If the Chicago Bears are going to exceed expectations in 2017, the offense must push the ball at a better pace and produce more points than it did last year. Pretty simple, right?
Obviously, things didn’t go all that well in Dowell Loggains’ first year as offensive coordinator. Chicago went through three starting quarterbacks, and the team averaged just 17.4 points per game (tied for the fourth-lowest scoring average) while finishing 15th in total yards. Not great by any stretch of the imagination.
The disappointment in the offense only grows knowing that the team had Jordan Howard put together a 1,313-yard season, culminating in a Pro Bowl appearance. Since it’s a safe bet that teams will load the box in an attempt to curtail Howard and the running game this season, the Bears will need someone else to pick up the slack on the offensive side of the ball.
Perhaps, Cameron Meredith can be that guy.
Meredith led the team with 97 targets, 66 catches, and 888 yards thanks in part to the best double-move in football, as well as proving to be a reliable deep threat target. The Illinois State product filled in admirably for Alshon Jeffery, who missed time due to a PED suspension, and Kevin White, who missed 12 games because of injuries. Meredith might have been buried on the depth chart at this time last year, but he is penciled in to be a starter this season and is expected to follow up his solid 2016 campaign with a breakout season in 2017.
But don’t just take my word for it. You can also count Yahoo! Sports fantasy football guru Andy Behrens as a Meredith-believer. Behrens’ list of sleeper receivers who can be targeted outside of the top-60 because they are widely undervalued features none other than the Bears’ Meredith.
“Forget cute and cuddly, Meredith is a ravenous bear hungry to make his mark. Think Kung-Fu Panda, not a stiff Teddy Ruxpin. He satisfies what every fantasy player desires: 1) Opportunity, 2) Projected volume, 3) Relatively untapped potential (He’s a converted college QB). Focusing on the last point, Meredith emerged from the shadows late in 2016 posting the sixth-best WR tally Weeks 13-17. On the year, he also notched an excellent 68.0 catch percentage, tallied 9.2 yards per target (WR12) and ranked WR24 in fantasy points per target (1.87).”
It seems pretty straight forward for Meredith, who should benefit from ample opportunities and untapped potential. However, the quarterbacks Meredith was catching passes from last season are all gone now. And that means the biggest hurdle he will have to clear is earning Mike Glennon’s trust when he is out running patterns.
And if Glennon is looking for reasons to put faith in the undrafted free agent turned potential breakout receiver, it’s worth noting that Brian Hoyer posted a 108.6 quarterback rating when targeting Meredith. Indeed, Hoyer completed 26 of 35 attempts for 295 yards when throwing to Meredith. Matt Barkley wasn’t terrible when Meredith was his intended target, completing 33 of 52 passes and posting an 80.4 rating while throwing to Meredith. Let’s also point out that Meredith was Barkley’s go-to-guy when he needed a first down, as 24 of 33 completed passes from Barkley to Meredith moved the chains.
Of course, Meredith could turn out to be the top target of Bears quarterbacks because of the situation around him. Here is what Evans had to write about the rest of the supporting cast at receiver:
“It’s silly to believe rusted-out Volvo Victor Cruz, Kendall Wright or perpetual disappointment Kevin White leapfrog Meredith. He will be Mike Glennon’s, or Mitch Trubisky’s, main man. Similar to another former QB, Terrelle Pryor, he is just now coming into his own as a WR. Keep in mind, Alshon Jeffery’s 22.5 percent targets share (7.8 per game in ’16) is up for grabs. Odds are strong he attracts 22-25 of the team’s looks. Throw in the fact the Bears will chase many deficits and the math says it’s conceivable he finishes with 70-plus receptions, 1,000-1,200 yards and 5-7 TDs.”
These are harsh, but fair words from Evans. The door is open for Meredith to go from fantasy darling to top-notch receiving target. If he’s healthy, Meredith should just walk right in and get comfortable.