In this edition of my roster projection series, we look at the wide receiver position, and where I think each WR will be opening week.
- Joseph Anderson – Rookie
- Earl Bennett – Five-year veteran
- Terrium Crump – Rookie
- Brittan Golden – Rookie
- Devin Hester – Seven-year veteran
- Alshon Jeffery – Rookie
- Johnny Knox – Four-year veteran
- Brandon Marshall – Seven-year veteran
- Dane Sanzbacher – Second-year player
- Chris Summers – Rookie
- Devin Thomas – Five-year veteran
- Eric Weems – Six-year veteran
Projected split end starter: Brandon Marshall
The Bears finally have a legit #1 WR who defensive coordinators and opposing CBs will lose sleep over the night before a game. With Marshall, the Bears have a player who—90% of the time—will be a mismatch for the CB lined up across from him.
Early indications are that the coaches are going to use Marshall similar to how Scott Linehan uses Calvin Johnson up in Detroit, which is move him around at all three WR spots in order to get the ball in his hands as much as possible.
The presence of Marshall should open things up for the rest of the receivers, as they will see more 1-on-1 match-ups than in previous years.
Projected flanker starter: Devin Hester/Alshon Jeffery
With Marshall assuming #1 WR responsibilities, Hester now can go to a more suitable complimentary role. Hester gets a lot of flak for not living up to the hype former G.M. Jerry Angelo put on him, but there’s no doubt that he has improved his route running each year since transitioning to the position.
The addition of Marshall should open things up for Hester in the short-to-intermediate parts of the field, where he can get the ball in space and use his elusiveness and speed to make a big play.
Another player who will be seeing plenty of time at the Flanker position is second-round draft pick Alshon Jeffery. At 6-3, 216 pounds, Jeffery is a big physical receiver capable of making any tough catch that is thrown in his vicinity.
His speed is very deceptive as he’s capable of being a factor in the deep passing game. The duo of Marshall and Jeffery gives the Bears passing game a physical presence that we haven’t seen in Chicago in a long time.
Projected slot starter: Earl Bennett
The receiver who might benefit most from the Marshall acquisition is Earl Bennett, who most likely won’t see coverage’s shifted his way very often anymore. The attention Marshall will receive will open up 1-on-1 opportunities for Bennett to get open in the middle of the field and gain yards after the catch.
Bennett is not the down-field, vertical threat Hester and Johnny Knox are, or the big physical playmaker Marshall and Jeffery are. What he is, though, is an instinctive route runner, able to make tough catches, and is the one receiver QB Jay Cutler trusts the most.
Eric Weems – The former Pro Bowl KR has reportedly been impressive as a WR this off-season for the Bears. They have played him at multiple positions, but he figures to be Earl Bennett’s back-up at the slot WR position.
Devin Thomas – Although Thomas has shown very little in his NFL career, he does have something over the rest of the receivers and that is top-end speed. With the Bears more than likely going into the season with their best deep threat in Johnny Knox on injured reserve, the offense is going to need a WR to stretch the defense.
Overall analysis on wide receiver position
New G.M. Phil Emery has devoted most of this off-season assembling a WR group that’s capable of helping Jay Cutler take the next step toward elite status.
The trade for Pro Bowl WR Brandon Marshall set the tone for many other additions to a position that had been severely neglected by former G.M. Jerry Angelo. Marshall gives the Bears a true playmaker and arguably, a top-5 WR, which the Bears have never had in franchise history.
The way they are using Marshall in camp tells me they are planning to put the ball in his hands as much as possible. If coverage is shifted in Marshall’s direction, the Bears have a good group of complementary weapons in Jeffery, Bennett, Hester, and also the TEs to take advantage of the attention Marshall will draw.
Two UDFAs who could push Thomas for that sixth WR spot are Terriun Crump and Chris Summers. Both guys are physical WRs; Crump is probably the better route runner of the two, while Summers is much better at going up for the football, with his 6-5 frame, and making tough catches. I don’t see either WR making the 53-man roster, but they have a very good shot of making the practice squad.
On paper, the group of Marshall, Jeffery, Bennett, Hester, Weems, and Thomas is quite possibly the best WR group in franchise history.
Current Standing: Great