I know this is going against conventional wisdom. I recognize the grave needs we have on the o-line and our lack of solid talent in the secondary. But I really believe that while wide receiver may not be our most pressing need, it should be our highest priority in the upcoming draft. Not unlike the offensive line, it is a position that has been neglected in the past several drafts. Well, not entirely neglected, but our strategy when it comes to drafting the position has failed to meet our needs at the position. So I'll attempt to examine that draft strategy and explain why I think the Bears should take a wide receiver with their number one pick in this years draft.
I realize that good teams draft the best player available, but even those teams prioritize by need on the team. If a team has two players available with roughly the same grade - they draft the one that fits the bigger need on the team.
With that said, I really wouldn't want the Bears to pass on a highly graded offensive lineman. But I'm not sure how many highly graded wide receivers will be around when we select in this years draft. WCG's own Dominique Blanton gave us a great look at both wide receivers and offensive linemen in the upcoming draft. As I look at mock drafts, listen to men like Mel Kiper, and look at the early rankings, I get the impression that this is a draft with more quality depth at offensive lineman than receiver. Meaning that unless one of the very top offensive line prospects is available when Chicago picks in the first, we can probably address the need in the 2nd through 7th rounds and still get some solid quality talent. And offensive line is a much easier position to address through free agency than top end wide receivers (unless you're talking about an elite left tackle, then it's a push) Plus, given the ability Mike Tice has shown for recognizing and developing talent on the offensive line (J'Marcus Webb?) we might be better able to address that need in later rounds.
Which gets me to looking at the Bears current crop of receivers and how our draft strategy has failed to adequately address the position. For the last several drafts, the Bears strategy has been to take a receiver in the third round or later rounds and hope they develop. This hasn't been a complete failure but I think we need to say it isn't a complete success either. If you look across NFL rosters you will find "name brand" receivers through out the league. On our own team we have the famous (primarily as a returner) Devin Hester and the emerging Johnny Knox. But Knox has had issues fighting for the ball (when Knox was targeted the ball was intercepted a team high 12 times) and Devin's inconsistent as well. I'm very high on Earl Bennett as a receiver who is unafraid to "go up and get it". But unlike Knox and Hester, Bennett lacks blazing speed. I'm not here to start a discussion on what it means to have a true #1 receiver on your roster but I did find it interesting when I started looking at the rosters of the other 11 playoff teams and how their "number one's" compared to ours. So here we go....
Atlanta Falcons (Matt Ryan): Roddy White 1,389, 12.1, 10
Indianapolis Colts (Payton Manning): Reggie Wayne 1355, 12.2, 6
Green Bay Packers (Aaron Rogers): Greg Jennings 1,265, 16.6, 12
Pittsburgh Steelers (Ben Rothlesburger): Mike Wallace 1,257, 21, 10
Kansas City Chiefs (Matt Cassel): DeWayne Bowe 1,162, 15.1, 15
Philadelphia Eagles (Mike Vick): DeSean Jackson 1,025, 22.5, 6
New Orleans Saints (Drew Brees): Marques Colston 1,023, 12.2, 7
Chicago Bears (Golden Arm god): Johnny Knox 960, 18.8, 5
New York Jets (Mark Sanchez): Braylon Edwards 904, 17.1, 7
New England Patriots (Tom Brady): Wes Welker 848, 9.9, 7
Baltimore Ravens (Joe Flacco): Anquan Boldin 837, 13.1, 7
Seattle Seahawks (Matt Hasselbeck): Mike Williams 751, 11.6, 2
Other than the Patriots (with the Randy Moss trade) and the Seahawks, every other team listed had a "number one" in the same ballpark (or better) statistically as Knox. The Jets (Santonio Holmes), Ravens (Derrick Mason), Eagles (Jeremy Maclin), Patriots (Deion Branch), Steelers (Hines Ward), Colts (Pierre Garcon) and the Saints (Lance Moore) had #2 receivers with at least 750 yards receiving each. Even Green Bay's Donald Driver had 679 yds receiving. No Bears receiver other than Knox had over 600 yds receiving (Bennett 561, 12.2, 3) for the Bears. To put it simply, even if you do think Knox will become an elite receiver, right now the team has no clear complement to his talent. Not to say we need talented wide receivers to move to the next level but it seems like an awful waste of Jay Cutler's ability to get the ball down the field.
Then we factor in Mike Martz and his ability to identify and develop talent (he worked with both Torry Holt and Az-Zahir Akeem early on in their careers) at the receiver position. Plus, the Bears haven't exactly shown they are overly committed to addressing the position. We have had exactly one pro bowl wide receiver in more than 25 years. (Marty Booker, 2002) We have spent two first round draft picks on a receiver in almost 20 years (Curtis Conway 1993 and David Terrell 2001). I realize there might be some very solid talent available in free agency but we all know this is a position that comes at a premium price and the Bears have been spending pretty high on free agents the past year or so. If they can get a top talent in the free agent market for the right price, I'd be all for it. But for me, as a fan, they need to show a real desire to improve that position. And if your sold on drafting an offensive lineman with our first pick, consider that since drafting David Terrell we have actually taken two offensive tackles in the first round (Chris Williams 2008 #13 and Marc Colombo 2002 #29). We know we need to improve on offense. We showed we were serious in addressing the QB position when we went out and got Jay. Let us give him another weapon to work with. To go and draft a wide receiver in the first round might be the best way to achieve that goal and improve this team long term.