Through five games, Bears WR Taylor Gabriel is on pace for 86 catches and 970 yards, which easily would be the best numbers of his five-year career, and he says it’s because he’s getting something he didn’t get in two seasons with the Browns and two with the Falcons.
“More opportunities,” said the 5-foot-8, 165-pound Gabriel, who leads the Bears with 27 receptions and 303 yards. “When you have more opportunities, you kind of have the opportunity to make those plays. I feel like every wide receiver and every player in general wants more opportunities. It’s just what you do with those opportunities.”
Gabriel has done plenty with his. He had receptions of 47 and 54 yards against the Dolphins in the Bears’ 31-28 overtime loss Sunday, but maybe the most amazing thing about his five-catch, 110-yard game was that he produced those numbers on just five targets. That’s making the most of his opportunities. His 79.4 percent catch rate on 34 targets this season is also the best mark of his career. Gabriel already has five receptions of 30 yards or longer, nearly half of the Bears’ team total of 11.
Sunday’s 100-yard game was the second straight for Gabriel, who had 104 yards and two touchdowns on seven catches in Week Four against the Bucs. He had zero 100-yard games in his first 61 NFL games.
“I didn’t even notice that until my wide receivers coach (Mike Furrey) said something to me,” Gabriel said. “That’s crazy.”
As a Browns rookie, Gabriel averaged 17.3 yards on 36 catches, but his average slipped to 8.6 the following season. In his first season in Atlanta, in 2016, his averaged popped back up to 16.5, and he scored six touchdowns on just 35 catches. But he reached the end zone just once in 2017 and saw the potential for more opportunities when he signed with the Bears along with an increase in status from part-timer after starting 13 games in four seasons. This year’s four starts have already matched his career best, and he’s playing nearly 80 percent of the offensive snaps.
Both of Gabriel’s long receptions vs. the Dolphins came on deep sideline routes, not surprising given the speed he possesses, which has earned him the nickname “Turbo.”
“I feel like (speed) is valuable to the offense just in the sense of schematic-wise, (as far as) the downfield throws and keeping the defense honest,” Gabriel said. “But at the same time, it’s not always about speed. It’s how you draw it up, and I feel like (coach Matt) Nagy’s been drawing it up very good this season.”
It may not always be about speed, but it’s nice to have that option and, in Gabriel’s case, that extra gear. When he and 5-foot-6, 181-pound RB Tarik Cohen are on the field together, the Bears’ big-play capability skyrockets.
S Eddie Jackson practices against both and gives the speed edge to Gabriel.
“We used to have this thing where guys, if they’re fast, they call them speedy,” Jackson said. “So, if they call him ‘Turbo,’ you know he’s really fast.”
Jackson says there’s a lot more to Gabriel’s game than the home-run speed.
“He’s tough, man,” Jackson said. “He’s a little guy, (but on) reverses, he could take a tackle and get up and bounce back. I just like his competitiveness. If you give him the ball, he’s going to eat.”
And if the Bears keep getting Gabriel the ball, their offense should feast.