I am sure that there is no doubt about the Bears biggest need on the offensive side of the ball is anymore. Sure we could use an offensive lineman or two but what we have is good enough, they are mostly young and mostly improving, but it is all too clear the Bears need an upgrade at receiver. I believe Halas Hall it self is finally coming around and admitting that a bit. The position was way too neglected under former general manager Jerry Angelo. Despite spending two picks on WR in '09, he never seemed comfortable drafting the position in the early rounds (read: first round) or very good at finding talent (David Terrell [actually a Jauron pick, according to sources], Mark Bradley, Juquain Igleasias). Anyway, now with a new man in charge as far as evaluating the college talent, it seems there is renewed hope that the Bears go out this offseason and either draft someone or sign one in free agency. Everyone agrees the Bears need a "true number one" target for Jay Cutler, but what exactly does that mean?
Now, I would say most scholars (a.k.a. Fans who think they know more than Mel Kiper and Mike Mayock combined) would say that a "number one" receiver should be 6'5" or taller, have the athletic ability of an acrobat and the speed of Usain Bolt.
But there is only one Calvin Johnson.
The rest of football people would probably agree that a number one receiver should have most of the following traits: 6'1" or taller, good leaping and reaching ability, the ability to run all the routes, preferably sub-4.5 40 speed, beat most all coverages and generally put fear into opposing defenders.
Now this second description actually doesn't seem all that different from the first and it also seems even more specific, but at least a human with three or so of those abilities is likely to come around more than once a lifetime.
To be even more vague, ideally the receiver should have the potential to break one or two big plays a game. For the purpose of quantifying this, I mean one or two plays of 25 yards or more per game.
So it might be that this is too tall an order for the Bears to draft or sign. It's difficult to evaluate receiver talent in draft, especially with the spread offense making gaudy receiving numbers the norm and even tougher to dissect.
While perusing the NFL's leading receiver stats earlier, I made a discovery among the stats break down of a reasonable measure for what makes a "legitimate" or "number one" receiver.
70 yards per game average.
Doesn't seem like much does it? 70 yards a game. That can't be too hard, here is the list of receiving yard leaders for 2011, listed according to yards per game average. Among the leaders are all the usual suspects; C. Johnson, Marques Colston, Brandon Marshall, Andre Johnson, Roddy White, Steve Smith and Larry Fitzgerald.
So the number one guys do it, the ones you know, but so did a few guys who had break out years, such as Jordy Nelson, Nate Washington and rookie sensations Julio Jones and A.J. Green.
It could stand to reason then that any good receiver with a good QB could average 70 yards a game and that is true. However, when looking at the career stat break down of the elite WRs, it is seen that these guys do it consistently.
Year in and year out these guys have the 70-yards-per-game average (or darn close to it) and if you look at guys like Larry Fitzgerald or Brandon Marshall who have played with some bad quarterbacks, they still manage to do it.
So maybe number one wide outs shouldn't be measured by height, speed or reception numbers alone. Guys who are smaller than 6'0" like Steve Smith and guys who aren't the fastest, like Fitzgerald, or don't catch 80+ balls a year, like Vincent Jackson, still average 70 yards a game.
If the Bears could find or sign a guy like that, it's what we need. Knox, for all he's good for and for his almost-1,000 yard year last season, he is too inconsistent. He disappears from too many games and even in 2010 when he had 970 yards he only averaged 60.0 yards per game.
70 yards a game should be the target of what a team wants to see from their number one guy, consistently, year in and year out. That's what the Bears need to find.
For what it's worth, here are how free agents-to-be stack up; Dwayne Bowe has averaged over 70 a game the last two years, after a rather slow start to his career, Mike Wallace has averaged 70 yards game in all but his rookie season, Vincent Jackson has only hit the 70-yard plane once in his career but came within .9 yard and 1.4 yards twice and Mario Manningham has never hit the mark, even last year when he caught 60 passes for 944 yards. Marques Colston has hit the mark three times and come within three yards in his other three seasons.
So then, is this a legitimate way to judge wide receivers? Should this be the way to judge whatever wide receiver the Bears bring in?