When Mike Furrey said recently that every single one of his current receivers can have long careers in the NFL, perhaps it was hyperbole. Can we blame the Bears WR coach who entered last offseason with perhaps the league’s worst group, paced by Kendall Wright’s 59 receptions, 614 yards and 1 touchdown?
Last season, the Bears had only one receiver, Taylor Gabriel, finish with more than 60 receptions and two who surpassed Wright’s yardage, Gabriel and Allen Robinson. But they combined for six touchdowns, or one fewer than the seven hauled in by rookie Anthony Miller, and all three were newcomers to a complex offense.
With the arrivals of vets Cordarrelle Patterson and Marvin Hall, rookie fourth-rounder Riley Ridley and undrafted Emanuel Hall, plus holdover Javon Wims, the Bears could cut more NFL-caliber receivers than they had on their roster two seasons ago.
Meantime, we have three burning questions that the Bears WR corps must answer this season:
Can WR1 Allen Robinson replicate his postseason dominance on a regular basis?
Robinson’s franchise playoff record 10 catches and 143 yards vs. the Eagles undoubtedly marked his best game with the Bears, if not as a pro. That it culminated in a devastating loss in the final game of his first year in Chicago was bittersweet but bodes very well for this season.
Now two years removed from his torn ACL and entering Year 2 in Matt Nagy’s offense — but his first following an actual healthy offseason spent working with Mitch Trubisky — Robinson, barring health, is on the cusp of rediscovering his 2015 second-team All-Pro form. Whether that yields the same production is a different story.
Robinson commanded 151 targets that season, but he also had a 10-TD, 1,000-yard sidekick in Allen Hurns. What his Jaguars lacked, unlike these Bears, were dynamic pass-catching running backs and tight ends. It’s unlikely, then, that Robinson will be as popular a target, but that will be in part determined by the success of the Bears WR2 …
Who is the Bears’ WR2?
Chicago’s considerable WR investments don’t stop with the three-year, $42 million commitment to Robinson. They also promised $14 million to Gabriel last offseason, when they traded this year’s second-rounder to move back into Round 2 for Miller. Conventional wisdom suggests Miller, a more rounded prospect than Gabriel, is fast tracked for the starting job across from Robinson (and starting slot position in “11 personnel").
But the Bears raved about Gabriel’s progress this offseason, when Miller was sidelined following offseason surgery to repair a torn shoulder labrum and painful recurring dislocation that he battled most of his rookie campaign.
Miller and Gabriel both have superb separation skills and big-play potential, and they’ll both have significant roles. But Miller is more dynamic, and if he returns healthy in camp and solidifies the WR2 job, it should help make Gabriel the deep threat the Bears lacked last season, when he averaged a career-low 10.3 yards and ran a lot of intermediate routes.
How do the remaining roles and roster spots crystallize?
The other shoo-ins for the 53 are Patterson, one of the game’s more dangerous returners and gadget players, and Ridley, a pro-ready prospect with strong hands, route running and bloodlines. They both have unique skill sets to become real factors on offense this season.
But after the Bears kept six receivers a year ago, we suspect seven could be the magic number, leaving the Halls, Wims and perhaps a dark horse like King-sized Jordan Williams-Lambert or Thomas Ives competing for one or two spots.
The Bears could try stashing Emanuel Hall on IR after he underwent recent sports hernia surgery. As crazy as it sounds, they might not have a receiver — on the roster, not among battling reserves — with a higher ceiling. But if he’s healthy in camp, Emanuel's elite athleticism and vertical prowess could force the club’s hand.
Marvin Hall pairs great speed with vast special teams experience, but Wims, like Williams-Lambert and Ives, has awesome size in a small-ish room and even earned some valuable starting reps in Miller's offseason absence.
The Bears WR corps will be among the best in football if …
Gabriel becomes a big-play source and Miller firmly grabs the No. 2 spot opposite a healthy Robinson.
The wheels will fall off this season if …
Robinson and Miller suffer injuries, an issue for both last season and throughout their careers.