In the second installment of the The Layman’s Guide to Bears Free Agency, I am going to explore world of free agent wide receivers. If you missed the first piece about the backup quarterback position, you can find it here.
Clearly the wide receiver position is the most glaring sore spot on the current Bears roster. My belief is that Ryan Pace and the rest of the Bears brass are going to attack this position furiously in free agency. The difficult part of that though is finding the right players. Just because a receiver has good production does not necessarily mean that they will be a proper fit for a given offensive scheme.
Thankfully, we have some information to go on as Matt Nagy comes from the Andy Reid school of coaching. One of the members of our faithful WCG community—and fellow Bears blogger—has already done the leg work on this topic. If you haven’t seen this, or don’t follow his work, I strongly suggest that you do because it is excellent. Johnathan Wood of Da Bears Blog has written an excellent article about the types of wide receivers that Reid has targeted throughout his illustrious career.
The basic premise is that the type of receivers that Reid has showcased in his offenses over the years can be boiled down to three characteristics from the combine: 40-yard dash; vertical jump; and broad jump.
“Thus we have a physical profile should the Bears try to bring the same type of WRs to Chicago. We want players that are average or better at the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, and broad jump. Based on the averages compiled over the years, here are the thresholds that you should watch for from the wide receivers at the Combine:
40 yard dash: 4.51 seconds
Vertical jump: 35.5 inches
Broad jump: 120 inches (10 feet)
It should be noted that simply hitting these thresholds does not mean a player is a good WR, or that he will excel in Chicago’s new offense. There is more that goes into it than just measurables. But it appears that players who excel in this offense typically possess traits that allow them to test well in these three areas. I just wanted to make sure to note that testing alone does not tell the whole story (as we’ll see below). Think of this as looking for a physical style of player who should fit the offense. It offers no attempt at scouting out how good the player actually is.”
This helps narrow the field significantly. There are some obvious names that have been discussed as potential Bears targets and two of those in particular have been mentioned on WCG already. Jarvis Landry is the first. Whether you love him or hate him, Landry has been discussed plenty here at WCG, so I am not going to re-hash that discussion. The other is Albert Wilson, who I wrote about earlier in the off-season.
That still leaves us with a fair amount of names to discuss. Let’s start with the first name on the list, and the one that is at the top of many Bears fans wish lists. This player also happens to be one that doesn’t fit all the guidelines that we are mainly adhering to, and if this tweet is any indication, he likely won’t be available anyway.
Note: I am only looking at unrestricted free agents in this series. There will inevitably be players available via trade and who are cut, but we simply cannot discuss those names without a massive amount of speculation.
Of course that is one side of the coin, the other side sees the Bears as a likely destination...
Obviously we have no idea how this is going to play out but one thing is for sure, Allen Robinson is the best wide receiver available on the open market. The real question is, does he hit the open market. As I mentioned, he doesn’t exactly fit what Reid has targeted in the past, but as the clips below will show you, this guy is a legit playmaker! (Also something to note, Robinson is only 8 months older than Alabama wide receiver Calvin Ridley, but will be entering his 5th NFL season. Just food for thought...)
This is just one example of Robinson’s playmaking abilities. He runs excellent routes and has an uncanny ability to shield defenders with his body to haul in passes down field. I think of Robinson as being a younger, faster version of Brandon Marshall, and without the unnecessary headaches.
In addition to being able to stretch the field and make big plays, the catch radius that Robinson has is tremendous. This is a well-run route, he comes back to the ball, and catches with his hands. But the ability to control his body and still haul in a poorly thrown ball is what catches my eye here.
Another part of Robinson’s game that makes him one of the best receivers in the game is his feel in the red zone. He does a nice job of setting up the defender, making a sharp break on his route, and (again) using his body as a shield.
I highly doubt that Robinson gets out of Jacksonville, but there is always a chance. He would be a true number one receiver on the Bears and would add some playmaking abilities that this roster is sorely lacking. So while we wait to see of Robinson actually shakes free, why don’t we turn to a teammate of his, who might actually fit the Bears better AND would come with a lower price tag...
The main reason that I feel that Lee could be a better fit—don’t get me wrong, Allen Robinson is a fit in ANY offense—is that he has better speed, and thus, more ability after the catch. In the offense that Matt Nagy is likely to run, the ability to run after the catch is paramount, if this offense wants to be truly dynamic. That said, Lee is still far from the fastest receiver on this list but he does have quite a bit more polish.
You can see the additional speed and the ability to come out of his break without breaking stride. The one criticism that I have is that Lee can run lazy routes at times, which you see here. This allowed the cornerback to break on a ball that he shouldn’t have been able to. Like Robinson, Lee does a nice job of using his body to shield defenders as well.
When was the last time we saw a Bears receiver make a play like this? ‘Nuff said.
Without knowing the play, it is difficult to discern whether or not Lee makes the move to get behind the safety on his own or if that was the route design. Either way, this play shows excellent feel in the red zone and another nice “hands catch.”
While he might not be a household name, doesn’t have the pure speed of some of the players on this list, nor the jump ball ability of others, Marqise Lee does have an intriguing skillset. At the right price, and with a speed addition along side him, Lee would absolutely improve the wide receiver room at Halas Hall.
This is a player that has been a favorite of mine since I started looking free agent names, and judging by some of the comments, I am not alone in that. Richardson sits in a bit of a sweet spot between a guy like Robinson and Lee, but Richardson has more speed. He has an awesome ability to high-point the football on throws downfield, but as we will see, he has a bit more speed in the open field.
This play is less about precision and more about a smart and savvy football player. When Russell Wilson is your quarterback, plays tend to break down and take on more of a backyard feel. This illustrates Richardson’s ability to ad lib, get open, and make a play for his team.
Again, we can see Richardson’s speed and savvy near the goal line. There is nothing special about this play, but he just gets open and makes the play. This is something that Richardson does a lot when the Seahawks offense is going well.
Finally, we get to see that leaping ability. The safety is actually in a perfect position to intercept this pass, but Richardson does an outstanding job of tracking that ball, timing his jump, and “boxing out” the defender in the air.
Richardson should come with a lower price tag than Robinson but would still be a sizable splash signing at the wide receiver position. If you added him, I think you would still need to add a smaller, shiftier player to the roster for balance. Signing Richardson would certainly be a good move and would totally change the complexion of the offense.
Why is Matthews wearing an Eagles jersey when he was on the Bills last year, you ask? Well, he wasn’t very good this past year, that’s why. After putting together three very solid seasons in Philadelphia, he was traded to the Bills for a third-round pick and Ronald Darby. The Eagles needed help in the secondary and I think that played more of a role in trading him than his play. The other reason I am showing his Eagles clips is that Chip Kelly was running the team at this point. With the addition of Mark Helfrich to the coaching staff, I believe this offense much closer aligns with what the Bears will be running.
When you watch Matthews play, many people believe that he is slow. I don’t agree with that. He ran a 4.46 40-yard dash at the combine, and if you watch him, he is simply a long-strider. That makes him look slow to the eye. As you can see, he has the ability to gain yards after the catch, and you generally don’t see that with guys who are slow.
This is another example of Matthews’ run-after-the-catch abilities. I’m sorry, but slow players simply don’t make plays like this with the ball in their hands.
Even more run-after-the-catch ability? But Andrew, I heard that Matthews was slow...
Ultimately, this is the type of wide receiver that I believe Nagy is looking for. He is also coming off of an injury and a down year, which makes him the type of player that Pace has targeted in the past. If Buffalo allows Matthews to hit the open market, don’t be surprised if the Bears are players for him in March.
This is an interesting case. Another type of player that Pace has targeted, in his short career as general manager, are players who have yet to realize their potential. Moncrief had his best season back in 2015 with a fully healthy Andrew Luck. The past two seasons have been rather disappointing. What he does have though is good size, speed, and route-running abilities, all of which are on display below.
Using a veteran move to get off the line of scrimmage, Moncrief does a nice job of gaining outside leverage and using his speed to get open here. He also does a nice job of coming back to the ball on an off-target throw.
Here is another example of being able to get off the line of scrimmage against press man-coverage. Moncrief does a nice job of creating separation at the last instant while also maintaining body control to make the catch.
In addition to being able to get separation and catch the ball, he also has some run-after-the-catch ability. Again, I believe this is going to be a crucial component to the wide receivers that the Bears target this off-season.
Look, Moncrief isn’t in the top tier of free agents this year, but if the Bears miss out on their top targets, then he is still an upgrade. There is a very real possibility that some of the top guys never hit free agency and re-sign with their respective teams. If that happens, don’t be surprised if the Bears end up with a guy like Moncrief and an older veteran on a short deal, like our next player...
Wallace was a speed receiver coming out of college. He ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at the combine, but that was back in 2009. Based on watching his film from last season, I am not sure he has lost a step though. You consistently see him get behind the defense and make plays. There will need to be a pure speed threat on this team, both for deep throws, and for underneath ones. Wallace clearly still has that ability.
I love his acceleration on this route. He gets off the line, then blows past the cornerback to make a huge play downfield. This is definitely an element that is missing right now and will need to be added.
Again, the acceleration is unreal. But unlike many speed receivers the league has seen, Wallace has legitimate skills as a receiver. Tracking the ball, body control, and the ability to catch in traffic have been bugaboos for speedy guys in the past.
I would have liked to have seen more elusiveness in this play but just wanted to illustrate the speed that he has again. He still picks up roughly 7 yards after the catch here.
If the Bears draft a player high or swing and miss on the top tier guys, Wallace is definitely a player that makes sense for this offense. My opinion is that the Bears offense will have the ability to get players in space, where their speed can shine. If that’s the case, you can do much worse as a stop-gap at wide receiver than Wallace.
This is another speedy player who still has some untapped potential. As with several players on this list, Brown’s best season was in 2015, when Carson Palmer was healthy. Like Wallace, Brown has shown the ability to be more than just a speed guy. But because of that speed, he has the ability to make plays underneath with the respect he is shown.
This is a prime example with the Steelers playing with a 10-yard cushion against Brown. His speed also allows him to flip the cornerback’s hips and get him off-balance before making his break. Once he makes his break, he does a good job of coming back to the ball and making an adjustment on a high throw.
Another huge cushion given here by the Steelers defense, and Brown makes them pay. Even with the cushion, you see how quickly it is erased by the pure, straight-line speed of Brown. He makes another nice adjustment in the air to come down with a big play.
Ultimately Brown loses his balance here, but you see how his speed over-the-middle can be deadly. He makes another nice “hands catch” here for a big gain.
Brown is another player that, while he has had success (1,003 yards in 2015), is coming off of two disappointing seasons. There is an opportunity to buy low and get a player that might fit this Bears system better than Arizona’s. That team is a mess right now, so I don’t foresee Brown wanting to stick around through their impending re-build. Brown would be a really nice addition to this team regardless of who else they add, but given his size, he especially makes sense if they get a taller player like Robinson, Lee, or Richardson.
This might be my personal favorite of the wide receivers, not as a number one mind you, but as a slot receiver. I also think that, given his overall lack of production, that you can get Gabriel on a relatively modest deal too. The thing that really sticks out to me is how elusive he is. The speed and burst is evident but I think he is ultimately in the wrong offense. It’s a stretch to think that Gabriel can turn into Tyreek Hill, but I do see some similarities between the two. At worst, Gabriel allows you to run some of the same types of plays that Hill runs in Kansas City.
Wide receiver screens are going to be utilized by the Bears a lot going forward, so having a player that can make defenders miss and turn on the jets is huge.
This is a blown coverage by the Rams here but I wanted to show the sheer speed that Gabriel has. He does a good job of catching the ball over his shoulder, which is something that players struggle with more than you would think.
The end-around and jet-sweep are two more staple plays in what I expect from the new Bears offense. Having another option to run them, especially a player that will be on the field most of the time, would be a huge get for the Bears.
Gabriel is not a complete receiver. He is not a number one or two receiver, but he offers a dimension to the offense that the others simply don’t. If you look at how the Chiefs utilized Hill, then you can see why this would seem to be such a good fit and why he has become a favorite of mine. Ryan Pace loves ascending players, this could absolutely fit that bill.
I have always been of the opinion that many solid-to-good options are better for an offense, than one or two great options. I think at this level it is simply too easy to shut down a great player if no other options exist. The Bears do have some weapons in-house, if you believe that Cameron Meredith, Adam Shaheen, and Tarik Cohen will take a step forward.
Wide receivers aren’t the only position that catches passes though, and aren’t the only position that makes big plays on offense. So while I ultimately believe that the Bears sign two wide receivers in free agency, don’t consider it a loss if they don’t sign the biggest names. There are players out there who fit the scheme and who have been underutilized by their current teams.
While the Bears are likely set at running back heading into free agency, there is another position on offense where they could use a boost. One more position that offers the possibility for some serious firepower. Check out the next installment when I delve into the world of the Joker...tight end.