The Chicago Bears had one of the worst offenses in the NFL in 2017. They finished 16th in rushing yards, despite having both Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen at their disposal. Their passing attack was, statistically, the single worst in the league. Rookie Mitchell Trubisky isn’t completely at fault for that, though. If they want to get the absolute best out of him, they’ll have to surround him with some new wide receivers this offseason.
The Los Angeles Rams and the Philadelphia Eagles - both of whom were led by rookie quarterbacks - both failed to make the playoffs in 2016. One year later, though, and the Rams are a playoff team and the Eagles are in the Super Bowl. A large part of their respective rises is because both teams surrounded their young quarterbacks with talented weapons to aid their Year 2 development. As many have pointed out - myself included - the Bears would be wise to emulate that strategy.
This is the current group that the Bears have at wide receiver:
- Cameron Meredith. He’s a restricted free agent coming off of a torn ACL, but he’s the best wide receiver Chicago has on its roster. He’ll be back next year.
- Kendall Wright. Wright, an unrestricted free agent - had a decent year in the slot for the Bears this season. He isn’t a guy you want to start next season, but he’s definitely worth keeping around as a solid veteran depth piece.
- Kevin White. Three consecutive years of season-ending injuries is going to be tough for White to overcome. The 2015 first-round pick should make it into training camp, but his roster spot is anything but a lock.
- Markus Wheaton. Heh.
- Dontrelle Inman. Inman will be hitting the open market this offseason, and it will be interesting to see whether or not the Bears choose to re-sign him. He looked like the best receiver on the roster in some games, but he completely disappeared in others.
- Joshua Bellamy. Bellamy is a good special teams player who has improved ever so slightly at wide receiver over the years. Nevertheless, if he gets re-signed this offseason, it should be as a special teams player and an emergency receiver, not as a focal point of the offense.
The Bears also have Tanner Gentry, Mekale McKay and DeMarcus Ayers, all of whom are on futures contracts.
Needless to say, they don’t have a playoff-caliber group of weapons. If they want to be taken seriously in the NFC, they’ll need to add some wide receivers. Here are five possible solutions that the Bears could come up with to surround Trubisky with talented offensive players.
To see a few ways that the Bears could improve their edge rusher group, click on my article from last week here.
The “Shopping Spree” Solution
- Sign free agent Jarvis Landry
- Sign free agent Marqise Lee
- Draft South Dakota State wide receiver Jake Wieneke in the fifth round
I understand that signing Jarvis Landry isn’t exactly the top choice for a lot of Bears fans. For what it’s worth, I don’t necessarily expect it to happen. However, he’s viewed as the top free agent wide receiver in this class, so rumors will circulate about him signing with Chicago until he actually signs a deal somewhere.
Landry is a consistently productive player who has reliable hands and is a crisp route runner. The Miami Dolphins use him a lot on short routes, which, coincidentally enough, is what new Bears head coach Matt Nagy has a lot of his wide receivers do in his offense. In four seasons with Miami, he has had 400 receptions, 4,038 receiving yards and 22 touchdowns. He isn’t the fastest of slot receivers out there, but he’s arguably the best in the league in the slot.
With Landry in the slot and Cameron Meredith outside, the Bears would have two-thirds of their starting lineup set. If they really wanted to be aggressive in free agency, then they would be smart to sign Marqise Lee, who will arguably be the most underrated wide out to hit the open market this March.
Lee is a truly overlooked piece of the Jacksonville Jaguars’ offense. In the past two seasons, the USC alum has had 119 receptions, 1,553 receiving yards and six touchdowns. He is a dynamic player who has an impressive route tree, can make defenders miss in open space and can physically overwhelm defensive backs on jump balls.
With these free agent signings, any possible draft pick used on a wide receiver would likely come on Day 3. Considering that Landry and Lee are 5’11” and 6’0”, respectively, that pick would likely be used on a bigger, possession receiver. Enter Jake Wieneke.
I discussed Wieneke as a player to watch in the Shrine Game last week, so I won’t go repeating myself. Simply put, the Shrine Game confirmed what I already knew: he’s a physical, sizable wide out with good body control, a wide catch radius and steady hands. His route running isn’t very fluid yet, but he has the athleticism to improve in that area over time. Overall, Wieneke has the potential to find a niche in the NFL and stay in the league for quite a while. He would be a great addition to what would be a talented group of wide receivers.
The “Balanced” Solution
- Sign free agent Allen Robinson
- Re-sign Dontrelle Inman
- Re-sign free agent Joshua Bellamy
- Draft Texas A&M wide receiver Christian Kirk in the second round
- Draft Miami (FL) wide receiver Braxton Berrios in the seventh round
The Bears need a No. 1 receiver, but, unfortunately for them, there don’t appear to be a ton of those to choose from this year. If they’re willing to take the risk, though, then they could have one in Allen Robinson.
Robinson tore his ACL in the first game of the 2017 season, which caused him to miss the entire year. That injury will likely lower his price a little bit, and likely will make team reluctant to offer him anything more than a one-year deal. However, in the two years prior to this season, he proved that he can be a top target in an offense. He tied for the league lead in touchdowns with 14 in 2015, and he added 80 receptions and 1,400 yards that season, as well. Although his 2016 performance wasn’t as stellar, he still finished with 73 receptions, 883 yards and six touchdowns. He has a fully-developed route tree, can go up and grab 50/50 balls and is good at gaining yards after the catch. Plus, if he can do as well as he did with Blake Bortles throwing him the ball, imagine what he can do with a (hopefully) more developed Mitchell Trubisky.
Robinson would be a great addition to team up with Cameron Meredith on the outside. However, with Kendall Wright not being brought back in this situation, the Bears would need some speed in the slot. That’s why I have them doubling down at the position in the draft.
Christian Kirk could realistically be a first-round pick in the draft. He’s an explosive athlete whose athleticism shows up on tape in his routes and on special teams. He’s a fluid route runner whose cuts are smooth and quick, and he can also make defenders miss in space. Kirk has also been a consistent producer at Texas A&M: in three seasons with the Aggies, he never had less than 70 receptions, 900 receiving yards and seven touchdowns. His special teams value - he had a kick return for a touchdown this year - is just an added bonus.
Braxton Berrios is a Wes Welker clone who has a high motor and is sneaky athletic.
Just kidding. But you’ll probably hear that quite a lot this offseason, since Berrios fits the mold of a traditional white slot receiver.
Berrios is a very good route runner who can create separation well consistently. He has good hands, is tough and can gain yards after the catch very well. He, like Kirk, also has value on special teams: he returned 47 punts for 488 yards and a touchdown in his four seasons in Miami. His size (5’9”, 180 pounds) will likely limit him to the slot, and his production wasn’t stellar in college. He could boost his stock with a good 40-yard dash time, but, considering that he isn’t a fantastic athlete, odds are he’ll be available for the Bears to take in the seventh round.
A starting lineup of Meredith, Robinson and Kirk with the likes of Inman, Bellamy, Berrios and (potentially) Kevin White on the bench would be a great way to ensure that Trubisky takes a big step in his second year.
The “First Round” Solution
- Sign free agent Albert Wilson
- Re-sign free agents Kendall Wright and Dontrelle Inman
- Draft Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley in the first round
From what I’ve seen on Twitter and in the WCG comments, picking a wide receiver in the first round is not the preferred draft strategy among Bears fans this year. I, for one, am somewhat in that ballpark. The bust ratio among receivers selected in the top 10 is fairly high, and this year’s group doesn’t have a true, stand-out star. However, until the Bears make moves in free agency that indicate that they won’t, people will remain to speculate that they’ll go receiver at 8.
So we might as well get used to it.
I feel as if Calvin Ridley has gotten a bad rap simply because many draft analysts have constantly linked him with the Bears. In reality, though, he’s far from a bad prospect. In fact, it’s pretty safe to say that he’s probably the best receiver in this year’s class. He’s a fantastic route runner who uses his athleticism and body control to fake out defensive backs with ease. He has reliable hands, reads the field well and is elusive when give the ball in space. Ridley can be lined up as an X, Y, or Z receiver and be successful in all three slots. He’s a bit older for a prospect: he’ll be 24 years old in December of his rookie year. At 188 pounds, he may need to add a little bit of weight to his lanky, 6’1” frame. However, once he does that, he could potentially develop into a Pro Bowl-caliber player.
This situation is unlikely unless the Bears choose to not spend a lot of money in free agency. With that said, they would only sign one or two new players if their plans were to draft a wide out. It would be wise of them to target Albert Wilson, who has experience in Matt Nagy’s system from playing under him at Kansas City. The 25-year-old weapon had the best year of his career statistically, as made evident by his 42 receptions, 554 receiving yards and three touchdowns. Wilson is an athletic, fluid route runner who works bet out of the slot. Nagy succeeded with the Chiefs while working with faster wide outs, so it wouldn’t be surprising to see him target a player he already knows quite a bit about.
The “Speedy” Solution
- Sign free agent Paul Richardson
- Sign free agent Taylor Gabriel
- Re-sign free agent Dontrelle Inman
- Draft Penn State wide receiver DaeSean Hamilton in the fourth round
Many expect general manager Ryan Pace to be active in fixing the Bears’ wide receiver group, but they don’t necessarily expect him to spend big bucks on one particular guy. After all, that’s been his philosophy in free agency ever since he took the job back in 2015. This solution would more than likely follow that trend.
Paul Richardson had been somewhat disappointing in his Seattle Seahawks tenure prior to 2017. He missed most of his sophomore season due to a torn ACL, and he injured his hamstring in the one game he did play that year. However, he broke out in 2017 with 44 receptions, 703 yards and six touchdowns. His 16.0 yards per reception was the ninth-best average in the NFL, and his receiving yards total finished second on the Seahawks behind Pro Bowler Doug Baldwin. Richardson is a dangerous deep threat with blazing speed, an impressive route tree and the ability to gain yards after the catch
Matt Nagy’s offense relies on athletic receivers who have the initial quickness to break free on shorter routes like slants and crosses. In addition to adding a fast receiver on the outside, it would also be a good idea to sign a speedy weapon for the slot. Taylor Gabriel fits that bill.
Gabriel had a bit of a down year for the Atlanta Falcons this year, mostly due to their inability to utilize him correctly in their offense. However, his 2016 season was a perfect example of how dangerous he can be in a creative offense. He’s a lightning-quick, crisp route runner who can outrun just about anybody on the field. He has been the “lightning” to Julio Jones’ “thunder” in Atlanta. Adding Gabriel would bring even more “lightning” to what would be an electric offense. Plus, the Bears have had success with speedy receivers out of Abilene Christian in the past.
There may be a little bit of recency bias in this draft choice, as DaeSean Hamilton tore it up during Senior Bowl practices this week. However, once I got the chance to sit down and watch a few of his games, I saw proof that his performance this week, as well as his outing at the Shrine Game, wasn’t a fluke.
Hamilton is a very good route runner, which is a trait that he put on display quite a bit at the Senior Bowl. He’s a solid athlete who excels at picking up yards after the catch and making defenders miss. Despite not being the biggest of receivers (he’s 6’1” and 205 pounds, which still isn’t bad for a wide out), Hamilton is also great at tracking down 50/50 passes and catching balls thrown in tight windows. He lined up primarily in the slot at Penn State, but he has enough size to likely excel as an outside receiver. His straight-line speed is somewhat questionable, but he is a solid prospect who seems like a safe bet to be an NFL starter down the line.
The “Wild Card” Solution
- Sign free agent John Brown
- Sign free agent Mike Wallace
- Re-sign free agent Dontrelle Inman
- Draft Maryland wide receiver D.J. Moore in the second round
As I’ve mentioned before in this article, speed is deadly in Matt Nagy’s offense. Although these names aren’t necessarily as big as some of the other players on this list, they would fit in well in Chicago’s system.
John Brown, for example, is, well, pretty fast. We’ve known this ever since he ran a 4.34 40-yard dash in 2014. He accelerates quickly, is dangerous in space and runs routes well. He also has reliable hands and can track down deep balls well. His production over the past two seasons hasn’t been great, but the Bears could be able to bring him back to his 2015 form, when he had 65 receptions, 1,003 yards and seven touchdowns. Brown, not to be confused with the abolitionist of the same name who led a slave rebellion on Harper’s Ferry in 1859, could be a valuable weapon in Chicago’s offense.
At 31 years old, Mike Wallace is the oldest free agent signing on this list. However, he has proven that he is still has that game-breaking speed that took him to the Pro Bowl in 2011. Ever since joining the Baltimore Ravens in 2016, he has had 124 receptions, 1,795 receiving yards and eight touchdowns. He could serve as a veteran leader for the Bears’ wide receiver group, as well as someone who can still torch defenses on a weekly basis.
Brown and Wallace will be 28 and 32 when the 2018 regular season starts, respectively, so the Bears would need to use a fairly early pick on another receiver who could stick around for the long run. D.J. Moore out of Maryland would be a very good fit for that position.
Moore is a fantastic athlete who uses his athleticism to run precise routes, fake defenders out in open space and create separation. He’s a bit similar to Carlos Henderson last year, in that he’s very tough to bring down after the catch. Moore also has solid hands, is a willing and capable blocker and can be used as a punt returner. He broke out in a big way for Maryland this season with 80 receptions, 1,033 yards and eight touchdowns. He’s not great at shedding physical coverage yet, but his pure athleticism will help him outrun cornerbacks at the next level until he improves in that area.
Which players would you like to see the Bears target in the draft or in free agency? Let me know in the comments below.