One of the bigger challenges the Chicago Bears will face in their rebuild is finding complementary pieces for the passing game.
To that end, a surprise player may have inside position in the race for a roster spot: undrafted free agent signee Tanner Gentry, a 6-foot-2 wide receiver who ran a 4.40 in the 40-yard dash at his Pro Day.
Over at the Denver Post, Brandon Foster details how the University of Wyoming product impressed the Bears to the point where Scout.com’s Jeremy Stoltz refers to Gentry as “by far the best receiver” on the first day of the team’s rookie mini-camp.
Gentry went undrafted, but put up 1,326 yards and 14 touchdowns on 72 catches for the Cowboys as a senior. The Bears are obviously hoping some of that production translates to the next level, especially his big-play potential. Gentry led the NCAA in deep targets in 2016, finding himself the focus on 49 such throws last season, hauling in 22. That’s an average of 3.5 deep-ball targets per game.
To that end, the Bears had the highest proportion of deep-ball targets (20.2 percent) and threw the most catch-able deep balls (33) in 2016, according to Pro Football Focus. Even as the Bears change quarterbacks heading into 2017, the offensive approach very well may not change.
Only Tennessee Titans first-round pick Corey Davis had a higher yards per route run total than Gentry’s 3.41 last season. Based on his college production, Gentry could find a niche in Chicago’s offense as a deep threat because of his past success and the Bears’ need for playmakers among its receiving corps.
Trading up in the NFL Draft and using that pick to select quarterback Mitch Trubisky from North Carolina was a surprise, but not drafting any wide receivers with any of the subsequent picks that followed was a stunner in its own right, especially after the departure of a key playmaker in Alshon Jeffery.
But rather than go the high-draft-pick route after the Kevin White selection in 2015, GM Ryan Pace has taken shots at finding talent elsewhere, highlighted by his trip down the road of undrafted free agents. Perhaps Gentry turns out to be one of the surprises at camp. It wouldn’t be a complete surprise to see him carve a niche this summer, considering the team’s leading receiver last year was Cameron Meredith, himself an undrafted free agent out of Illinois State.