For the first time in what feels like ages, the Bears have an incredibly deep group of wide receivers.
Just two seasons after Kendall Wright and Josh Bellamy served as the team’s leading receivers, they suddenly have an influx of NFL-caliber receivers on their roster. Their starting lineup will presumably consist of Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and Anthony Miller: a formidable trio with room to grow. While those spots are set in stone, the Bears will have a tough time determining which backups make the roster.
The two locks behind the aforementioned trio are rookie Riley Ridley and free agent signing Cordarrelle Patterson. Ridley, Chicago’s fourth-round pick this year, is one of the most precise route runners to come out of the draft and offers a lot of starting upside down the line. Patterson just signed a two-year, $10 million deal this offseason, so his roster spot is secure. Even if he were cheaper, his versatility as both an offensive weapon and a dangerous kick returner make him a valuable commodity for the Bears’ offense.
That likely leaves one more spot for a receiver on the roster. The Bears haven’t carried more than six wide outs on their 53-man roster since December of 2015, and though that trend could change this year, recent history could say otherwise.
This leaves them in a difficult spot, because they carry three receivers who almost certainly would have made the roster any other year. Last year’s seventh-round pick, Javon Wims, saw very little playing time in 2018, but he showed promise in the last game of the regular season, catching four passes for 32 yards. Free agent signing Marvin Hall caught 10 passes for 149 yards and a touchdowns with the Falcons last year, as well as returning 26 kickoffs for 616 yards. The final competitor, undrafted free agent Emanuel Hall, caught 37 passes for 828 yards and six touchdowns in just eight games for Missouri last season.
All three wide outs bring something different to the table, but not all of them will make the team. Here’s a breakdown of what separates each of them from their peers.
Javon Wims’ value narrows down to two things in particular: size and physicality.
Wims stands in at 6-foot-4 and weighs 215 pounds, easily making him the biggest receiver of the three to be listed. His frame makes him a physical mismatch for opposing defensive backs. He uses his size well in contested catch situations, as he can box out receivers and make catches in tight windows. Wims can also high point jump balls and fight through tight coverage to make circus grabs.
Wims also has another advantage over his peers: he knows the offense. Both Emanuel and Marvin Hall are new to the Bears’ system, whereas Wims was able to spend all of 2018 absorbing the offense and getting to know the ins and outs of it. His familiarity with the scheme could give him a bit of an upper hand come training camp.
In terms of receiving upside, Marvin Hall is the clear outlier in this group. With 12 career receptions in two seasons, he hasn’t been very productive on offense, and given the offensive talent on the Bears’ roster, that likely won’t change. However, he does have something that his two peers lack: special teams value.
Hall was a reliable kick returner for the Falcons last year, averaging 23.7 yards per return, a mark that finished ninth-best in the league. He played on just over 46 percent of Atlanta’s special teams snaps, many of which coming from the gunner position. He tallied four tackles in the role last season, where his speed was utilized to get him downfield quickly to try and tackle returners.
That speed also makes Hall stand out from this group. While Emanuel Hall is a speedster in his own right, the veteran Hall beat his 40-yard dash time by one-eleventh of a second, running a 4.28 in his Pro Day at Washington in 2018. His blazing speed will give him value on special teams and on select trick plays.
Though he’ll never wow as a pass catcher, Hall has the versatility to make him a valuable bench option.
When watching Emanuel Hall leading up to the draft, it became clear that his ceiling was going to be very high. Just one look at his measurements can offer an indicator of how good he can become.
At 6-foot-2 and 201 pounds, Hall ran a 4.39 40-yard dash at the combine and jumped a 43.5-inch vertical and an incredible 11-foot, 9-inch broad jump. The former jump tied for the best among receivers this year, while the latter tied for the second-best broad jump in the event’s history. This athleticism was apparent in college, where he averaged 20.8 yards per catch as Missouri’s primary deep threat.
Hall’s ability to accelerate off the snap and win coverage battles with pure speed is an intriguing aspect of his game, but he has shown to be more than just a deep threat. He understands the concept of leverage and is good at using his hands to break free from physical coverage. With some increased sharpness in his cuts, he can be a dangerous threat on nearly any route.
Though there are durability and, supposedly, attitude concerns, Hall’s skill set is the most impressive of this bunch.
The Bears typically keep six or fewer wide receivers on the roster, but they would be wise to consider carrying seven this season. With the talent they have and the number of ways their players can be used, their offense can be a challenge for other teams to plan for with the myriad of weapons in their arsenal.
Emanuel Hall is currently dealing with a groin injury, one that prevented him from participating in every drill at the combine. Much like Jordan Morgan in 2017, the Bears could potentially look to stash Hall on injured reserve this season, essentially redshirting him his rookie year. Their group of receivers is stacked, but he is too good to risk placing on their practice squad. Placing him on injured reserve would keep him around for another season and would give him the chance to make the team next year.
Wims and Marvin Hall both offer things that fellow backups Ridley and Patterson currently don’t. Wims would serve as the big-bodied backup for Allen Robinson as the Bears’ ‘X’ receiver, while Hall would be a special teams-first player who could also line up in the slot or on the outside. Keeping both around could be wise for the Bears this year.