Last year the opening Chicago Bears' 53 man roster had six wide receivers make the team. They also had Devin Hester taking up what could be considered a 7th WR roster spot. With GM Phil Emery adamant about not saving a spot for a one dimensional player, that leaves him some flexibility. I don't predict he'll keep a 7th WR in 2014.
If the Bears do only go with six wide outs on the 53 man roster, that leaves seven players fighting it out for the final three spots on the WR depth chart. Special teams prowess will play a part in deciding those openings.
The best WR tandem in the NFL is Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, and it's not even close. In looking at the Pro Football Focus grades, which obviously takes into account more than just stats, they had Marshall number one with a 33.0 grade. His ranking was helped by his ridiculous 18.1 grade in blocking. To put that blocking grade in perspective, had B-Marsh done nothing last year from the WR position except block, his 18.1 would have been a smidgen behind #2 WR Jordy Nelson's overall grade of 19.0.
Alshon Jeffery, in his 2nd year as a pro, ranked 9th overall with a 13.4. No other 2014 teammates were in the top 10 and only the Lions can boast teammates in the top 18 of PFF's grades with Calvin Johnson (T3) and Golden Tate (18).
I expect Marquess Wilson to grab a hold of the third WR spot after an off season spent working out at Marshall's training facility in Florida. He's bigger and stronger and at 6'3" he's another receiver with a large catch radius. While I'm hopeful he can be the guy, I'd like to see him on the field before I anoint him the number three.
A good bet to make it
If Wilson does falter, I think Josh Morgan could capitalize and win the 3rd spot. Morgan has 199 receptions in his six year career, and he has experience returning kicks and punts. Morgan is the most accomplished wide out among the remaining players fighting for a job.
On the bubble
The Bears asked Eric Weems to take a pay cut or risk being waived. That tells me all I need to know on his prospects for making the 2014 roster. The Bears obviously like him enough to keep him around, but he has to be on the bubble heading into camp. Weems will have a chance to win the primary returner job and don't forget that he is a former Pro Bowl return man. If I were handicapping the roster race, I'd give Weems an edge because of his overall special teams play.
Former CFL'er Chris Williams is an intriguing prospect. He's been called the Devin Hester of the CFL, but he wasn't able to break through in 2013 after spending most of the season on the Saints practice squad. The Bears did offer him a $100,000 signing bonus days before the final game of the season to finally lure him away from New Orleans, so they do believe in his potential. He's one of the players I'm most looking forward to seeing play this preseason.
Armanti Edwards and Michael Spurlock seem like the same type of player fighting for a job. Both are veteran returners and both will need to flash playmaking ability to turn some heads.
Josh Bellamy has bounced around three teams in two years before being claimed by the Bears. His best shot at a spot would be to prove he's capable of covering kicks and punts.
A player to keep an eye on during preseason is Terrence Toliver. He's another big target at 6'5", but he'll need to prove he can play special teams to stick around.
How many wide outs do you think the Bears keep around for the season?