Remember the heady days of yore in the Windy City? All the way back to 2013? When the Bears sported what was arguably the best WR tandem in the NFL, with Brandon Marshall on one side and Alshon Jeffery on the other. Back when Marquess Wilson was a promising young rookie and the future of the passing offense was so bright the fans needed Ray-Bans to bask in its full glory.
Times have changed.
Marshall and Jeffery will face off in the NFC East this season. Wilson is an afterthought after limited production and injury tarnished his star. The Bears top returning WR for 2017 is a converted QB from Illinois State. That former UDFA (Cameron Meredith) showed real promise last season and definitely earned a starting spot, howver behind him there is nothing but question marks. The two new free agent additions (Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright) both have terrific potential but have suffered through injuries of their own.
The Bears need pass-catching weapons if Mike Glennon is going to be successful in his inaugural season under center in Chicago. Luckily the 2017 draft is chock-full of talented wideouts and I'll take an in-depth look at 5 of them over the next 2 weeks.
Carlos Henderson, WR, Louisiana Tech University
The Bears need some "scary" back in their receiving corps and Carlos could deliver that. He combines solid routes, good hands, terrific speed and that hard-to-quantify ability to turn nothing into something big. At 5'11" and 199 pounds he'll break a tackle or two, but he's most dangerous when he's making a defender miss... and he's had plenty of practice doing just that. Once that happens he can turn on the speed and make the opposition look silly.
Henderson is a much more complete WR than many of his college peers. He ran almost the full route tree in college and had a high degree of success with almost every one. That is uncommon in today's simplified aerial attacks. More often than not receivers play a specific role within the offense and specialize in a handful of routes. It is rare to find a player like Carlos who runs almost all of them and even more surprising that he enjoyed such a high degree of success in doing so.
If you want to truly understand what WR's really do and where they win, you need to be following the work of Matt Harmon. By day Matt is a Fantasy Football editor for NFL.com but his personal passion is wide receiver play and he is one of the best in the business at breaking it down. He's come up with a method of calculating a receiver's success rate for every route they run and it's called "Reception Perception". Harmon worked up Henderson's routes this year and the results were beyond impressive.
The most striking trend from Carlos' numbers (besides his overall success rate) is how effective he is on routes that break towards the middle of the field (post, dig, curl and slant). Watching him on film it seems like he wins every time on those routes, and it turns out that is very close to the truth. Once he has the ball in his hands he is always a threat to tack on some serious extra yards after the catch.
The other incredibly appealing facet of Henderson's game is his experience and success as a kick returner. Although the rules in the NFL have limited the impact of the return game of late, it has not been eliminated altogether. Having a legitimate return threat would give Chicago an immediate boost on special teams that it has been sorely lacking in recent seasons. Carlos is a high effort blocker and craves contact. His technique can be coached up but the "want-to" is definitely there. He is very physical for a guy his size and that tough-guy mentality will be appreciated by coaches and fans alike. Add in the strong possibility of him taking over #2 WR duties in short order and possibly of growing into a true #1 over the length of his rookie deal, and Henderson starts to look like a value anytime after the first round is complete.
The list of things to dislike about his game is short and seems nitpicky at best:
Sometimes he'll body catch the ball when he could have used just his hands.
He didn't run a 4.3 second forty-yard dash in gym shorts
He is not 6'4"
He didn't play at Ohio State or USC
If you can live with those "disappointments" you'll probably wind up loving Carlos as a football player.
Chris Godwin, WR, Penn State University
The Bears have added receivers who have thrived in the slot this offseason. Both Kendall Wright and Markus Wheaton are most well known for the success they had running routes from the middle of the field. What the Bears lack is a true outside receiver to play across from Cameron Meredith, and Godwin is just that. When Matt Harmon charted Godwin's work from this season over six games he took every snap as an outside receiver. Well-built at 6'1" and just over 200 pounds Godwin is a physical player who dominates at the catch point, contested or not.
When you talk about the top receivers in this draft not many people bring Godwin's name into the conversation; but they should. He was highly underrated coming into this year's Combine largely because Penn State has one of the best running backs in the country and is not a pass-first offense. Anyone who watched the Rose Bowl was at least vaguely aware of what Chris could do on the football field. In that game he put up some incredible stats against USC. Much of that production occurred when he was matched up against cornerback Adoree Jackson who is getting plenty of draft buzz himself. Once Godwin blew the doors off the track at the Combine (he ran a 4.42 forty-yard dash) his rise up the ranks really took off.
Many of the reasons that Chris wins on a regular basis were highlighted in the Rose Bowl. He has great hand-eye coordination, concentration and balance. When all three work in harmony he can make circus catches look almost normal. His route running is more well-developed than you would expect for a 21-year-old that played in a run-first offense. He can use either fakes or his physical prowess to break the jam at the line and get into his route quickly. Once there he shows sharp cuts and the ability to sit down in the soft spot of a zone if it presents itself.
Nobody will question his physical nature once they see him block. Penn State runs a nasty crack block play where Godwin's only responsibility is to slant inside hard and mash the nearest defender (usually a linebacker) to seal the edge for his running back. Chris runs this play with obvious vigor and smashes into his target. He is no stranger to heavy contact and actually seems to enjoy it; which is somewhat rare for college wideouts these days.
The list of faults in Godwin's game is also amazingly short. His separation is not always great. It can be overlooked in college due to his extreme ability to win the contested catch, but in the pros he'll have to work even harder to generate the necessary space to allow his QB to throw him the ball. Other than that there is not much to dislike about Godwin's tape other than his low number of targets. There is nothing to suggest he won't thrive with a heavier workload moving forward.
Chicago would do well to add either of these talented playmakers to help rebuild its passing offense. Who is your favorite receiver in this draft: sleeper or star?
EDIT: For more Draft info from EJ, be sure to check out the podcast linked in the tweet below!