Like it or not, the Bears cannot count on Kevin White to have a monster season. He has the potential but he'll have to stay on the field and demonstrate it opposite Cameron Meredith. If White fails, Chicago needs to make sure new signal-caller Mike Glennon has capable targets to throw to on the outside of the formation. Luckily for Ryan Pace there are plenty to choose from in the upcoming draft.
Taywan Taylor, WR, Western Kentucky
Taylor had an ultra-productive run as a Hilltopper in Bowling Green. He played both as a boundary receiver and on the inside from the slot. He was effective in both alignments and can win with moves, speed or guile. He has a terrific pair of hands and flashes some amazing catches on film. He routinely extends his arms away from his body and snatches the ball with both hands. In addition I think I only saw one dropped ball in three full tapes of action. That kind of catch reliability would be welcome in a town where some big drops in key situations still sting the fans months after they happened.
Taywan is an excellent athlete but you wouldn't always know it watching his film. He is a master at varying the speed of his routes to throw off his defender. Many times this looks like he is loafing through routes where he knows he won't get the ball. If you were too quick to brand him as slow or lacking explosion, you'd soon be proved wrong. When Taylor's number does get called he can run by the best of them. Against Alabama he ran right around Marlon Humphrey who is none too short in the wheels department himself. He can get deep down the seam with some separation when he needs to, but often just saves his burst for the break point of his route to gain a few critical steps he needs to get open.
Taylor excels at short and medium breaking routes (curls, comebacks, stop routes, etc.). This brands him as much more of a possession receiver than I originally thought. He can go get the deep ball but it is certainly not his bread and butter. Making tough catches to move the chains and looking for a spot to break a tackle that will turn a short gain into a longer one is right in his roundhouse. As such I think he'll be lower on the Bears list than some other teams. That's simply because Chicago has a few of those receivers already in the fold (Kendall Wright, Markus Wheaton and Eddie Royal). Either way Taylor is a productive, talented pass catcher who can make people miss one-on-one and add value to an offense.
Zay Jones, WR, East Carolina University
Isaiah "Zay" Jones is one of the best WR's in this draft. Five years from now we may be talking about him as one of the steals from this group; no matter where he is picked. He combines rare and "easy" athleticism, very good size (6'2", 201 pounds), excellent hands and an understanding of route running that I have not seen matched in this class. This precious and rare combination of size and skills propelled Jones to become the all-time leader in catches in FBS history with 388. To put that gargantuan body of work into perspective, Mike Williams from Clemson (who is likely to be the first WR drafted this year) had 177 catches for his entire career. That is only 19 more grabs in four years than Zay had in his senior season alone (158)!
Jones stacked up catches against everyone, not just lower-level competition. He had 22 catches against South Carolina, 10 against Virginia Tech and 19 against Obi Melifonwu's Connecticut squad. The year before he ripped off 14 against Florida who had Vernon Hargreaves at the time. It didn't really matter who he lined up against or if they knew he was coming; he produced.
One of the things I like best about Jones is his aggressive and effective blocking. He uses his frame and hand strength to wall off defenders and give his running back lanes on the outside. He runs his routes hard whether he is the main target or not. He's not afraid of contact or doing the dirty work like slamming into a safety near the goal line on a pick play to free his teammate for the easy score. The former ECU Pirate is a tough runner with excellent balance when the ball in his hands and almost always ends a play leaning forward for more yards. That is something we tend to say about RB's not WR's but it perfectly illustrates the desire present in Zay's game. In short, he's a very complete football player who helps his team win whether or not the ball is in his hands.
Watching him on film is like watching a dancer. His experience and massive athletic ability allow him to remain calm in even the mostly hectic situations. His excellent body control on the sidelines allows him to make amazing plays and look smooth doing it, like he was just walking to the corner store. It's only when you fire up the replay in slow motion that you realize what he just did and how hard it really was. That "been-there-done-that" level of experience allows him to make clutch plays when the game is on the line and look perfectly at ease while doing it.
I think Jones could absolutely carry an offense as a true #1 WR in the NFL. If he is surrounded by complementary talent he could be the kind of true difference-maker that can lead a team to significant and prolonged success.
Josh Reynolds, WR, Texas A&M University
Watching Josh Reynolds play football reminds me of another receiver who Chicago fans are very familiar with: Alshon Jeffery. Not the Jeffery who went to the Pro Bowl with the Bears but the one who got drafted out of South Carolina. Reynolds has a similar if slighter build (6'3", 194 pounds), is a long-strider, has good deep speed, adjusts very well to the deep ball and makes big plays with regularity. Josh never averaged less than 16.2 yards per catch in a season. That is the definition of a big-play boundary receiver if there ever was one, and he would look exceptionally good catching passes in navy and orange.
Assessing Josh's ability is somewhat difficult due in large part to the exceptionally bad QB play that A&M suffered through this year. Reynolds ran free on many routes only to be ignored completely by a QB who had already dropped his eyes and was running instead. While that is frustrating for me it may also end up being a silver lining for the Bears. If Reynolds had been in a pass-first offense with a competent QB his numbers would have been astounding. He also would have been drawing a lot more attention and would not have had a prayer of being available in the 4th or 5th round as he may well be this year. As it is, Chicago may be able to cash in on that scenario and get a very capable outside receiver for a fraction of the cost relative to his true skill.
The thing Bears fans would come to love quickly about Reynolds is his elite go-get-it ability. In his game against Arkansas this year he scored a TD on a 92-yard pass play. When the ball left the QB's hand it was going so fast I reacted like a center fielder who has just seen a home run jump off the bat. My first thought was "There is no way Reynolds gets anywhere near that ball". However Josh turned on the jets and not only caught up to it but cradled the ball to his chest and ran the length of the field to score. That kind of deep burst has been missing from Soldier Field since a healthy Johnny Knox ran routes there, and its return would be more than welcome.
On the downside Reynolds can have shaky hands at times and fight the ball a bit while catching it. He body catches more than I'd like and his route-running definitely needs some cleaning up. However, given his frame, potential and current skill set I am more than willing to forgive all of those imperfections to see him streaking down the sideline en route to a long touchdown with the Willis (Sears) Tower looming in the background.
Which of these three college catch-men would excite you the most on the Bears roster next year?