The Bears need to add a wide receiver to the roster for 2011. Not just a camp body, not just some guy to be in the mix, but a player that can make an impact. In my opinion, adding a former CFL star isn't enough. Expect another free agent to come in or a rookie to be drafted, or maybe both.
This is the final offensive position in my series looking at potential roster changes for next season, and next week I'll hit on the specialists and get started on the defense. Be sure to check out all our Roster Analysis stuff, as we at Windy City Gridiron have a slew of talented writers to choose from.
Johnny Knox - signed through 2012 - Knox improved from his rookie season, but he still has a ways to go before he's a polished NFL receiver. He was used much differently in 2010 under Mike Martz, as Martz took advantage of his speed. He only improved his reception total by 6, but his yards increased by 433, and his average per reception was 5th in the league at 18.8. He is a fast man. Now let's work on always finishing routes, fighting for the ball, and blocking. I'm not ready to write him off, as his weaknesses are coachable, but he needs a good off season spent in the weight room and the film room to take that next step as a receiver.
Pro Football Focus had Knox finishing up the 2010 regular season with a neutral -0.6 grade, good for 51st in the NFL. He was just above Jeremy Maclin and 1 below Steve Johnson. It's been written here on more than one occasion that a bunch of Jay Cutler's interceptions were on throws to Knox (11 according to PFF), and also according to PFF Knox caught 52.6% of the passes thrown his way, good for 88th in the league. This percentage has to improve.
Devin Hester - signed through 2013 - I think as the year progressed, and the Bears started to take away some of Devin's offensive snaps, he became a better football player. Hester has improved every year as a receiver, but I think his biggest asset to the Bears is as a full time returner and a part time offensive player.
PFF had him as the 98th rated WR, which is obviously not very good, but Hester is the kind of explosive talent that teams have to be aware of and the kind of player that teams have to game plan against. Every time Hester enters an offensive huddle, defensive coordinators make that fact aware to his defense.
Earl Bennett - signed through 2011 - Bennett is just a solid NFL receiver. His best position may be in the slot, but I think he can be a starter for the Bears. Even though he isn't the biggest (6' 209), he shows a willingness to attack the ball in the air. Had the start to his season not been slowed by injury, he may have led the team in receptions. PFF had him rated as the best WR on the Bears roster by a wide margin, and 17th best overall. Not one aspect of his game garnered a negative rating, in fact he didn't score in the negative in any game for the entire season. Solid.
Rashied Davis - free agent - I'm in the minority, but I think Davis has been a good player for the Bears. For what he is, a 5th WR, he filled his role perfectly. Perform when called on, and play good special teams. With that being said, I don't think he'll return to the Bears.
Devin Aromashodu - restricted free agent - He may be a restricted free agent, but I don't think the Bears want to keep him around. After a promising end to his 2009 season, most fans predicted big things from the "Extrapolation Sensation", but he couldn't get on the field to live up to that promise. PFF had him catching 10 of the 21 balls thrown his way (47.6%), not very good... He's gone.
Andy Fantuz - signed a reserve/future contract - Fantuz just might be a legit NFL talent, but until the real games are played, that will remain a mystery. He'll make some spectacular catches in mini camp, and he'll no doubt shine in preseason playing against future stock traders, personal trainers, and line cooks. I'm sure his fan club will be in full swing by August, organized by the past fan club presidents of Brandon Rideau, Mike Haas, and Ahmed Meritt. I think Fantuz will definitely be around next year in some capacity (final roster, IR, or the practice squad), but for fans to expect him to be that go up and get it true #1 receiver before we even see him on the field is a bit premature.
Onrea Jones - signed a reserve/future contract - Who? The Bears are his eighth organization according to his Wiki page. He's a former Virginia state High School champion in the hurdles and the 4X100 relay, so he must have some speed. He's had 22 preseason receptions the last 3 years, but has none when games count. He's a warm camp body and a practice squad possibility.
2011 OUTLOOK - Someone has to step up and establish themselves as the #1 receiver. Whether a draft choice, a free agent, or someone already on the roster, Jay Cutler needs that guy. Drafting a receiver will happen at some point, maybe even as early as the 2nd round. I think year 2 of the Martz offense will find the passing game running more efficiently, but it will only go so far without an actual upgrade in talent.
Some posible free agents are James Jones, Mike Sims-Walker, Braylon Edwards, Plaxico Burress... I just don't see that #1 guy out there in free agency.