As the start of free agency evidenced, Bears general manager Ryan Pace clearly would not leave his wide receiving corps a bare cupboard again. After nabbing Allen Robinson, Chicago went out and added Taylor Gabriel, one of the most dynamic weapons in the NFL.
At 27-years-old, the four year pro in Gabriel has routinely lit up football fields with his trademark quickness and speed. Whether it be with the Browns or Falcons, he’s proven to be a man that gets chunk plays with regularity and ease. This is a player that can score any time he touches the ball. The quintessential home run threat that can work from any area of the field. His addition provides the Bears another needed game-breaking weapon that will truly diversify their offense.
It’ll be curious to see how Gabriel slots in with the Bears and Matt Nagy. Will they elect to line him up on the outside? How does his presence affect others such as Allen Robinson? The possibilities are seemingly endless.
1. Where does Taylor Gabriel excel as a player? What are some concerns and limits about his game?
Jeanna Thomas: Gabriel is dangerous once you get him into space with the ball. He’s got game-breaking speed and he’s elusive. His biggest limit is his size. At 5-foot-8, 165 pounds, he’s much smaller than most cornerbacks.
2. Once considered a reclamation project (many players from the Browns enjoy that distinction) Gabriel emerged as one of the key contributors for the Falcons’ 2016 NFC Championship Team. How did offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan and Matt Ryan unlock his ability best en route to Super Bowl LI?
JT: #WellActually: Gabriel was great with the Browns when Shanahan was also his offensive coordinator. He had 621 receiving yards with Cleveland in 2014. Shanahan has a specific knack for putting players in a position to use their unique strengths to succeed. That was the magic of the Falcons’ 2016 season that Gabriel was a huge part of.
3. Gabriel took a step back in production in 2017. Was that more of a reflection of the Falcons’ offense as a whole, did Gabriel regress, or both?
JT: This was mostly a combination of the Falcons’ offense taking a step back and new offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian not having the same knack for how to optimally use Gabriel as Shanahan did. That last part is at least a little concern for the Bears, because Gabriel has definitely had the most successful years of his career with purely Shanahan.
4. Is there any particular reason as to why the Falcons let Gabriel walk? Was it limited use, salary cap issues, or a combination of some unmentioned factor?
JT: I think it’s mainly salary cap and that he isn’t the best fit for what Sarkisian is trying to do with the offense. But the Falcons are sorry to see him go.
5. A bit undersized, how can the Bears preserve Gabriel and keep him consistently electric throughout the entire season? Is that even that much of a concern? And where do you see him shining best in Matt Nagy’s offense all the while receiving passes from Mitchell Trubisky?
JT: I think especially after bringing in Robinson, and with Kevin White hopefully staying healthy, Gabriel’s speed is a thing defenses have to account for. It should create more opportunities and pull coverage from those guys to make plays. Plus, if Trubisky can get Gabriel the ball in space, he can absolutely make defenses pay.
6. In 2018 and beyond, what should the Bears ultimately expect from Gabriel as a player, both on and off the field?
JT: It’s hard to know what to expect from Gabriel on the field, because he’s had such varying performances under Shanahan and coordinators who aren’t Shanahan. Off the field, he’s a great teammate, a hard worker, and pretty much everything that any team would want in a player. He’s a great addition for Chicago.
Robert Zeglinski is the Bears beat writer for The Rock River Times, an editor for Windy City Gridiron and Inside The Pylon, and is a contributor to Pro Football Weekly and The Athletic Chicago. You can follow him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.