The Chicago Bears drastically reworked their wide receiver position this off season. Starter and #1 wide out Brandon Marshall was shipped off to the Jets, they added a legitimate slot receiver in free agency, and they spent the 7th overall pick on a potential dynamic play maker.
They are also changing offenses with Adam Gase now in control, and even though the Jay Cutler led O will differ greatly from Gase's Peyton Manning O, we can still get a few hints of things to come by looking back at what Gase did in Denver the last two years.
When Adam Gase was running John Fox's offense in Denver, they kept six wide outs to open the season in 2014 and in 2013 they opened up with five. We've talked about Gase not using a traditional fullback all week, and as a result of that he likes to go either double tight end (12 personnel) or three wide outs (11 personnel).
Denver used a number three wide out about 65% of the time the last two seasons, with the two starters each garnering around 90% of the offensive reps. The #4 receiver saw 16% of the snaps last year and about 21% in 2013. It's safe to assume that the 4th, 5th and possibly 6th WR on the roster will need to be proficient in special teams.
Pro Bowler Alshon Jeffery is primed to prove he's a true number one wide out with Marshall in New York. I think he thrives in his role and ends up with a fat contract this offseason. The hope is that rookie Kevin White can win the starting job opposite Jeffery, but if he falters, veteran Eddie Royal has experience playing outside too. Even though Royal was signed to play mostly out of the slot, he may end up starting outside then kicking inside when White enters the game.
Is Alshon Jeffery gonna get paid by the Bears?
Alshon Jeffery is one of 29 Chicago Bears entering their last year under contract, but he's clearly the one with the most talent and youth on his side to warrant an extension.
Q&A With The Smoking Musket About Kevin White
We're visiting the SB Nation college sites of the Chicago Bears' rookie class to gain some insight on their newest players. Today we'll talk to Matt Kirchner of The Smoking Musket, about the seventh overall pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, Kevin White of West Virginia.
White brings the Bears a true 'take the top off a defense' kind of guy that they haven't had since Johnny Knox was playing. But White has the size and strength to eventually become a #1 wide out. Royal gives the Bears the dynamic of a speedy and shifty slot receiver for the first time in a long time. Some may try to compare him to Earl Bennett, but Bennett wasn't nearly the athlete that Royal is, although Bennett probably had better hands.
A good bet to make it
One year ago Marquess Wilson was being hyped up as a breakout star for the Bears, but a training camp injury stunted his development and he only ended up playing in 7 games. He only managed 17 receptions for 140 yards and a touchdown as the Bears limped to the end of the 2014 season. I still think he has the upside to be a solid NFL receiver, but if he can't impress the new regime as a receiver, I doubt he shows much on special teams. In his two years with the Bears, he has a grand total of 5 special team snaps.
EDIT: But with that being said, he's having a very good camp and with White on the PUP list, Wilson will make the 53 man roster.
On the bubble
I thought Marc Mariani looked OK as a return man last season, but he doesn't bring much as a wide receiver. He only has 5 career receptions and all those came in 2011.
EDIT: The Bears signed wide out and returner A.J. Cruz, who spent the last 2 years in the Arena League. If the Bears keep a roster spot for a return specialist, it could come down between Mariani and Cruz.
Josh Bellamy looked like a decent prospect last preseason, but he's yet to make a difference on a 53 man roster. The Bears are technically Bellamy's 4th team since 2012 and he's appeared in 12 games with no receptions.
John Chiles had 29 catches for 475 yards last year for the CFL's Toronto Argonauts, but he's yet to stick on an NFL roster after being an undrafted free agent by the Saints in 2011.
Rashad Lawrence was on Chicago's practice squad last year and he'll compete with undrafted rookie free agents Levi Norwood, Cameron Meredith and Ify Umodu.
The best way for a young receiver to stand out among this bunch is by excelling on special teams and Norwood has plenty of experience returning kicks and punts at Baylor.
Which wide outs do you think stick around for the opening day roster?