The evolution of Bears wide receiver Cameron Meredith

The evolution of Bears wide receiver Cameron Meredith
HOUSTON, TX - FEBRUARY 03: Chicago Bears wide receiver Cameron Meredith visits the SiriusXM set at Super Bowl LI Radio Row at the George R. Brown Convention Center on February 3, 2017 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Cindy Ord/Getty Images for SiriusXM )

When the Bears signed Cameron Meredith following the 2015 NFL Draft, not many people outside the state of Illinois knew who he was.

A former dual-threat quarterback at St. Joseph’s High in Westchester, Ill., Meredith was only 6’1″, 160 lbs. as a senior. Now, at 6’3″, 207 lbs., he has the chance to be the top wide receiver for his hometown Bears this upcoming season.

How did Meredith get this point in his pro career?

After choosing Illinois State over the likes of Eastern Illinois, Northern Iowa and Western Kentucky, he took a redshirt year in 2010. Meredith then served as a backup quarterback completing 3-of-5 passes for nine yards and rushing one time for 11 yards in three combined games from freshman to sophomore season.

The coaching staff came to Meredith and he then made the switch outside to receiver. He finished with team-highs in receiving yards (370) and touchdowns (5) while catching 21 passes in 10 receptions as a junior.

Senior year brought Meredith onto NFL scouts radars. He started 14 of 15 games, hauling in 66 passes for 1,061 yards and nine touchdowns, all team-highs. Meredith had five 100-yard receiving games which included a career-best eight catch, 182-yard, one touchdown performance against Southern Illinois.

He worked his tail off to earn the 53-man roster despite facing long odds as a rookie. He sat behind Alshon Jeffery, Eddie Royal, Marc Mariani and Josh Bellamy on the depth chart. Kevin White’s injury opened up a chance for Meredith to see the field as he appeared in 11 games, catching 11 passes for 120 yards in 2015. He had a four catch, 52-yard day in a Week 4 win at Kansas City.

Heading into last off-season, again Meredith was well down the depth chart. Jeffery was sitting at the top with White back healthy (for the time being), Royal, Bellamy, rookie Daniel Braverman and others fighting for time. However, Meredith quickly entrenched himself into the starting lineup with Jeffery suspended for a month, White lasting only four games and Royal battling injuries once again.

For the season, he appeared in 14 games, drawing 10 starts while catching 66 passes for 888 yards and four touchdowns. He also had one rush for six yards. Also, don’t forget about Meredith’s 2-yard touchdown pass to Matt Barkley in the season finale against Minnesota.

What’s next?

Entering his third NFL season, the 24-year-old will be a restricted free agent after 2017. He had four 100-yard receiving games a year ago including a nine catch, 135 yard, one touchdown performance against Washington in Week 16.

His work over the last two training camps and preseasons made it awfully hard for general manager Ryan Pace and head coach John Fox to let him go both times.

The athleticism is evident with Meredith as he averaged 13.5 yards per catch a season ago and can play basically all three wideout spots. He is still raw considering he just starting playing wide receiver full-time three years ago.

However, he’s learning fast and is taking advantage of his opportunities. Keep in mind though that the bulk Meredith’s production came with backups Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley under center. Jay Cutler made only five starts due to injury. Meredith and Hoyer had a very good chemistry throughout the off-season.

The biggest concern besides Meredith’s rawness and overall route running knowledge is the fact that he fumbled the ball three times last season.

Despite a 130-yard, one touchdown day against Indianapolis last October, Meredith’s fumble with 3:29 left ultimately did the Bears in. They trailed 26-23 and wound up losing 29-23.

Bears Pro Bowl right guard Kyle Long complemented Meredith after the game for his strong offensive output and said you can’t get down after one play.

“Dude, he’s made so many freaking plays,” Long told the Tribune. “We’ve all seen it. From last year to this year, training camp and preseason, and you see him shine again today.”

Joining Meredith this season are veterans Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright. Add in a healthy White and Royal and the Bears have versatility at least even with Jeffery now in Philadelphia.

“He [Meredith] had opportunities even in his rookie season, and he got more opportunities this year and he took advantage of them,” Fox told the Sun-Times on Tuesday. “When you really look at it, he was probably our best receiver [last] year.”

Pace told the Tribune’s Rich Campbell yesterday that he loves Meredith’s skill set, his professionalism and he thinks that we’re going to see him ascend.

The Bears’ general manager also pointed out the upside Meredith has and how his hard work and maturation is similar to his former wide receiver in New Orleans Marques Colston.

I doubt anybody would complain if Meredith turned into Chicago’s version of Colston. At the very least, he’s on the right track. He’s someone I’ve defended time and time again especially when he was talked about as a potential roster cut the past two preseason slates.

Look for Meredith to be the guy the Bears feed off of more often than not and after that, it is up to the rest of the wide receiver unit and potentially a draft pick to compete.

In case you missed it (off-season moves)

STORY: Let’s all relax about the Mark Sanchez signing

STORY: Thompson represents the 12th player re-signed by the Bears

STORY: Cunningham agrees to deal with the Bears 

STORY: The Bears re-sign two veterans on Monday

STORY: 2017 NFL Mock Draft (Chicago Bears Edition 1.0)

STORY: The Bears bring in a pure nose tackle in John Jenkins

STORY: Two quarterback prospects that could be solid options for the Bears’ future

STORY: Breaking down each Bears signing with one sentence apiece

STORY: Marcus Cooper’s signing represents hope for the Bears’ secondary

STORY: The Bears introduce a quartet of players on Friday afternoon

STORY: What Prince Amukamara’s signing means to the Bears’ defense?

STORY: Markus Wheaton adds speed to thin Bears’ wideout room

STORY: Alshon Jeffery leaves for Philly

STORY: Jay Cutler’s tenure in Chicago ends

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