The Chicago Bears have 11 wide receivers listed on the roster, including six players who are completely new to the team. Unfortunately, all that roster turnover doesn’t look to have improved the group’s standing in the eyes of analysts.
Bleacher Report’s Doug Farrar ranks each of the NFL’s 32 groups of pass catchers, and while the Bears don’t rank dead last – they’re dangerously close to rock bottom. Indeed, the Bears’ receiving corps ranks 31st, with only the New York Jets finishing behind them. Apologies in advance to our old friend Josh McCown, who signed with New York this offseason.
Then again, perhaps our thoughts should be with Mike Glennon. You know him – he’s the quarterback who just signed with the Bears, a team who’s since drafted his replacement, but didn’t draft a receiver who could lend a helping set of hands immediately.
As for the group Glennon will throw to in 2017, there are more questions than answers.
Can Cameron Meredith improve upon a season in which he led the Bears in catches and receiving yards as a quarterback’s top target? Will Kevin White eventually challenge Meredith for that spot, or even stay healthy enough to simply be a contributor? Which, if any, of the free agent additions (Kendall Wright, Markus Wheaton, Reuben Randle, Victor Cruz) will step up and take advantage of a clean slate in Chicago? How much will Alshon Jeffery be missed?
The good news is that these questions will answer themselves as each player performs in training camp, the preseason, and eventually, into the regular season, as well. Meredith was the most targeted Bears receiver in 2016, so presumably he will get more than a fair share of chances to prove 2016 wasn’t a complete fluke. Wheaton signed a two-year deal, while Wright and Cruz signed one-year contracts, and each has motivation to recapture the magic that made them capable receivers for their previous teams, even if it was just in a spurt.
Unfortunately for the Bears, these questions extend to the tight end position too, which Farrar lumps into the conversation. Zach Miller was a top-rated tight end by Pro Football Focus’ standards, but the injury bug bit him again, this time with a foot injury that landed him on season-ending injured reserve. Free agent addition Dion Sims is known more as a blocker than a receiver. And second-round draft pick Adam Shaheen will be working to get up to speed at the highest level of competition after dominating at Division II.
All that is to say the group – as a whole – is a work in progress.
The best case scenario has the Bears’ receiving corps featuring several high-floor receivers who prove to be capable pass catchers, giving the offense a new element to compliment running back Jordan Howard. However, the looming low ceiling limits the group’s overall potential. There simply aren’t enough high-upside options currently on the roster.
On the other hand, the worst case scenario isn’t all that difficult to envision. The players on prove-it deals don’t take off, injuries continue to sideline potential playmakers for long stretches, and an unproven group (many of whom had problems with drops in 2016) is left to carry the heaviest load and keep Dowell Loggains’ offense from striking an ideal run-pass balance.
The Bears have a lot of questions, but at least they have plenty of time to figure them out. Perhaps that’s the bright side, if nothing else.