I wish our undrafted free agent wide receivers were the feel-good story of the year.
They are not.
And though we’ve got Alshon Jeffery returning this week, our receiving corps will remain depleted. In the approximate words of Rick Pitino, Brandon Marshall is not walking through that door. Marcus Robinson is not walking through that door. Harlon Hill is not walking through that door.
Here’s who is:
Cameron Meredith, Deonte Thompson, and everybody’s new favorite punching bag, Josh Bellamy.
So I tell you this, my fellow Bears fans, and I say it with your best interest in mind.
Chill the F out.
After Bellamy dropped an extraordinarily catchable ball in the endzone three weeks ago against Tennessee — a pass that would have likely been a game-winner — Bears fans freaked out so badly on Twitter that Bellamy deleted his account.
Last week, Bellamy dropped a crucial fourth down pass that ended the Lions game. Once again, fans grilled Bellamy. The most extreme I saw expressed hope that Bellamy would commit suicide. That was thankfully soon deleted, but the beat downs and fury continued, including columns from David Haugh and Steve Rosenbloom.
Headline on Haugh’s: “Matt Barkley, defense didn't deserve to have game slip through Josh Bellamy's hands”
Headline on Rosenbloom’s: “No Joshing: Bears have to stop using Bellamy as a receiver”
These reactions, and so many like them, obscure four facts:
- Assuming everyone is healthy and not suspended, Josh Bellamy entered last week’s game as the #6 WR on the depth chart.
- The Bears have very little invested in Bellamy, a man who caught only 53 passes in two years at Louisville, went undrafted, and rose through the ranks due to injuries.
- The Bears have HISTORIC depth problems at receiver and tight end, and really have depth challenges throughout the roster.
- If we beat the Titans and Lions, we’re still only 5-8.
Let’s take a look at the depth problems first. We are in uncharted territory right now. Call it The Undrafted Valley.
Here are the most targets we’ve had to undrafted pass catchers (RB/FB/WR/TE) in the past 20 years: (all stats from Pro-Football-Reference.com)
2016: 143 — 32% of targets (through 12 games)
1997: 126 — 22%
2000: 110 — 21%
1998: 105 — 22%
2006: 104 — 20%
2011: 103 — 22%
2008: 85 — 16%
This is no knock on undrafted receivers. Lots of those targets in 2006 and 2008 were from Rashied Davis, a clutch receiver if ever there was one.
But Rashied won the #3 spot in training camp in 2006. He also had tons of reps in Arena ball. Bellamy, Meredith, and Thompson were forced into service by injuries and Alshon’s PED suspension. These players are a symptom of our failure, not a cause.
Look at this list of career catches for active pass receivers and tight ends in last week’s game, and consider that Logan Paulsen did not have any catches:
Career catches for today's Bears WR/TE:— Jack M Silverstein (@readjack) December 11, 2016
Braverman: 0 https://t.co/Fqgrt4hLEG
Our depth challenges don’t stop at receiver and tight end. We had 56 offensive plays last week against Detroit and 72 defensive plays. That’s 616 total player snaps on offense and 792 on defense.
Here’s a breakdown of our snap counts last week by the round in which the player was drafted:
We had one — ONE!!! — first-round pick on the field on Sunday: Leonard Floyd. The Lions had six, including their quarterback and three of their offensive linemen.
This is a lost season. I have seen some nice building blocks coming from Ryan Pace’s two drafts, and we’ve shown a lot of heart. This team never quits. If you flip all of our close wins (Detroit) for all of our close losses (Indy, Jacksonville, New York, Tennessee, Detroit) we’re 7-6. I find solace in that.
I also find solace knowing that some of our younger receivers will be getting fewer snaps this week against the Packers. Bellamy is behind Meredith, Marquess Wilson, and Thompson on the latest depth chart. Jeffery is back, and Eddie Royal and Wilson might play too.
With those guys on the field, we can get back to being furious with players who matter to the future of the team. Because I assure you, any Bears fan screaming into the Undrafted Valley is wasting breath.