Yesterday we discussed what traits we think will cause a receiver to thrive in the new — and inevitably improved — Bears offense and gave a list of possible draft targets who showed those traits. Today, we will get down to specifics on some of our favorite prospects, as well as a few prospects that raise some concern for us. There really are a lot of terrific fits for the Bears in this draft class, and I hope hearing more details about these players will start to get you as excited as I am about them.
3. Describe a favorite receiver in this draft, what you like about him, and where you see the Bears drafting him.
Patti Curl: At 5-foot-11 Anthony Miller might be the most physical receiver of the group. As an “undersized” receiver, he’s successful playing outside because of his aggressiveness, physicality, and understanding of leverage at the catch point. He was a walk-on in college and has the good kind of chip on his shoulder: the kind that makes him play with passion and with something to prove regardless of how much success he has. Success he’s had, meaning putting up gaudy numbers his last two years at Memphis (averaging 95 receptions, 1,448 yards and 16 touchdowns per year). Miller gets separation with quickness and physicality and gets his yards after the catch with the same assets. Also 5-foot-11 is my favorite height for a prospect because he’s arbitrarily undervalued due to the measurement system we use. If we used the metric system, scouts would say, “good thing he’s over 180 centimeters. Ticks that box.”
I think he’s worth the Bears’ second round pick, and I’d be thrilled if the Bears grabbed him there. He’s currently ranked lower on many boards, so he might be available if the Bears trade back in the second or acquire a third. I don’t see him lasting until the fourth round unless he has a miserable Combine.
Jacob Infante: Christian Kirk is one of my favorite wide outs in this year’s class. At 5-foot-11 and 200 pounds, he fits the mold from a size standpoint that the Bears will likely look for in their receivers this off-season. He’s a dynamic athlete who is explosive, great at creating separation and able to get yards after the catch. He has reliable hands and is a fluid route runner. Kirk’s production at Texas A&M was consistently good, as he didn’t finish with less than 70 receptions, 900 receiving yards and seven touchdowns in any of his three years at College Station. He’s also a talented punt returner: he averaged 22 yards per return and scored five touchdowns on 37 returns. Kirk works best out of the slot, but he could play as an X or a Z receiver if necessary.
The Bears would have to pick him in the second round, which is a possibility. Kirk could potentially sneak into the first round, but if he’s still on the board when Chicago picks in the second, then Ryan Pace shouldn’t hesitate to pick him up.
Erik Duerrwaechter: Courtland Sutton has all the physical traits, work ethic, and the raw talent to become an elite receiver in the NFL. His size will give him a definitive advantage over defensive backs in the NFL, and he’s also relatively fast for someone listed around 6-foot-4, 220 pounds. What separates him from everyone else, in my opinion, is his consistent reliability to get open and secure the ball. He doesn’t just rely on being bigger than the man in coverage, he fights off the press better than most players in the draft, and is not scared of attempting tough contested catches. Also, his route running is actually pretty crisp: a lot of the receivers headed into this years’ draft weren’t asked to run NFL-style route concepts. This is potentially a big reason why Nagy hired so many coaches with prior experience in coaching collegiate football. Plus, Sutton's got an awesome story in how he built himself up from helping on a farm throughout his youth, to becoming the leading receiver at SMU.
I feel he should be available at the time the Bears pick in the second round, but wouldn’t be surprised if a team gambles on him in the late 1st round.
Josh Sunderbruch: I got done watching Simmie Cobbs Jr. and I love the way he actually uses his body (not his hands, his whole body) to get a position on the football. I like the way he fights for yards after the ball is in his hands. Add in his frame (6-foot-4, over 215 pounds) and I think he could be a real steal in the draft. Equanimeous St. Brown also interests me. I obviously don’t know the routes he was supposed to run all of the time, but it’s interesting watching him take tight turns and wrong-foot defensive backs before the ball is even in the air. From the outside looking in, it seems like he’s an NFL-ready receiver. Likewise, I like the fact that he’s not afraid to come back to the ball and then turn up field again.
Ideally Cobbs Jr. would be a third round pick (oh ... sadness) but I would not be upset to see a “Pace special” second round trade-back to get him later. Depending on other decisions, he might even fit at No. 39 overall. If St. Brown is available in the fourth, I hope Pace pulls the trigger. I feel like he’s going to be gone by then, but I can hope.
Robert Zeglinski: In this year’s draft, Kirk and Miller are my favorites because they’re smaller receivers who just make plays. A defense will pull out all the stops to make sure these two don’t break a game and they do anyway. Two explosive less than 6-feet tall studs who tear up a football field when they have the ball in their hands. Their outstanding college production as technical wideouts with a bit of a blaze speaks for itself. What I appreciate most about both is their compete level in that regard. Even as they stand smaller than their defensive counterparts, these two still find a way to come down with the ball more often than not. It’s cliche, but it’s not always about size. Instead, it’s who wants it more. Kirk and Miller consistently stand out in this impressive facet in addition to their traditional ideal receiving ability for the Bears.
4. Is there a receiver in the draft that would worry you if the Bears picked them? Why?
Patti Curl: Sutton is an extremely impressive athlete. Watching his tape, it feels like he wins too easily by being a bigger and faster than his opponents and has never needed to refine his craft as a route-runner or technical receiver. I fear this will lead to a rude awaking and steep learning curve in the NFL and it reminds me of a player the Bears already have on their roster. Sutton might turn into the next Julio Jones, but I want a second round pick who’s ready to contribute immediately. On a side note, for those of you who were swayed by Erik’s feel-good farm story about Sutton, just remember the season that Jordy Nelson worked on a farm all summer and then tore his ACL in pre-season. Farm work is many things, but it’s not appropriate NFL training. If Sutton can’t shake his barnyard extracurriculars, I don’t expect his knees to hold up.
Jacob Infante: Since I started watching this year’s prospects over the summer, the one receiver who has disappointed me the most is Clemson’s Deon Cain. Entering the regular season, he was viewed as a potential frontrunner to be the first receiver selected in the 2018 NFL Draft. Although the hype surrounding him has since died down, I still don’t understand why he was viewed as highly as he was to begin with. Cain is good with the ball in his hands, sure, but he has a bit of an issue with dropping passes. His route tree, although slightly expanding, isn’t all that deep, and he isn’t quick enough coming out of his cuts. He puts in little to no effort as a blocker, and he has gotten a bit of notoriety for being a diva on the field. Although Clemson has produced a lot of very good wide receivers in recent years, Cain isn’t on that level. My fear is that, if the Bears picked him, he wouldn’t put in the work to improve enough to start. He still needs a lot of work, and in my opinion, the Bears would be better off making a less risky pick at receiver.
Erik Duerrwaechter: I wouldn’t say that any receivers this year “worry” me, considering how acute the need for talent is at the Bears’ receiver position. Everyone has their flaws that need to be refined, of which will likely be a point of emphasis for Nagy’s new staff.
With that said, James Washington is someone I have some concerns with. Where his production has been outstanding, I feel that almost 80 percent of that production was purely by the design of Oklahoma State’s offense. They rarely ever ran the ball, and most of the time their receivers ran straight verticals down the field. When he was challenged at the line of scrimmage by physical defenders, he wasn’t consistently winning his match-ups. He would truly benefit from being paired with a trusted veteran to show him how to win more, and I feel he’s not ready to be called upon as a top receiver. Not yet, at least.
Josh Sunderbruch: Calvin Ridley. I do not doubt that he has tools, and I do not doubt that he has talent. I do worry about his 6-foot-1, 190 pound frame. I worry because I’ve read a couple of people suggest that he’s closer to 185 pounds, and because when I watch him play he doesn’t seem like a solid guy who can take punishment from NFL safeties or corners. Yes, there are guys with similar measurements who do fine in the NFL, but there’s a difference between the numbers and the actual frame of his body. He’s a “lanky 190” and not a “solid 185”, but he’ll probably need to be a No. 1 receiver to justify where he would be taken. With that sort of use rate, I see the potential for injury all over him, and the Bears have had too much of that out of their picks in the first two rounds over recent years.
Robert Zeglinski: Ridley is who concerns me most here because it’s my belief that he’s being overhyped. I don’t see this special talent that can take over a game as a No. 1 receiver and sure thing. I see a lot of bust potential because outside of experience, and some speed: what differentiates him as a true game changer? He’s not a generational player at his position by any means. He strikes me as a more of a solid No. 2 possession wide out than someone you run an offense through. When you take into consideration his age on draft night, the investment is way too precarious for me to feel comfortable with a Bears’ selection of him.
You probably noticed the palpable tension around the talented SMU wideout in Sutton. Erik glows about him as a favorite, while I (Patti) am concerned. We don’t shy from controversy here at WCG. I just hope the heat wasn’t too much for you readers to handle. The good thing about our diversity of opinions is you readers get to see arguments for how a good range of prospects could benefit the Bears.
Early-pick wide receivers over the past few years has been a gamble, with the players that don’t make an impact outnumbering the ones who do. Some of this is definitely due to players not living up to their expectations, but I believe a lot of it has to do with opportunity. It may be the homer in me speaking, but with a creative head coach, an accurate young quarterback, and little competition, I think whoever the Bears draft will find himself with a great opportunity to thrive.