Bears positional analysis: Wide receivers

Posted Feb. 21, 2011 @ 11:26 a.m.
Posted By Dan Parr

This is the third in a series of position-by-position looks at the Bears' personnel entering the 2011 offseason. The series continues with an analysis of Chicago's WR situation.

Overview: With no true No. 1 in the bunch, the Bears' receiving corps is a target for those looking for reasons to explain why the team's passing offense ranked toward the bottom of the league (28th) in Mike Martz's first season as offensive coordinator. Martz has long favored a pass-heavy offense, but he had to adjust in his first year in Chicago. He focused more on the run after emphasizing the aerial attack backfired through much of the first half of the season. It wasn't all on the receivers — poor pass protection and misfires by QB Jay Cutler also had something to do with the passing game's issues.

Chicago relied on three wide receivers last season — Earl Bennett, Devin Hester and Johnny Knox. Knox led the Bears' wide receivers, making 51 catches for 960 yards and all three will be back with the team. There's uncertainty about who will join them in Chicago's 2011 receiving corps, though.

There's an ongoing debate about whether acquiring a clear go-to guy for Cutler is something the Bears need or a luxury that might be wanted, but is not necessary for them to compete against the likes of the Packers, who have a physical secondary that helped shut down the Bears' offense in Week 17 and in the NFC title battle. GM Jerry Angelo has never drafted a receiver in the first round, and his one big free-agent signing of a wide receiver came in 2005, when he locked up Muhsin Muhammad.

Improving the offensive line is a bigger need, but landing a No. 1 wide receiver — like potential free agents Vincent Jackson and Sidney Rice — ought to be pretty high on Angelo's wish list.

Here's a breakdown of each of the wide receivers on the roster (in alphabetical order):

Devin Aromashodu: He was supposed to be one of the featured playmakers for the Bears after a strong finish to the '09 season, but he fell out of favor with the coaching staff and his playing time was limited. He made 10 catches, five of them in Week One, after making 22 catches for 282 yards and four touchdowns in the final four games of '09. He's due to become a restricted free agent and he and the team might be ready to part ways.

Earl Bennett: Cutler looked for Bennett, his college teammate at Vanderbilt, in key third-down situations when the Bears needed to move the chains. Bennett is a reliable complementary piece and, heading into his fourth season, he still has room to develop into a larger role.

Rashied Davis: Davis contributes almost exclusively on special teams and is headed for unrestricted free agency. He'll likely explore options with other teams this offseason.

Devin Hester: He had his snaps at receiver cut in October in an effort to keep him fresh on punt and kickoff returns. It seemed to help him on special teams, and some would like to see his snaps on offense limited even more. Hester has great burst and can elude defenders, but he needs to improve his route running. It's past time to stop trying to convince people he's a No. 1 receiver.

Johnny Knox: Knox didn't make as big of a leap as some were hoping he would in his second season. He's a big-play threat, has solid hands and his 18.8 yards per catch tied for fifth in the league, but he's not always as physical as he needs to be. He probably fits best as a No. 2 receiver.

The bottom line: There are some nice pieces here, and the Bears came within one win of the Super Bowl with this group, but Angelo needs to surround Cutler with better talent, including at receiver.

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