The Chicago Bears’ critical offseason of talent acquisition has one more – very important – step: The Draft.
After GM Ryan Pace added several starting-caliber players to short-term deals in free agency, the organization’s focus now shifts back to the future and long-term health of the organization.
And because of the team’s many needs, we’re going to take a look at some of the best prospects at various positions of interest everyday leading up to the draft.
Positions: Wide receiver, tight end
Need: High (WR), medium (TE)
Currently on the roster (2016 Pro Football Focus grade)
- TE Zach Miller (81.2)
- WR Kendall Wright (74.6)
- WR Cameron Meredith (74.5)
- WR Kevin White (69.2)
- WR Deonte Thompson (68.2)
- WR Daniel Braverman (67.8)
- WR Josh Bellamy (67.6)
- WR Eddie Royal (64.3)
- TE Dion Sims (59.3)
- WR Markus Wheaton (49.7)
Top 5 Wide Receivers (Pro Football Focus Overall Rank)
- Corey Davis, Western Michigan (7)
- Mike Williams, Clemson (11)
- John Ross, Washington (19)
- Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma (43)
- Zay Jones, East Carolina (52)
Best of the rest: Chris Godwin, Penn State (73); Taywan Taylor, Western Kentucky (84); Cooper Kupp, Eastern Washington (92), Chad Hansen, California (95), Isaiah Ford, Virginia Tech (97)
Top 5 Tight Ends (Pro Football Focus Overall Rank)
- O.J. Howard, Alabama (18)
- David Njoku, Miami (Fla.) (31)
- Gerald Everett, South Alabama (56)
- Evan Engram, Ole Miss (58)
- George Kittle, Iowa (70)
Best of the rest: Bucky Hodgers, Virginia Tech (88); Jake Butt, Michigan (110); Jacob Hollister, Wyoming (134); Jeremy Sprinkle, Arkansas (146); Adam Sheehan, Ashland (Ohio) (151)
Mike Glennon’s top pass catching targets will likely be Miller, Wright, Meredith, White and Wheaton. To be blunt, that party of five isn’t going to strike much fear in the heart of opposing secondaries. Seven of the 10 receivers/tight ends listed above graded out as below average by Pro Football Focus’ rating scale. Miller was the only player who graded as above average, but he played only 511 snaps in 2016. In the end, what that group lacks in talent, it makes up for in depth and incentive to be great.
Wright signed a one-year deal, re-uniting with former offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains and is setting out to prove that he can re-capture the magic of a 2013 season in which he caught 94 passes for 1,079 yards. Wheaton came to Chicago on a two-year deal, looking to prove he can bounce back from a shoulder injury that cost him most of the 2016 season and rendered him relatively ineffective when he returned.
Sims, the third free agent addition of this group, still has work to do to get up to par as a pass-catching tight end, but has potential as a red zone target. Meredith was the Bears’ most productive receiver and owner of the best double-move in football, but needs to prove it wasn’t a fluke. White, the other high-profile returning receiver, needs to prove he can make it through a full 16-game schedule healthy.
This is the group Glennon has to work with. In short, yes, he could use another pass catching option. Preferably, one with upside.
Most Likely to be Available When the Bears Are on the Clock:
Unless the Bears moved out of the third pick and into the middle of the first round, it’s unlikely their first selection would be a receiver or a tight end – even if O.J. Howard makes a compelling case for the best offensive player in this class. Perhaps there is a case to draft Howard if the Bears were able to swing a deal with the Browns that lands them the 12th pick. Expect competition to be fierce for that honor though.
Instead, there could be a slew of candidates worth choosing in the middle rounds. There about 14 receivers who could slide between the second and fourth rounds. It’s a deep group with various skill sets. Depending on what the Bears value most in a pass catcher, they would be wise to make a move to pluck their type somewhere in the middle rounds.
If I Had to Pick One:
GM Ryan Pace talked about targeting players in three different tiers in the first round, depending on how things played out. If the Bears ended up in the middle of the first round, choosing Alabama’s O.J. Howard would give Glennon a playmaker in his first season with the team.
Zay Jones opened my eyes during Senior Bowl week, and since the Bears’ coaches were around him throughout the week, he would be the receiver who I’d make sure to grab in this draft. He has strong hands and is an excellent route runner, two things the Bears don’t necessarily have in a wide receiver right now.
And check this out:
ECU's Zay Jones saw 216 targets in 2016, 45 more than any other FBS receiver. He caught 158 of those, 21 more than the next-highest figure. pic.twitter.com/yDFXKU737G
— Pro Football Focus (@PFF) April 21, 2017
If he’s available when the Bears are picking in the second round, they should take him. Full stop.