Cameron Meredith played like a top receiver in 2016 despite not receiving the attention usually given to a player who leads the team in catches and receiving yards.
Alshon Jeffery, the team’s top receiving target entering the season, grabbed headlines because of his uncertain contract status, long-time injury issues and an in-season suspension tied to performance-enhancing drugs. Kevin White, who was GM Ryan Pace’s first pick, was another focal point of receiver talk – but not for his performance on the field.
In fact, White has played only four games since being selected seventh overall in the 2015 draft because of injuries. If and when a healthy White takes the field, he will be under a microscope – in part because of how well members of his draft class have performed.
Then there is Meredith, who went undrafted in 2015 out of Illinois State after spending 2011 and 2012 as a backup quarterback before converting to wide receiver in 2013, only to emerge as the Bears’ most productive receiver in 2016. It’s a storybook tale for the St. Joseph’s High School (Westchester, Ill.) product.
In a season where Bears quarterbacks threw the ninth fewest touchdowns (19), fourth most interceptions (19) and posted the eighth lowest passer rating (81.8), Meredith put together a nice highlight reel as he found a way to get open enough to haul in 66 catches for 888 receiving yards and four touchdowns. He had four 100-yard games, each of which came when he was targeted at least 12 times or more. When Meredith was shown attention, he made the most of it.
None of this is to say Meredith will alone replace Jeffery as the Bears’ No. 1, go-to receiver. This also doesn’t mean he has passed White as the Bears’ future featured pass catcher, because White is still young enough to reach his potential as a match-up nightmare for opposing secondaries because of his size and speed.
All of this to say that Meredith has carved himself an important role for future Bears teams if 2016 is an indication of what he can do when given ample playing time and targets. And he did that by improving his route running, pass catching and ball handling skills while lined up inside and outside.
In November, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains suggested that Meredith’s best will come once he gets settled into a role: “At some point, when we get healthy and we get whole, Cam will be able to home in on one spot. And that, I believe, will be when we see his most significant growth.”
Sure, he compiled stats on a 3-13 team, but Meredith showed the kind of in-season improvements one would want to see out of a player on a team in rebuilding mode. And if there is anything to be taken from what the offense did in 2016 that didn’t involve Jordan Howard running his way to the Pro Bowl, it’s that the Bears discovered a player who could be a reliable receiving option on a team with a new quarterback under center in need of weapons.
GM Ryan Pace clearly believes in Meredith’s potential, saying this week, “Cam’s a guy with a lot of upside, the path that he took, and just to see him mature over the past couple of years. I hate to make comparisons but I felt I saw this happen with (Marques) Colston a little bit, and Cam just has a great attitude right now, is getting better. I just love his skill set, love his professionalism, and I think we’re going to see him ascend.” (WGN)
High praise, to be sure, and if the Bears want to have something resembling a well-balanced offense in 2017, a further breakout from Meredith could go a long way toward making that happen.
Brett Taylor contributed to this post.