The Bears have long been mired (or, longmired, if you're a fan) with a lack of talent at a variety of offensive positions. We've already covered thequarterback situation for the Bears, and will be getting to the offensive line on Friday. This time we're looking at the wide receiver group for the Bears.
Sure there haven't been any changes to the top of the depth chart, and the biggest addition probably has been the subtraction of Devin Hester from the receiving corp, but we really didn't know what we had in Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffrey last year. They established themselves last year - Jeffery a little less so, but we'll get to that - and finally we have enough young guys with talent at the end of the roster to hopefully contribute better than Dane Sanzenbacher.
Starting Wide Receivers #1: Brandon Marshall (8th season in NFL)
Job Responsibilities: Serve as the primary target for the quarterback in the passing game, able to post big numbers and crucial receptions despite being a focal point of opponents' defenses.
Job So Far: Simply put, Marshall confirmed last year that he's one of the best wide receivers in the league and Phil Emery fleeced him from the Dolphins for two third round picks. Marshall was second in the league in catches (118), third in yards (1,508), and fourth in touchdowns (11). He was the most important and productive player the Bears fielded, with the highest target percentage in the league at 39.8%, about eight percent higher than second place Reggie Wayne.
Confidence Level: High. If you don't have high confidence in Marshall after carrying the Bears' offense last year, you need your head examined.
Starting Wide Receiver #2: Alshon Jeffery (2nd year with Bears)
Job Responsibilites: Complement the #1 wide receiver with a balanced skill set, get open and hold onto the ball for the quarterback, have decent speed, solid hands, and be a threat on both third down and in red zone situations.
Job So Far: Jeffery started off the season hot but various injuries robbed the Bears from optimizing Jeffery's talents during his rookie season. He finished with 24 catches, 367 yards, and three touchdowns in ten games played.
Confidence Level: Low. I'm sure this will be a point of contention, but read me out. I expect Jeffery to serve as a better complimentary wide out this year to Marshall, in large part because of already having one year of professional football under his belt and his tireless work with Marshall this offseason. But, his injuries last year kept him out six games and that may slow down his development a tad, and he is still growing into the role so I think expectations of him having a 70-catch, ten touchdown season are way too high. I think he'll be a solid starter, but I don't have full-on confidence that it'll happen this season.
Slot Receiver: Earl Bennett (6th year with Bears)
Stretch the field as a legitimate deep threat Exploit middle of the field, especially on third down situations, have good hands and be reliable, fill in for starting wideouts when needed and take advantage of favorable matchups with linebackers or safeties.
Job So Far: Bennett was second on the team in receptions (29) and targets, but missed four games due to injury and has now missed fifteen games in his career. Bennett does have some of the best hands in the league (four total drops in 2009-11) but hasn't been able to replicate his solid 2009 season (54 catches, 717 yards).
Confidence Level: Low. Simply put: Bennett can't stay healthy. He's missed the equivalent of a full season already in his career, and has 53 catches and 756 yards over the last two seasons combined. Bennett has enough things going for him to be a solid slot receiver - good rapport with quarterback, great hands, solid route runner - but he hasn't provided much to the offense through five seasons. I would like to think the Bears can get more out of him, but I doubt it. The only reason he avoids zero confidence is his hands.
Backup Wide Receivers: Eric Weems, Marquess Wilson, Terrence Toliver, Josh Lenz, Joe Anderson, Dale Moss, Brittan Golden, Demetrius Fields, Marcus Rucker
Job Responsibilities: Provide adequate depth behind top three receivers, develop receiving skills to enhance playing time and ensure roster spot(s).
Job So Far: Well... um... Weems caught two balls last year, so there's that. Weems has never been much of a receiver and only has twenty-six catches in six seasons. His contributions generally have come on special teams... where Hester has been banished to. The rest of these guys are young guns looking to make the roster.
Confidence Level: Low. Really, this race is wide open for the last two or three roster spots at wideout. Weems adds little to the wide receiver depth chart, but Toliver/Lenz/Golden/et al have done nothing at the pro level except excite fans in the preseason with their size and ability against fourth-string defenses. The only thing preventing this group from being my first zero confidence spot is Marquess Wilson, the intriguing seventh round rookie. Sadly though, even if Wilson steps up and does well in his first season, there is still one or two guys behind him that could be called upon for playing time.
Overall Confidence Level: Low
Sadly, just like during the 2012 season, Brandon Marshall can't do everything to save this group. Even if you like Jeffery and Bennett as #2 and #3 receivers, their injury concerns should give you pause when analyzing the wide receiver depth chart. And if they don't, well, look at who's in the running for the rest of the roster spots. Sure you may like the potential of one or two of the young backups, but I don't see how you can be very confident in them with their inexperience.