Things are looking up for the Bears offense. A talented young quarterback in Mitchell Trubisky. Two terrific complementary running backs in Jordan Howard and Tarik Cohen. An above average offensive line. And an enormous tight end in Adam Shaheen ready to take a year two jump. Plus, of course, a new head coach that promises all the offensive creativity and aggressiveness the last regime lacked.
Then there’s the receiver position. The Bears got some decent play out of Kendall Wright and Dontrelle Inman last season, but both are on expiring contracts. Cameron Meredith showed a promising 2016 season, but there’s no guarantee he will return from injury without any setback. Kevin White came into the league with promise. But a promise carries little weight after three years of being broken.
This does give the Bears a unique opportunity to envision the receiver position the way they want it in their new offense. And there’s no better place than the draft to realize that vision. In part one of our WCG receiver roundtable, the crew talks about what traits the Bears should be looking for in receiver targets. And we list some names that could be good fits to play an important role in the rebooted Bears offense and grow with Trubisky.
1. What traits do you think are most important in a receiver for the Bears to look at in the upcoming draft?
Patti Curl: Quickness, route running, and elusiveness after the catch. Both Matt Nagy and Mark Helfrich have shown they are talented at scheming players open. I want the Bears to get guys who build on that strength with quick route-running to ensure that separation, elusiveness, and or physicality after the catch to make the most of it. Size and contested catch ability are valuable traits, but for me they take the backseat in an offensive scheme that excels at getting receivers open in space.
Jacob Infante: I agree with Patti in that athleticism, route running and the ability to pick up yards after the catch are the more important traits that the Bears should focus on. Nagy and Helfrich both have run West Coast or spread offenses, which emphasize short routes and the receiver’s ability to gain yards after the catch.
Erik Duerrwaechter: I feel that the single most important factor in any wide receiver, is production. Are they able to constantly gain separation in their routes? Are they dependable when it comes to catching the big brown thing? Can they run adequate routes? How good are they in identifying coverage in terms of match-ups — yes, this is a thing for receivers — and their overall football intelligence? Nagy and Helfrich both have experience with a variety of receivers in terms of size and speed. It'll all come down to their ability of securing big plays when the opportunities present themselves.
Josh Sunderbruch: First, a general observation: I want to know what the guy is good at. Instead of having a player who is “hyped,” or who has measurable traits like a 40-yard dash time, I want to know what on tape, makes the guy ready for the NFL. After that, I’d really like to see guys who use their bodies in traffic and who contribute when the ball isn’t coming to them (you know, receivers who block sometimes, or sell the whole route and not just when they are the first read).
Robert Zeglinski: I'll always take a smaller receiver that can create space for himself with quality route running and speed over the big frame, box-out types. The true playmakers the Bears should look at this off-season must fit that mold. Yes, it doesn’t hurt to have a guy who can get jump balls, but that’s what you have Shaheen for (watch and learn). Otherwise, a fluid offense has receivers who can create for themselves naturally. Emphasize getting the ball out in rhythm and with perfect timing to these targets, and you have the makings of a professional passing offense the Bears haven’t had since, well, 2013.
2. What receivers in the upcoming draft do you see demonstrating these traits on tape?
Patti Curl - Christian Kirk, James Washington, Dante Pettis, Anthony Miller, D.J. Moore, Keke Coutee, Byron Pringle, and Calvin Ridley.
Jacob Infante: As far as early round players go, the likes of Ridley, Kirk, Miller, Moore and Pettis fit this mold best. Some mid-to-late-round guys of whom these traits apply include DaeSean Hamilton, Keke Coutee, Deontay Burnett, D.J. Chark, Richie James, Braxton Berrios and Jeff Badet.
Erik Duerrwaechter: In no particular order, I see the following players as the best in that regard: Courtland Sutton, Ridley; Miller, Simmie Cobbs Jr., and Michael Gallup.
Josh Sunderbruch: Obviously, guys like Sutton, Kirk, and Washington are going to be popular here. Cobbs Jr. and Equanimeous St. Brown are currently under-rated in my opinion. The former understands that football is both a contact and a collision sport, and he doesn’t seem afraid of either. The latter looks crisp and seems to do his job on the field even when he’s not getting the ball.
Robert Zeglinski: Keeping in mind I would prefer the Bears avoid taking a receiver with their No. 8 overall pick at all costs, I’m looking at guys like Kirk, Miller, and Marcell Ateman (who is actually a sizable target but still complete) as players in the second round that exemplify this receiving template. I think all of them would be tremendous compliments to Meredith on the other side of the field.
We have varied opinions about what receiver traits are most important here at WCG, but one thing is clear: there are a lot of receivers in this draft who could help the Bears’ offense develop into what my Madden stats say they should be. Personally, many of my favorites have a late first to second round projection. It’s comforting to know that at least one of them should be available for the Bears if they choose to grab a difference maker early. Likewise, there should still be valuable contributors to find with the Bears’ two fourth round picks.
Tomorrow, we’ll finish this roundtable by discussing some personal favorites and some concerns we have about specific players. Spoiler: not everybody agrees.