Inside and outside: Bears’ WR talent upgraded, but dangerously thin on depth
By Robert Zeglinski
The beauty of the NFL is that you can dramatically transform position groups in lone off-seasons. That’s part of the reason that lower level parity resonates so well in this league. Eight of 12 teams that didn’t make the playoffs in 2016, were newcomers this past January. That’s because outfits such as the Rams and Vikings retooled on the fly, and maximized the resources handed to them. Resources being free agency and the draft.
One of the organizations going into 2018 with a similar arrow pointing up is the Bears, particularly at receiver. Four months after finishing with a listless starting receiver corps of Kendall Wright, Dontrelle Inman, and Josh Bellamy: Chicago put all hands on deck in the spring to surround Mitchell Trubisky with an exact contrast of quality of weapons.
Enter Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, and Anthony Miller: the Bears’ new proposed top trio that should routinely give fits to opponents across the league. Picture this: Robinson is the quintessential No. 1 playmaker that can make life for Trubisky incredibly simple. Gabriel is the one-touch home run player that will often single-handedly cause defensive coordinators to smash their game plans in a fit of rage. And Miller, well Miller is the heir apparent to Robinson’s status in an ideal world. A young and fiery ball of muscle and competition, the sky is the limit for the 2018 Draft pick.
A beyond exciting prospect for what the Bears’ offense can offer. Receivers who can actually make plays in contested coverage, and can make their quarterback look better by proxy existence. That is, unless any of this sterling on-paper trio misses time.
The Bears can potentially have one of the top-tier receiving corps in the NFL as long as the top-heavy unit stays on course. Doubt has crept up before.
Because after Robinson, Gabriel, and Miller, this situation can get dicey for Chicago. Even more so, not a predicament the Bears appear to be prepared for. To say Chicago can rely on a group led by Kevin White (five starts in three seasons due to injuries), Josh Bellamy (a sterling special teamer, but nothing more), Bennie Fowler (see Bellamy, Josh), and seventh rounder Javon Wims (who has reportedly looked awful in the shorts’ practice of organized activities this month): would be a cause for concern.
Robinson is two years removed from a season where he caught 14 touchdowns in 2015, despite his quarterback being the unparalleled human meme known as Blake Bortles. An impressive accomplishment considering the dire circumstances. Ironically, he could be worth every penny of his $14 million dollar average annual value contract coming into Chicago … provided he recovers properly from a torn ACL suffered last September. Recent reports have Robinson on track for Week 1 against the Packers on Sunday Night Football, but you never know with the trajectory of knee injuries.
Couple that with the fact that Robinson didn’t nearly enjoy the same level of elite production in his follow-up 2016 season, and the alarms can go off at a moderate tone. Robinson told Sirius XM Radio in March that he felt the Bears were “a perfect match.” He has to live up to his promises.
Meanwhile, Gabriel is someone renown for his ability to make defenders miss in open space. The man appropriately coined “Turbo” (also on Gabriel’s Twitter account), is a blur once he gets a head of steam going. There aren’t many more terrifying assets that can flip a game on it’s head like Gabriel purports to.
However, the contrast in production Gabriel has had in current 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan’s offense and everyone else in both Atlanta and Cleveland, is undeniable. Under Shanahan in 2014 and 2016, respectively, Gabriel averaged over 600 yards receiving and almost 17 yards a reception: stellar play from a 5-foot-8, 165 pound blur. In 2015 and 2017 in fresh, discombobulated schemes, Gabriel was a non-factor of little yards and enjoyed little impact in comparison. How Matt Nagy incorporates Gabriel in his dynamic offense determines whether the Bears get “Turbo” or a sputter of exhaust fuel. Don’t be surprised if there are a bit of growing pains to start.
Finally, in terms of heralded youth, there weren’t many receivers as universally adored as Miller during the 2018 Draft process. The 24-year-old is a unique blend of jump-ball proficiency, toughness in the open field, and has a knack to prove his critics wrong. Proof in the form of Miller calling himself “the best receiver in his draft class” in a letter to the Player’s Tribune in April.
The knock with Miller here is how rapidly he adjusts to the rigors of pro football. How he recovers from a foot injury the Bears have been cautious with. And how he lives up to the intensive expectations being placed upon him. Not every receiver is prepared to make an immediate impact at the highest level. While Miller seems like someone that can transcend the mold, it’s far from a guarantee as he learns the intricacies of professional coverages and defensive backs.
The Bears are expecting monumental things from their revamped, acquired wideouts in 2018. Aspects of their offense that should key a revival at Soldier Field. Anything less than excellence, availability, and consistency puts Nagy’s offense on a slippery slope.
Robert is your guy for all things Bears. Find him on Twitter @RobertZeglinski.