After starting with quarterbacks, it’s time to move on to the wide receivers. I have previously written about how unimpressed I am with the Bears’ wide receiver situation, and the NFC North roster comparison series is a perfect chance to put the receivers into context. At this point, it’s important to note that I am using the team rosters as found on each team’s website, and also that I am only looking at wide receivers, not the pass-threat option of running backs or tight ends. I am also looking at what other elements receivers bring to the game.
Obviously, any receiver is going to benefit from having a solid quarterback (and vice versa), but it is still possible to look at the situation in broad strokes.
In the land of cheese, the Packers have four receivers with over 10 yards per reception, including Geronimo Allison, whose 202 yards from scrimmage (2 starts, 10 appearances) last year put him ahead of either Kevin White (4 of each) or Marquess Wilson. More seriously, Jordy Nelson (1257 yards and 97 receptions), Devante Adams (997 yards on 75 receptions), and Randall Cobb (610 yards on 60 receptions in just 10 games). All three are Top 40 guys per DVOA, and no matter measure is used (“big plays” per Sporting Charts, “yards per reception,” or just about anything else), all three are solid weapons. There are other offensive weapons, too, but the fact of the matter is that “okay college football player” plus “Aaron Rodgers throwing the ball to him” is probably enough to qualify someone as a capable wide receiver. This has to be considered the top unit until proven otherwise.
Over on Chicago Avenue (that doesn’t get old), the Vikings have what is arguably the second-best unit. On the down side, Minnesota has first-round pick Laquon Treadwell coming off a disappointing rookie campaign (9 games, 3 targets, an one reception), plus Jarius Wright (who made roughly $30,000 per yard gained last season). On the other hand, Adam Thielen and Stefon Diggs both gained over 900 yards last season, with more than 10 yards per catch and a catch rate at 75%. That’s really good. Football Outsiders agrees, placing Thielen in the top ten in both DYAR and DVOA, while Diggs was in the top thirty in both metrics (for comparison, the highest-ranked Bear was Cameron Meredith at 41st and 43rd). Even without whatever ends up happening with Michael Floyd, this is a solid receiving group. The depth of this unit’s potential, combined with the solid play from the front-runners, help it snag #2.
Meanwhile, in Detroit, the Lions’ rookie class is headed by Kenny Golladay, the third-round pick out of NIU. He has the body of a top wide receiver, but there are questions about his enthusiasm and awareness. Still, he’s big and will fight for the ball. Plus, he’s from Chicago-land and was picked by a divisional rival, which means he’ll probably be awesome (for bonus points, he went in the third round after the Bears divested themselves of picks in that round—he’ll probably be a Pro Bowler). Of course, Golladay doesn’t have a lot of pressure to step up right away, because by any measure Golden Tate (48th in DYAR) and Marvin Jones, jr. (20th in DYAR) are a solid 1-2 punch, combining for over 2000 yards from scrimmage and 8 touchdowns. Anything they get from return-man Keshawn Martin (and the others battling for roster spots) is frankly a bonus. An argument could be made to actually place the Lions’ group ahead of Minnesota, but with the potential of Treadwell and the under-rated Thielen pushes that group ahead in my opinion.
Finally, there are the wide receivers of the Chicago Bears. My thoughts on the men playing receiver for the Bears are summarized here. After going through the weapons on offense and their relatively paltry stats, I said this:
Are there reasons each of these players struggled to fill a stat sheet last year? Yes. Is there reason to think that they might be able to do better in 2017? Sure. However, each of these players comes with a question mark.
I stand by that. True, Victor Cruz has since been added to the team. This is the same Victor Cruz who hasn’t had a thousand-yard season since 2012 and hasn’t had a season to match Cameron Meredith’s since 2013.
There is reason to hope that Kendall Wright, reunited with Dowell Loggains, will return to his earlier form.
It is vaguely possible that Kevin White catches fire and turns around his career. However, with his luck, it might be more likely that he actually catches fire. I mean, I have sympathy for the guy, but sympathy isn’t going to move the chains. Until they prove otherwise, this group brings up the rear.
Ultimately, the ability of the Bears to compete at wide receiver is going to come down to whether or not Pace managed to find any hidden gems in free agency. Otherwise, the Bears are going to need help in other places. Perhaps they’ll find it when I cover tight ends, which will be next.