Despite the abundance of young talent the Bears have at wide receiver, the position will still be one that is emphasized for the rest of the offseason.
The team released veteran starter Taylor Gabriel in February to create cap space. As the depth chart stands, Riley Ridley - last year’s fourth-round pick - will likely step into the starting ‘Z’ role. While he is a talented player who arguably played too small of a role in Matt Nagy’s offense this past season, the Bears’ current group of receivers lacks a burner; a true deep threat who can fly past defenders with blazing speed and take the top off the defense.
Allen Robinson is Chicago’s clear-cut No. 1 target, but he tends to win more with finesse, physicality and technique than he does with pure speed. Anthony Miller wins with precision in his routes and is quicker than fast, while Javon Wims is more of a physical, big-bodied target than a burner. One could make the argument that Cordarrelle Patterson fits the athletic profile of a “speed receiver”, but he’s much more of a versatile gadget player who should be relied upon in spurts offensively, rather than as a full-time wideout.
Luckily for the Bears, this year’s draft class is incredibly deep at wide receiver, and there are still a handful of talented veterans available to acquire. Considering how much talent there is for them to choose from, Chicago would be smart to add some speed to their current group of receivers to give them a well-rounded and dangerous arsenal of weapons.
Let’s take a look at a few speedy receivers the Bears could consider adding, whether it be through free agency, the draft or other avenues.
Robby Anderson, free agent
Arguably the most intriguing free agent receiver still on the market, Robby Anderson has been a reliable deep threat for the Jets over the past few years.
In his four years in the Big Apple, Anderson has put up 207 receptions, 3,059 yards and 20 touchdowns. He finished seventh in the league in average targeted air yards with 15.3, indicating he was used often as a deep threat in the Jets’ offense. That certainly isn’t surprising, considering he’s a 6-foot-3 receiver who ran a 4.36 40-yard dash at his 2016 Pro Day and still possesses that deadly deep speed.
Anderson would likely cost the Bears a considerable amount of money, making it unlikely they’d break the bank for him. If they really wanted to add him though, they could likely restructure a few deals and clear up enough space to sign him if the deal is right.
The lone trade candidate on the list, Brandin Cooks is at risk of being traded for the third time in his career due to the Rams’ woeful cap management. The Bears aren’t in much of a favorable cap situation themselves, but from a pure schematic standpoint, Cooks would fit their system.
Cooks is coming off of a bit of a down year, but he’s still only 26 years old and has shown he has plenty left in the tank. Prior to 2019, he had tallied four straight 1,000-yard seasons. He battled through injuries this past year and began to see himself get phased out of the Rams’ offense in favor of Cooper Kupp and Robert Woods. Still an athletic target who can stretch the field, Cooks is a valuable weapon, even if his cap hit in 2020 is currently projected at $16.8 million.
Ryan Pace knows first-hand what Cooks brings to the table, as he was the Director of Player Personnel in New Orleans when the team drafted him in the first round of the 2014 draft. As is the case with Anderson, it’s honestly pretty unlikely the Bears would be willing to take on another sizable contract, parting ways with even more draft capital in the process. However, if Pace wants to get truly bold and go all-out for 2020 to ensure his job security for next year, Cooks could be an option they’d consider.
Phillip Dorsett, free agent
Assuming the Bears don’t plan on spending a significant amount of money on an individual free agent with pricy additions like Nick Foles, Robert Quinn and Jimmy Graham out of the way, a player like Phillip Dorsett could be worth a look as a bargain signing.
Dorsett has been a quality deep threat through the entirety of his NFL career, as his long speed and ability to accelerate quickly off the snap make him a tough receiver to cover on vertical routes. He fits that Taylor Gabriel mold of a smaller receiver - Dorsett is only 5-foot-10 - who can pick up short gains, all while intimidating opposing defenses with the mere possibility that he could go deep. He has carved a solid niche for himself in New England over the past three years, and one would expect him to stay in that role if he were to change teams.
The former first-round pick out of the University of Miami should have a decent enough market these next few days. The Patriots might want to bring him back, a team like the Jets could use him as a cheaper replacement for the aforementioned Anderson, and the Buccaneers could target him to reunite him with Tom Brady and complement Mike Evans and Chris Godwin with a smaller, faster receiver. However, if the Bears find him intriguing enough to bring on, he could be worth making an offer to.
K.J. Hamler, Penn State
If the Bears wanted to skip out on the free agent wide receiver market entirely and wait to add a wideout until after the draft, they’d have plenty of talented options to choose from. Among them is K.J. Hamler, who could fit a BPA approach if available in the second round.
Hamler is smaller at 5-foot-9 and 178 pounds, but the electricity he brings to the table makes him a legitimate top-40 prospect in this year’s class. He is a ball of lightning out on the field, showing off great acceleration off the snap, deep speed as a vertical threat and impressive agility after the catch. He sinks his hips into his cuts as a route runner and does a good job of attacking leverage points based on how a cornerback lines up against him. Though he’s only a redshirt sophomore with two seasons of collegiate film to his name, he’s certainly shown enough to warrant an early draft pick.
The problem with the Bears taking a wide receiver in Round 2 is that it sparks a debate of whether or not they would get as immediate of an impact in their starting lineup as they would for an offensive lineman or a cornerback. Hamler would be a great fit for what they need at receiver, though, and placing him in Chicago’s offense would allow him to excel at what he’s good at while leaving the tight-window and physical situations to other targets.
Jalen Reagor, TCU
In such a talented class of wide receivers, Jalen Reagor has lost a little bit of steam after running a slower-than-expected 4.47 40-yard dash and a disappointing 7.31 three-cone drill at the Combine. His tape shows that, when he steps on the field, he plays much faster and quicker than that.
Reagor fits that role of a dynamic deep threat who accelerates well off the snap and has the raw speed to outrun defenders in the open field, but he also offers more than that. He has shown some promise as a route-running technician, utilizing an assortment of moves to create separation. He can break press coverage better than a 5-foot-11 receiver should, and he has the versatility to play inside or outside at the next level. His production was down in 2019, but he topped 1,000 yards in 2018 and was a producer in TCU’s offense in all three years he played there.
Selecting Reagor would come at the expense of picking talent at a bigger need, as would be the case with Hamler. Plus, Reagor comes with the baggage of whether the muscle he added to his frame will slow him down in the NFL, as it appeared to have done at the Combine. The tape shows that that shouldn’t be the case, though, and Reagor’s skillset would make him a very good fit in Chicago’s system.
John Hightower, Boise State
Though adding a receiver in the second round could be enticing if the value is right, the class is an incredibly deep one that should have quality talent in every round of the draft. Among those late-round prospects who could fill in a speedster role for the Bears would be John Hightower.
After spending two years in community college, Hightower transferred to Boise State and made an immediate impact. He scored 14 touchdowns and averaged 17.6 yards per catch in his two seasons with the team, and he topped 900 yards in the 2019 season. He was an accomplished track athlete in high school and college before coming to Boise State, and that athleticism is apparent on tape. His athleticism allows him to stretch the field vertically, and he plays with good vision and agility after the catch. With a kick return for a touchdown and 24.6 yards per return this past season, he also offers value on special teams.
While Hightower’s route running and physicality could use some work, he’s a dynamic talent whose 4.43 40-yard dash complements his speed on tape. The 6-foot-1, 189-pounder offers length and speed and can be a solid value in the fifth or sixth round.
Darnell Mooney, Tulane
When looking at late-round receivers that fit a Gabriel mold, perhaps none stand out as a better fit than Darnell Mooney.
A bit of an under-the-radar prospect as far as Combine invites go, Mooney is a skinny wideout at 5-foot-10 and 176 pounds, but he has athleticism to spare. He’s a dynamic threat on vertical routes, as he hits top speed quickly and has shown he can beat press coverage with speed releases and great footwork as a route runner. When he sinks his hips, he gets impressive burst coming out of his breaks and overall coordination, which also helps him change direction after the catch. His production fell off a little bit in 2019, but his 2018 campaign, in which he averaged 20.7 yards per catch and had 993 yards on just 48 catches, indicates just how impressive of a big-play threat he can be.
While consistent effort as a route-runner is a flaw in Mooney’s game, the big concern is if he’s too small and skinny to withstand the physicality of the NFL. Durability was an issue for Gabriel, and it could potentially be down the line for Mooney, too. As a blazing fast, electric athlete who can be a potential steal late on Day 3 though, he would be an ideal fit with the Bears.