If the Bears can ever get — and stay — healthy at the wide receiver position, their offense should really take off. Their top four receivers missed a combined 36 games, with the only one playing over half their snaps being Marquess Wilson. Youngers players stepped up and made plays but the position, expected to be a strength, ended up being a weakness.
If you took the numbers Alshon Jeffery put up in 8 1/2 games this season and calculated them out to a 16-game total, you see a star. The numbers are roughly 102 catches, 1,520 yards and eight touchdowns. Looks great, but you can’t give him credit for 16 games when he doesn’t play 16 games. Injuries are his biggest problem and there’s no reason to think they will go away. So how do the Bears assign him a value?
By not signing Jeffery before the season, the Bears made it clear they didn’t view him as an elite receiver. As good as he was at times, it’s hard to say he did anything to increase his value. The Bears can’t let Jeffery hit the open market, however, because someone else will offer him top-tier receiver money and Chicago doesn’t have a replacement. Whether it be with the Franchise Tag or a long-term contract, the Bears need to bring Jeffery back.
We don’t know what Kevin White is. We think he’s a stud and when we hear Ryan Pace say he can’t wait to “unleash” him, it makes us believe that even more. Still, he’s going to be raw and nobody has a clue what kind of long-term effects the leg injury might have on him.
EDDIE & FRIENDS
The plan for Eddie Royal was to have him destroy teams underneath while Jeffery and White stretched the field. Instead, Royal ended up being the best wide receiver on the team in most of the games he played. We only got to see what Royal could do in a couple of games (Oakland, Detroit) then injuries limited his explosiveness and availability.
With Royal’s entire salary guaranteed for next year, he’s almost a lock to make the team.
Although miscast as a second receiver, Marquess Wilson did some good things this year, leading the team with 16.6 yards per catch. He seemed to get open deep quite a few times too but he and Cutler just couldn’t connect. Wilson’s problem? He’s been unavailable nearly as much as he’s been available in his career. Even at 23, next year could be a make or break year.
It can be argued that no Bears receiver made more key catches than Marc Mariani with 19 of his 22 catches going for first downs. When plays broke down, Mariani found open spots and Cutler hit him for big gains. He came into this season with 5 catches. In 2015 he caught 22 for 300 yards.
The problem with keeping both Wilson and Mariani is that the fourth and fifth receivers are expected to play special teams and neither are particularly strong contributors in that phase. Wilson doesn’t have much experience and he lacks the strength to block or tackle. Mariani has been a return specialist in his career but hasn’t been a very good one for the Bears, averaging just 6.6 yards per punt return. He lost his job as a kick returner to Deonte Thompson.
THE REST (OR, BUT…)
Thompson was one of the league leaders in kick return average but doesn’t return punts and doesn’t offer much offensively. Josh Bellamy was a special teams stud but a bad receiver. He’s big and athletic, but raw. Cameron Meredith was a college quarterback with excellent size and physical skills but he’s got a long way to go as a receiver. Receivers coach Mike Groh is considered to be a good coach and did a nice job preparing his players this year but it will be interesting to see how much he can develop Bellamy and Meredith.
…this should be a position of strength.
While the injuries hurt the team in 2015, they should help them in 2016 as players like Wilson, Mariani, Bellamy and Meredith got experience against good defenses. The Bears won’t be able to keep all of them, but as long as they keep Jeffery, they won’t need to invest a lot of money or a high draft pick in the position.