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The sneakiest most important Bears for 2018: No. 8 - Taylor Gabriel

Unsung heroes will help make or break the Bears’ 2018 season. Speedy wide receiver Taylor Gabriel has a part to play.

Atlanta Falcons v Chicago Bears
Taylor Gabriel is on our side this time
Photo by Kena Krutsinger/Getty Images

As we continue with the unlikeliest most important Bears for the 2018 season, we move on to wide receiver Taylor Gabriel. If you missed number 9 on veteran tight end Dion Sims, you can find that here.

On the surface, you might be asking what Gabriel is doing on this list. Surely he is going to put up huge numbers in this offense right...right? Well, not exactly. While I think that Sims plays a larger role due mainly to having better production than most expect, Gabriel is a guy that I think affects the offense without posting huge statistics.

Despite being the 4th option in a very good offense, Gabriel has averaged around 475 yards, per season, in his 2 seasons with the Falcons. To expect him to blow those numbers away and end up around around 700-800 yards is asking a lot of a player who has never done that before. Sure, there is a chance that he is a larger part of this Bears offense than he was in Atlanta, but how much larger is the question.

On the one hand, the Bears don’t have Julio Jones on their roster. As much as I love Allen Robinson, he isn’t on that level. They don’t have a player that is going to command a whopping 148 targets in 2018. They also won’t be running the Falcons offense, so let’s take a look at how the Chiefs used their weapons last year.

Travis Kelce-122 (TE), Tyreek Hill-105 (Zebra WR), Kareem Hunt-63 (RB), Albert Wilson-62 (Slot WR), and Demarcus Robinson (X WR) were the top-5 targets last year. Not the best comparison for the current Bears personnel, but I can tell you this, Gabriel will not be getting the 105 targets that Hill got last year.

Perhaps the Eagles—another branch of the Andy Reid tree—are a better comp for this Bears offense. Alshon Jeffery-120 (X WR), Zach Ertz-110 (TE), Nelson Agholor-95 (Slot WR), Torrey Smith-67 (Zebra WR), and Trey Burton-31 (TE) were the top-5 targets for the Eagles last year. This seems like a much more accurate comparison to the Bears for a few reasons.

First off, I do not see any way—barring injuries—that Burton ends up being the team leader in targets. Secondly, I don’t think that we are going to see Jordan Howard targeted anywhere near 63 times. The only running back that will get those kinds of targets is Tarik Cohen. Darren Sproles—the closest Cohen comp on either roster—was on pace for 64 targets last year prior to being injured. With the amount that I believe Cohen will play receiver, this makes sense.

How does this all affect Gabriel? Well I believe that Cohen will eat into some of those targets first and foremost. The Bears also are going to go 3-deep at tight end, which the Eagles did as well, but Brent Celek is older and Burton was underused. Neither of those 2 players have the red zone upside that Adam Shaheen does either. We will likely see Gabriel come off the field in short yardage and inside the 20-yard line.

The other “job” of the “zebra” wide receiver is to be a decoy. With Gabriel’s straight-line speed, which is tremendous, he will be used in a variety of ways. I think we will see Gabriel take (and fake) end-arounds or reverses, catch a decent number of screen passes, and will be one of, if not the main deep ball threat. Generally speaking, these are not high-volume plays. Perhaps $14M is a lot of money to give a speed receiver who is as much decoy as he is weapon, but I think it was necessary.

Taylor Gabriel doesn’t need to set career highs with the Bears in order to make a huge impact on the offense. He simply needs to provide the threat of scoring every time he touches the ball, something the league is already very aware of.