former Cowboys teammate:
The top TE in the game right now is Jason Witten honestly.— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) July 3, 2014
Anyone who really watches the game film will realize that. All these other guys are fun to watch. Witten may not be. But he's that good ole— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) July 3, 2014
Pickup Truck that's always going to start up and get you where you need to be.— Martellus Bennett (@MartysaurusRex) July 3, 2014
Do you think Bennett is ranked properly?