This is a position that has carried a lot of disappointment, and a glimmer of hope. The hope comes in the form of Hester and Berrian's potential, but that is still a dream. There are answers in the draft and free agency, but I feel that what we really need is for our players to step up on the team. Let's look at our current players beginning with the starters, and then going to the back ups, and finally to free agency and the draft. At the end I will give an opinion of what we should do.
On the disappointment end we have high end talents like Muhsin Muhammad who has not been playing near his full potential. Part of this may be due to his age, and part due to the inconsistent QB situation, but he hasn't been delivering. More than anything he really hasn't been a factor in the games outside of the first few when Griese started and he seemed to be revitalized. He came up big against Detroit, Philadelphia, and Minnesota. Even with those games, he really wasn't consistent this year, and this appears to have come in stark contrast to our 06 campaign when he was always helping us move the chains. His numbers dropped a bit this year from 60 receptions in 06 to 40 this season and from 863 yards to 570 this year. TD's were also down from 5 to 3. His numbers have dropped some and he seems to have lost that "clutch-ness" from the 2006 campaign. In another disappointment, I thought that Berrian was going to be Robin to Grossman Batman after the 06 Super Bowl campaign. While he didn't become super dominant and break out as a star receiver he did make improvements. He went from 51 receptions to 71 and from 775 yards to 951. His TD's dropped from 6 to 5, but I don't think that is much to complain about. I am happy with Berrian's continued growth, but he still left much to be desired. He also has had issues with disappearing during games and dropping passes. Moose has dropped a lot of passes as well, but his decline has been more pronounced than Berrian. Berrian improved statistically this year, but still wasn't getting the job done consistently.
Looking at our bench we can see some players who underachieved
in Rashied Davis and Mark Bradley (I will deal with Hester later because I consider him to be in a category of his own). Davis was around in 2005 as a Special Teams Ace and Kick returned, but this is his second year as a WR for the Bears. Before working with the Bears Davis was a member of the AFL with the San Jose SaberCats. Last year he was clutch with one "game winning catch" in week three and a catch to set up a game winning field goal against the Bucs in the regular season and against the Seahawks in the divisional playoffs. This year, however, his numbers have dropped from 303 yards, 22 receptions, and 2 TD's to 165 yards, 17 receptions, and no TD's. I was excited abfter last year at the prospect of his becoming a solid receiver on this team, but now I am not as sure. He is a RFA, and I doubt any team will be think enough to sign him and lose a pick. Mark Bradley has always had a considerable amount of hype, but has never delivered. This year was especially bad with 6 receptions, 71 yards, and no TD's. Last year he didn't have a great season, but that wasn't as big of a deal since he only played in 10 games. But, even with just 10 games and 14 catches he threw up 282 yards and 3 TD's. This year he just hasn't been getting it done. As a whole I have started to lose faith in these two and they will have a lot to prove come training camp. Let me take this brief moment to mention Mike Hass and Brandon Rideau and their combined irrelevance, as Hass received only one game of action and didn't even see the field then.
Hester is the big enigma of the group. He has showed promise in limited action and his ability to be a game breaking WR with two long touchdowns. However, he still has gotten lost on offence and seems to be taking his time getting acclimated to the offence. I know he seemed to be getting lost, but I also question his use by the coaching staff. You have to love his rushing stats of 7 attempts for a loss of 10 yards total and an average of negative 1.4 YPC. In any case, Hester is our greatest offensive playmaker and we need him to succeed at WR. Our coach doesn't share my sentiment, but he believes Hester will succeed at the position. In the Dec 31st edition of the Sun-Times Coach said that Hester "can become a number one receiver in the league." I don't doubt that Hester can become a #1 in the league, but the question is when. Can he do it this year? I really think the speed of development is key. You all may disagree, but I believe that Hester can make a big jump this year on the offensive side of the ball. If he can continue to give us good field position and make a difference on offence we will be in business.
I don't know if our answer is going to be found in the draft. It all depends on how much Angelo is willing to give up or how much of a WR overhaul he is going to make. However, if we don't keep Berrian we will need to find somebody, plus we don't know how Rideau, Hass, and Bradley are going to turn out (I excluded Davis because he had a decent year in 2006). We may need to go to Free agency and/or the draft. Here are some of the top prospects from nfldraftcountdown.com and some other later round Joes.
DeSean Jackson, California He is supposed to be a "better prospect" than Ginn Jr. and a WR/KR specialist. We already have that in Hester, and I don't think we could justify taking him in the first round.
Mario Manningham, Michigan This guy would be great to get, but he is going in the late teens in most drafts, and I doubt Angelo is going to take him way up. However, If Angelo tries to trade down, maybe he will be an option.
Malcom Kelly, Oklahoma At 6'4 and 219 pounds this guy is going to be a force. I just don't know where he is going to end up. Some mocks have him going 11 and some in the late twenties. If he is around I wouldn't mind picking him up.
Limas Sweed, Texas This guy is another big game changer at 6'4, 217. However, with Sweed people are concerned about a wrist injury from his senior year that may cause him to drop into the second round.
Early Doucet, LSU This guy is a bit over rated in my opinion, but is slated to go in the end of the second round. His combine performance will have a big say in where he is drafted.
James Hardy, Indiana Hardy is supposed to be one of the best prospects as far as athleticism is concerned (according to the Mocks), but he also is supposed to come with some baggage. I don't know what it is or why he has it, but if it caused a talent to drop to us in the second round, then we have to take a chance on him.
Devin Thomas, Michigan St. There are no real write ups on this guy I could find, but he threw up 79 receptions for 1,260 and 8 TD's. He is projected to go after us in the second round, so hopefully he will be available if we really need a WR in the second round.
Then here are some other prospects that could be available after our pick or after the second round.
Donnie Avery , Houston
Andre Caldwell, Flordia
Adarius Bowman, Oklahoma St.
Earl Bennett, Vanderbilt
You can view the rest of the prospects and their proposed position among other WR's here at nfldraftcountdown.com. I don't know if there is anyone we should take in the first round, and I wonder how many talents will be left in round 2 or 3. I think we may have more pressing needs in the early rounds of the draft and have to take a chance on a prospect in a later round.
This is where we might be able to hit pay dirt, but it starts with evaluating weather or not we need to break the bank to keep Berrian. He may be the best FA available, and we may need to put all our eggs in his basket and hope Hester can ascent to new heights as a WR this coming season. In any case, here are the prospects.
Randy Moss, UFA, New England Patriots Wouldn't it be nice to obtain... no, no I don't want him.
Patrick Crayton, UFA, Dallas Cowboys I highly doubt good old Double J is going to let him go considering their thin receiving corp.
Devery Henderson, UFA New Orleans Saints He isn't going to be a #1 receiver in the league, but if we lose Berrian and our 1 and 2 our Moose and Hester, he may be nice to have around.
All in all I don't know who we may pick up, if anyone. It may be that our best option is keeping Berrian. Because I really, aside from Moss, don't see anyone who would be better than Double B, and we aren't getting Moss anyway.
I really think we are in an awkward place this year. We have a lot of cap room, but I just don't know if our first priority with that room should go to anything other than retaining Berrian, and at that maybe we need to Franchise him. Then we may want to look at the draft, but I don't know who will be good and available in or past round 2. If we had the luxury of trading up to get Jake Long, and keeping our other pick then I would want to get Manningham or Kelly. We all know that's not going to happen.
I really believe that if we solidify the O-Line then our WR's will play better. Then we still have to consider the Hester factor. Hester had his break our rookie season in 06, and in 07 when people were gunning for him he still improved his return record from 5 to 6 and his all purpose TD's from 6 to 8. I really hope that coaching staff works hard at utilizing him in various ways in the passing scheme, and I believe that his production will continue to grow (Avoid using him on Reverses like the plague!). I know that as the combine comes there may be some WR's that will rise and fall and then we might have to reconsider our options. As it stands today I think we need to stand pat with our WR's and settle our QB and O-line situation.