When I was a child I had a blanket or as I liked to call it, a blanky. I carried my blanky EVERYWHERE and boy, did it show. While Linus van Pelt carried around a crisp blue blanket that comforted him as he dealt with a balding best friend and abusive sister, I was in constant possession of what most would call a dirty rag. Due to my constant use of its services, my blanky resembled a piece of cloth knotted together a million times over that looked as if it had been used mop head for several years. My blanky resembled a blanket fit for an orphan in 1917 Russia. It was orphangae bad. Yet, even with all of its holes, I loved it and did not get rid of it until an age I would rather not admit.
The Chicago Bears are my adult blanky. I love them so much, but they have many holes in them. Our offensive line is in shambles and after releasing Pernell McPhee and Willie Young, we are down to just two pass rushers. Even after tagging Kyle Fuller, we still need help at the cornerback position and we are facing f linebacker shortage as well. Are biggest hole however, is at wide receiver. The wide receiver position is Chicago's own version of the Grand Canyon. We had more drops than I want to remember last season. We have very few players at the position whose names I can actually recall without the help of Google. Our top receiver coming into this year, Cameron Meredith, hasn't taken a snap since 2016 and although he showed promise that year, is still an unproven talent. Kevin White, who holds the distinction of being Ryan Paces' first NFL draft pick, but also his first draft bust, has 21 catches and 0 touchdowns after three seasons with the team. As for the rest of our wide receivers, they really shouldn't be on our team by Week 1, as they proved last year they do not belong on a NFL roster.
Now how many of those players I will not name that are actually still on the roster when September comes will be determined over the next few months, as Free Agency begins and the NFL draft comes and goes. It is up to Pace to fill our gaping hole at wide receiver and a mix from both buckets would be ideal. We need to surround our quarterback of the future, Mitchell Trubisky, with all the help he can get in order to ensure he takes a leap forward in his second year in the league. His growth though is heavily dependent on the talent around him and right now, we aren't doing him any favors with the cast of misfit toys employed. We need to grab, at minimum, three new receivers and our journey to acquire help for Trubisky starts next Wednesday.
Christmas came early on Tuesday, as Sammy Watkins of the Los Angeles Rams (that still feels weird to type after two years) and Allen Robinson of the Jacksonville Jaguars were not given the franchise tag, making them available to every other team in the NFL on March 14th. To those scoring at home, that is a good thing, as the free agent class this year is lackluster at best. The names are so bland in fact, I almost don't want to list them. HOWEVER, I think I have to in order to really paint the picture of how bleak the wide receiver free agency scene is. The top five available receivers after Watkins and Robinson are:
Marqise Lee- 56 catches, 702 yards, 3 touchdowns, 14 games
Paul Richardson- 44 catches, 703 yards, 6 touchdowns, 16 games
Mike Wallace- 52 catches, 748 yards, 4 touchdowns, 15 games
Donte Moncrief- 26 catches, 391 yards, 2 touchdowns, 12 games
Tavarres King- 18 catches, 240 yards, 3 touchdowns, 8 games
Obviously, it is not a good time to be in desperate need of wide receivers, which is why it is crucial for Pace to hone in on Watkins or Robinson and go all in on pursuing their services. In my opinion, Robinson needs to be our top priority. At 6'3" and 209 pounds, Robinson is the big target Trubisky needs to have available to throw the ball up to on the outside. A red zone threat who grabbed 14 touchdown passes in 2015, Robinson was one of the bright young stars in the league before he went down with an injury last season and at 24, he has yet to even reach his full potential as a bonafide all-pro on the outside. If not Robinson, Watkins would be a solid consolation prize. He has the speed and ability to be a major threat on the outside as well and I would love to see the creative ways new Bears coach and offense guru Matt Nagy would get him involved on a weekly basis. Honestly, either wide receiver would be a huge get for the Bears and would immediately upgrade our receiving core. Walking away from free agency with neither would be a huge waste of an opportunity to grab an established young receiver that can grow with Trubisky and become his go-to receiver.
2018 NFL Draft
The Bears hold seven picks in the draft next month (no third rounder, but two fourth round picks; thanks Pace) and cannot leave Dallas without a wide receiver. How many we actually draft and what round we draft them in is up for debate. Although a top need, there seems to be a lack of top talent that is worth a top ten selection in the 1st round. Calvin Ridley of Alabama and Christian Kirk of Texas A&M are considered by most to be the top two prospects on NFL draft boards, but both seem like a reach at the eighth slot, as neither feel like a home-run pick. Ridley comes from the NFL-factory down in Tuscaloosa, but he is no Julio Jones. At only 6'0" and 197 pounds, Ridley is rather small and could have serious issues getting off the line against NFL cornerbacks. Trubisky needs all the help he can get and Ridley stuck on the line won't due him any favors. He is a smooth route runner and does have great speed (4.44 40-yard dash), but if he can't get open, none of that really matters. Twenty drops over three seasons is noteworthy as well. I watched Bears receivers drop an alarming number of balls last year; we don't need anymore help in that department.
As for Christian Kirk, he is an even smaller prospect at 5'11", but has a nose for the endzone (10 touchdowns in 2017). He ran at 4.47, which is solid, but not overwhelming and like Ridley, his size could hurt his NFL production. Many of the routes he ran in college were rub routes, which are designed to get a receiver wide open. Again, getting open is the name of the game and in the NFL, being fast alone doesn't mean much. When everyone is fast, separation and catch radius are awfully important and Kirk may struggle with both at the next level. If you didn't know one thing about either of these players and read the paragraphs above, you would think these receivers are trash and that is simply not the case. They just don't jump off the page and after the Kevin White fiasco, we need a sure-thing at #8 and I just don't think that exists this year.
With that in mind, it may make the most sense to draft an offensive lineman or pass rusher in the 1st round and address the wideout position in the second round, where we should be able to find a receiver that isn't far off from Ridley or Kirk. Prospects like James Washington (Oklahoma State), D.J. Moore (Maryland), and D.J. Chark (LSU) all should be available when we select again with the 39th pick and all have serious potential as a playmaker to pair with Trubisky. Washington won the Biletnikoff award, given to the best receiver in college football and has a frame that translates to the NFL better than Ridley and Kirk (only 5'11", but weighs in at 213 pounds. Extremely rare size for a wide receiver). Moore was the Big Ten Receiver of the Year and possesses a great combination of size and speed. I see him as more of a slot receiver, but since we need help everywhere, I wouldn't mind selecting him in the 2nd. As for Chark, I saved my favorite for last. At 6'3", Chark has all the potential White had coming out of West Virginia four years ago. With game-breaking speed (4.32 40-yard dash) and a NBA-ready vertical (40 inches), Chark has all the ability in the world to soon be catching bombs from Trubisky at Soldier Field on Sundays. Maybe second time is the charm for Pace on selecting a raw prospect with all the tools to become a #1 wideout for the Bears.
Now, if we do address the position on either day one or two (if we don't, we better have grabbed Robinson, Watkins, and 1995 Jerry Rice in March), I still hope we look to take another receiver on day three. You can look around the NFL today and find numerous starters at the position that weren't found until the later rounds and although there isn't top talent at the top of the draft, it is a rather deep wide receiver class. We can find a starter on day three and we gotta hope our scouting department has done there homework and can find someone who can make the team and contribute.
With free agency beginning on March 14th and the Draft on April 26th, we should hopefully have a much better picture of what Trubisky has to work with before we put our winter jackets away for the season. Providing Trubisky with offense weapons to play with is crucial to his growth in year two and we must fill his toy chest with a mix of proven veterans and rookies that he can grow up with. Two new receivers would be great, but three would be ideal to at least patch up one of the holes on our beloved Bears.