Remember when the Chicago Bears receiving corps was the laughing stock of the NFL? These days, the Chicago wide outs are considered among the league's best.
They have the established superstar, the up and coming superstar, the steady performer, and the young prospect. We'll have to wait and see how this group shakes out for the 2014 season, but I think they'll be all right.
Brandon Marshall - Signed through 2014 - At some point this offseason it makes sense for the Bears to extend Marshall's contract. His connection and friendship with Jay Cutler is well known, he's one of the best wideouts in the NFL, so extend him for 3 more years, give him some guaranteed money, and lower his $9.1 million cap hit for 2014.
Over at Pro Football Focus, Brandon Marshall is far and away their top graded receiver for 2013. His +37.3 grade is 13.6 more than their number two, Jordy Nelson. In fact his +37.3 grade is the highest grade ever doled out to a wide receiver in the history of PFF.
It's Marshall's all around game that sets him apart from his contemporaries, in particular his blocking. If all Marshall did was block from his WR position, his +17.0 blocking grade would have made him the 10th best overall receiver in PFF's eyes. Brandon Marshall broke his own PFF WR blocking record, which he set in 2008 as a member of the Broncos, when he had a +12.2.
Marc Trestman also utilized Marshall out of the slot on about 44% of his pass routes, and 39 of his 100 receptions were made from the slot.
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Alshon Jeffery - Signed through 2015 - Jeffery went with Marshall to train last off season, and he made incredible strides in his game in 2013. The 2nd year wide out was named to the Pro Bowl, joining Marshall, and his numerous highlight reel catches was must-see TV.
PFF had Jeffery as their #8 overall WR at +18.7. After the 2012 season had so many passes thrown Marshall's way, the emergence of Jeffery saw Bears QBs target him 140 times in 2013. Marshall only had 18 more targets than Jeffery. Jeffery also had just 5 drops on the season according to Pro Football Focus.
He also spent time working on mismatches out of the slot. Trestman schemed Jeffery into the slot on about 21% of his total pass routes, and he grabbed around 18% of his 89 receptions from that spot.
Earl Bennett - Signed through 2015 - Bennett had a very crucial drop last season, and unfortunately that's the first thing fans recall when thinking about his performance. But the fact remains that he had another solid season for the Bears. He only had 2 drops on the year, and his catch percentage of 76.2% was 3rd best in the NFL.
His overall grade for the year from PFF was a neutral -0.5, and his blocking grade of +4.6 was 4th best. He's quite capable of being a 3rd or 4th receiver for the Bears, but his contract situation could give the Bears some options.
Last offseason Bennett restructured some of his contract into reception incentives, and he's a candidate to do so again. Then again, the Bears may decide to part ways with Earl's contract, and with a savings of around two and a half million dollars, they just might cut him loose. Bennett received all his bonus money up front when he signed his extension in 2011, so cutting him wouldn't hurt the salary cap.
Marquess Wilson - Signed through 2016 - Wilson is going to work out with Brandon Marshall this off season, but hoping for a Alshon Jeffery-like transformation may be wishful thinking. Wilson obviously has some skills, but he still has to transform his body so it can take the constant NFL pounding. One good offseason may be enough, but time will tell.
I think the Bears really like his potential, and if he shows enough in camp, he could win the #3 WR job.
Eric Weems - Signed through 2014 - Weems is pretty much a special teams only player for the Bears, so I can see them deciding his salary would be better spent elsewhere. Cutting him would save the Bears about a half a million, but there would be $1 million in dead money. Phil Emery and Marc Trestman will have to weigh the value of his special teams experience to his cap hit.
Weems did have a +2.5 PFF grade for his 16 games of special teams play. His lone negative hit (-2.0) came from his two penalties. I could see the Bears parting ways with him, but I can also see them keeping him around for an 8th NFL season. The cap savings isn't significant enough to be a flat out casualty, but I think the Bears will give a cheaper youngster every opportunity to win his job.
Chris Williams - Signed through 2015 - Williams could be an X-Factor in 2014, or he could just be another camp hopeful. The Bears signed him late in the season off the New Orleans Saints practice squad.
The Saints never promoted him at any point in '13 and Chicago is his 5th professional team since being an undrafted free agent in 2009. His most success came in the CFL, with the Hamilton Tiger-Cats.
Good old Wiki has some info on his CFL career.
On September 3, 2012, during the last Labour Day Classic played at Ivor Wynne Stadium, Willams recorded his sixth return touchdown of the year, setting a new CFL record for return touchdowns in a single season. It was also the third consecutive game in which Williams had returned a punt for a touchdown, which also established a new CFL record. Williams finished the season with 16 touchdowns, 1,298 receiving yards and 1,117 punt return yards.
Williams is 5'7" and 175 pounds, he ran a 4.28 40 at his pro day with a 39' vertical. If Williams proves ready for the NFL, and if Trestman can figure out a way to utilize his unique athleticism, he could be a play-maker. At the very least he'll be given a chance to return kicks and punts in camp.
Terrence Toliver - Signed a reserve/futures contract - This is Toliver's 2nd stint with the Bears, and his 5th NFL team since 2011. He has some good size at 6'5", but he hasn't been able to make enough of an impression in his brief preseason action. Last year was the first time he caught any preseason balls, and he grabbed 7 for 63 yards.
Toliver will have some camp reps, but I think the talent ahead of him on the depth chart is too good. His best chance to make the roster would be to show up on special teams, and make Weems expendable.
2014 OUTLOOK - However the receiving corps shape up, the Bears will have the best duo playing in the NFL. Marshall and Jeffery are match-up nightmares for opposing defenses. At 6'4" and 6'3" respectively, they are a tough cover for most cornerback tandems. If Wilson can develop into a viable 3rd option, at 6'4" there aren't many teams that can roll out three big corners to match up.
I doubt the Bears would draft a receiver, although we can never say never. At the very least expect Phil Emery to sign a handful of undrafted free agents, with varying skillsets to compete in camp.
The Bears carried 5 wide outs for most of the 2013 season, and they also had a roster spot for return man Devin Hester. So they could presumably opt for a 6th wideout in 2014.
What are your thoughts on the wideout position for the Bears in 2014?
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