The Bears have been projected by many to take a wide receiver with the seventh pick of the draft. But does that really make sense?
The answer to that question isn’t as simple as determining the team’s draft strategy or analyzing the talent in the draft. It’s more about how the Bears view the best way to build their roster and, in this case, how they view their current talent.
The “best player available” argument is outdated. Every team says they’re going to take the best player available, but they always have an eye on what their team currently needs. Any player drafted in the top-10 is a player that should be a key building block for your team going forward.
In this draft, there are two wide receivers in the top tier in Kevin White and Amari Cooper. One of them figures to be available when the Bears pick, but whether or not they pull the trigger could depend on how they view their current number one receiver, Alshon Jeffery.
Obviously, if the Bears feel either Cooper or White are going to be game-breaking receivers like Julio Jones or Calvin Johnson, it’s a no-brainer. My personal opinion is that Cooper is going to be a star, but very few scouts seem to agree with me. Most seem to think White and Cooper would be ranked below last year’s top receiver, Sammy Watkins. That doesn’t mean they can’t be legitimate number one receivers, but if the Bears already view Jeffery as being at that level, drafting another one when they have so many other holes doesn’t make a lot of sense.
The question isn’t if the Bears should draft a receiver. They should and they should do so in the first three rounds. But do they need to spend such a high pick on one when they have so many other glaring holes.
If you look at the top 10 scoring teams in the league last year, the only team that made a significant investment in two receivers was Green Bay. They didn’t even make that investment until after the season when they signed Randall Cobb to an extension. Still, both Cobb and Jordy Nelson were second-round picks. If you go back one more year, it’s just Green Bay and Chicago. Atlanta thought stockpiling wide receivers would get them over the hump, but they’ve won just 10 games the last two years.
The Bears already have a fair amount invested in pass catchers. Jeffery is likely going to get an extension after this season. Eddie Royal is being paid more than a typical third receiver. They have a significant financial investment in Marty Bennett. Matt Forte caught 101 passes last season, although most of them were dump-offs.
In Denver, Adam Gase and John Fox didn’t necessarily value the second wide receiver position opposite Demaryius Thomas. They let Eric Decker leave as a free agent after the 2013 season, replacing him with the cheaper Emmanuel Sanders. That proved to be a terrific move as Sanders topped 100 catches. But only Sanders and Thomas topped 50 catches last season. The Bears have quite a few guys who are going to want the ball.
The Broncos had five players catch 60 or more passes in 2013, but they had 675 attempts. It seems unlikely that the Bears are going to pass as much with Jay Cutler as Denver did with Peyton Manning.
The Bears passing game was among the best in the league when Jeffery and Brandon Marshall were clicking. They spread the ball around enough to keep Bennett and Forte happy, but their third receiver — Earl Bennett — caught just 32 passes that year. Judging by the contract they gave Royal, they’re expecting a lot more production than that.
By replacing Decker with a cheaper option in Sanders, the Broncos seemed to show that the position could be relatively interchangeable. Could Marquess Wilson break through and fill that spot? Just about everyone who has seen Wilson play regularly thinks he’s going to be a very good pro. He stunk last year, but it was a difficult situation and, keep in mind, he is younger than White.
Wilson certainly hasn’t shown enough to head into camp as a starter without competition. The Bears could find someone later in what is considered to be a very deep draft at that position. Perhaps USC’s Nelson Agholor in the second round would be just as perfect to fill a role as Cooper or White would be in the first? There are a lot of good wide receivers in this draft; the Bears could find a starter in the third round. There have been a lot of very good receivers drafted after the first round.
But, there’s another part to the discussion. What if the Bears don’t view Jeffery as a number one receiver? What if they think he’s a terrific second option and they want him to be the complement? Regardless of how they view Jeffery, he’s going to be looking to get paid as much as the top receivers in the league and the Bears may not feel he’s worth it. If that’s the case, then taking a receiver with the seventh pick — provided there is good value there — is a no-brainer.
If they think Jeffery is one of the best in the league at his position, taking a wide receiver that early doesn’t make much sense if they can get near-equal value at another position.
The issue with projecting who a team “should” take is nobody knows how they rate the players on their roster or their draft. What it boils down to is: if they think Cooper, White or someone else are going to be better than Jeffery, they should draft them without hesitation. If they don’t and can get near-equal value at a more crucial position, that’s the direction they should go.
If neither scenario works out, then it’s time to discuss trades. There are reports that the Dolphins are going to try to move up for White. If that is true, the Bears could get their top-two picks, giving them three in the top 50. Three picks in the top 50 should mean three starters for a team that still needs at least three starters.
In the worst-case scenario, the Bears don’t have Cooper, White or anyone else valued as being “worth” the seventh pick and can’t make a trade. That’s when the “best player available” discussion takes place. If that’s a wide receiver, so be it, but the Bears shouldn’t force a pick for a complementary player.