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Are the Bears using Kendall right?

Kendall Wright has been the Bears’ most productive receiver despite limited snaps. Has he earned himself a bigger role?

Atlanta Falcons v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

In the Bears’ 20-17 loss this Monday, Kendall Wright played 54% of the offensive snaps—less than both Tre McBride and Markus Wheaton. With his 33 opportunities, Kendall led the team in receptions and yards, and—according to Pro Football Focus—allowed Mitchell Trubisky a 105.0 passer rating when targeted. Trubisky’s first two career passing attempts were completions to Wright, and the pair showed great chemistry. This only adds to the important potential here to inspire an exhausting number of puns from play-by-play and color announcers alike.

Trubisky rolls right, looks for a receiver, and Wright’s right there. Trubisky puts the ball right where it needs to be and Wright takes it in. You couldn’t write a better ending to this drive, and the Bears celebrate: they’re performing a strange solemn ceremony with the ball.

I believe that’s a rite.

You are absolutely right. That is a rite.

Ok. I promise to stop.

Having been a fan of Wright’s since I did a number plunge on him this summer, I decided to take a closer look at his performance this season.

First, as was the case during his last years with the Titans, his production has not been impressive (200 yards and one touchdown over 5 games putting him on pace for 640 and 3). On a per-opportunity basis however, Wright has been impressive, catching 78% of his targets, and averaging 11.1 yards per reception and 8.7 yards per target. In terms of efficiency, this matches up with top receivers in the league, who tend to have yards per target numbers between 8 and 10.

Yards per target doesn’t factor in how well a receiver gets open. So I had to lug out the game tape to assess if difficulty separating was perhaps the reason for Wright’s low amount of targets. The balance between my curiosity and laziness resulted in my completing analysis of 20 routes run. Wright was open 15 times by my estimation, equaling an above-average 75% open frequency. My rough and subjective definition of “open” was whether I thought I would be able to complete a pass to him in Madden on the “All-Madden” difficulty. For those who don’t know, “All-Madden” is the hardest difficulty setting in Madden, and I relentlessly overestimate my ability in all things.

In the plays where Wright didn’t get open, he either faced crowded zone coverage, or man coverage with a route that required him to get around the defender. Specifically, he had difficulty at times with press coverage and off-man coverage on deeper routes. Wright’s strength is not beating defenders to get to a deep ball, and it’s not muscling his way into position to catch a contested pass. Wright is a deceptive and shifty route-runner, who regularly wins on outs, digs, slants, and comebacks.

This is the type of receiver I want on the field every down to provide a consistent complement to a dangerous running game. Many of Wright’s routes lead to easy completions with good yards after catch potential, and with Trubisky’s ball placement, Wright should be able to capitalize on that YAC potential much better than he could when losing his momentum to adjust to the catch-able but non-impeccable passes he received from Glennon.

Pending a meteoric Tanner Gentry rise to stardom, Kendall Wright appears to be the Bears’ best wide receiver. So why is he sitting out almost half of the Bears’ offensive snaps?

Some will tell you that he’s a slot receiver. Others may tell you that means he should only be on the field in three wide sets. If you ascribe to those rules, it makes sense the Bears would prioritize formations with multiple tight ends or backs to support the running game at the core of their offense.

But Kendall Wright has had success playing outside in Tennessee, and even if he’s the only wide-out on the field, he could still line up in the slot with Zach Miller or Tarik Cohen out wide.

Wright is not as skilled at run blocking as Josh Bellamy or former-Bear Deonte Thompson (best of luck in all your endeavors for real though DT). But Wright’s presence can elevate the threat of the passing game enough that he complements the run game by forcing teams to respect the threat of the pass.

So if you ask me if the Bears are using Kendall correctly*, I’m going to have to say no. Get that Bear on the field and keep him there!

*I told you I would stop with the puns. I keep my promises.