With the release of Taylor Gabriel, the Chicago Bears have a need at wide receiver. They need a playmaker to complement the starters. Here are five options.
The Chicago Bears offense struggled mightily in 2019. It finished 29th in both total yards and points scored. In the passing game, the Bears ranked 25th in both yards and touchdowns and ranked dead last in yards per pass play.
There are several reasons for the struggle (offensive line play, running game struggles) but one big one was the play from the wide receivers. Allen Robinson had a big year, recording 1,147 yards and 7 touchdowns. After a slow start, Anthony Miller got hot and was a dependable number two making big plays. They also had Riley Ridley and Javon Wims but they were just window dressers.
Aside from those two, there wasn’t much help. Taylor Gabriel had one really good game against Washington but did little else the rest of the season. The Bears waived Gabriel for salary cap relief so now they have an even deeper need.
This year’s wide receivers class is one of the deepest ever. NFL Network Draft Analyst Daniel Jeremiah has 18 wide receivers in his top 100.
Over the last five years, the average is 11.8 WRs taken in top 100. Last year, 13 were taken in that range. I believe 18 of the top 100 players in this draft are WR's. However, I doubt we see 18 go in the top 100. That means there will be excellent value later in the draft. https://t.co/XGOuD2BIgf
— Daniel Jeremiah (@MoveTheSticks) April 17, 2020
As he said, there probably won’t be 18 receivers picked that early which means teams like the Chicago Bears could find a quality receiver later in the draft. With the variety of needs the team has, they could fill those needs and still get a quality receiver later.
Here are five wide receiver prospects who could help the Bears:
Laviska Shenault Jr., Colorado, 6-foot-1, 227 pounds
Lavishka Shenault Jr. has had a rough year. After making 86 catches for 1,011 yards and 6 touchdowns (with 5 rushing touchdowns) in 2018, his numbers dropped to 56 catches for 764 yards and 4 touchdowns (with 2 rushing touchdowns) in 2019.
Part of the problem was with Colorado’s quarterback play, which was sketchy. He also suffered injuries as well.
Shenault had a core injury that required surgery right as the NFL Combine was starting. He wasn’t able to participate. Now with the pandemic, teams cannot examine him themselves to see how he recovered.
With all the talent at wide receiver, Shenault could fall in the draft. His misfortune could help the Chicago Bears.
Shenault is a three-level threat who can make a big play on any level. He is also a physical receiver. He bullies defenders and makes contested catches effectively. In addition, he explodes off the snap. Despite not having blazing speed, his quickness, especially at the snap, helps create separation.
Shenault is an effective runner out of the backfield. He runs like a running back and give him a direct snap and he’ll make a big play. That comes in handy in goal-line situations. He’s had seven rushing touchdowns in the past two seasons. In addition to coming out of the backfield, Shenault played all three wide receiver positions with Colorado.
Shenault will have to ease his running style if he wants to stay in the NFL for a long time. He needs to remember he is, after all, a wide receiver and not a running back.
If Shenault drops and is available in the later rounds, the Chicago Bears need to go after him.
Justin Jefferson, LSU, 6-foot-4, 225 pounds
Here is a guy the Chicago Bears could target early in the draft. Justin Jefferson is projected to go late in the first round or early second. If the Bears decide to use one of their second-round picks to enter the first, Jefferson could be a great option for the offense.
Jefferson isn’t great at any department, but he is good at everything and puts everything together to play well. He is not a speed burner but he is quick and has good athleticism to help him create separation. His high football IQ helps him beat defenders. He might not be the fastest receiver but he anticipates how the defender will play him and take advantage of that to get open.
Even if he cannot get the separation he needs, Jefferson does a great job of making contested catches. His length, hands, and body control help Jefferson become a quarterback’s best friend. His high catch radius helps make up for bad throws.
Jefferson could be a great leader on and off the field. Coaches love his intensity not only during games but also during practices. He pushes and challenges his teammates to work hard in practices, feeling that the hard work there translates to games.
Jefferson has soft hands and he does a great job of catching the ball at its highest point and away from his body. Additionally, he does a great job of tracking down long passes.
Unite Jefferson with Robinson and Miller and that trio gives the Bears quarterback another option to help the offense. If Ridley also does well with the chance he gets then the Chicago Bears have themselves a strong wide receiver unit.
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Antonio Gandy-Golden, Liberty, 6-foot-4, 223 pounds
Here is the requisite small school prospect that Chicago Bears general manager Ryan Pace loves. Antonio Gandy-Golden has the length to cause mismatch problems for opposing defenses. He also has great agility and nimble feet, helping him get yards after the catch. He’s fun to watch once he gets the ball.
Gandy-Golden doesn’t have blazing speed, but he has enough speed to surprise defenders. On deep throws, he tracks the ball like he has GPS. He has quick hands to just snatch the ball at its highest point and keep it away from his body.
Speed is something that has scouts worried. While speed is great, it isn’t everything. Gandy-Golden has the ability to get open, and with his great catch radius, he’ll make big plays. Additionally, he runs great routes and can create space with his crisp running. He also has the agility to make the first defender miss.
Of course, coming out of a small school, teams are wary of the competition. Scouts wonder how he’ll do against better players. He did play in the Senior Bowl and did well, and that brought him more attention. I’m sure Pace takes a closer look at him.
Gabriel Davis, Central Florida, 6-foot-2, 216 pounds
Gabriel Davis is a receiver who hasn’t gotten the attention that many of the other receivers received have but is a good option for the Chicago Bears.
Davis was in a perfect situation in Central Florida. That offense was built for big plays and Davis is a big play type of player. In 2019, he had five games in which he scored multiple touchdowns.
Davis could help the Bears in a number of ways. He could be a possession receiver, making catches that keep the sticks moving. However, he also has the ability to make plays downfield. He does a good job on contested plays. He’ll battle for the ball and uses his body to keep defenders away.
Another way Davis helps the Bears offense is by being an effective blocker. Robinson does a good job of blocking himself so having another good blocking receiver gives the Bears an advantage.
Davis also has some tricks up his sleeves. He runs great routes, uses the defender’s momentum against him, and has the ability to gently push the defender off (where the referee won’t see) and create space.
Head coach Matt Nagy’s system is made for big plays and Davis can provide them. He’d be a fan-favorite in Chicago.
Here is what NFL.com Draft Analyst Lance Zierlein says about Davis:
Big target with outstanding 2019 production in an offense that created favorable big play opportunities. Davis is a sideline threat with a good feel for creating space short and long through hand fighting. His build-up speed, ball-tracking and high-point talent can alter the success rate of deep throws for quarterbacks…
Davis can step in from Day 1 and help the Chicago Bears offense in a number of ways. He can make plays in all three levels and be an effective blocker. He’d be an asset for the offense.
K.J. Hamler, Penn State, 5-foot-9, 178 pounds
An old adage says “Defense wins championships.” While that is true, Offense puts butts in the seats and excites the fans. The Bears already have the defense to win a championship. Now they need an exciting offense that can help.
K.J. Hamler brings a ton of that excitement. He is a big play to happen. Every time he gets the ball he’s a threat to take the ball into the end zone. He has a great combination of speed, explosiveness, and route-running to make defenders’ life miserable.
They say speed kills and Hamler has plenty of it. He didn’t run at the NFL Combine but he says he ran about a 4.28-40. He could explode off the snap and blow past the defender or he could run ridiculous route combinations to turn the defender into a pretzel.
Hamler’s size is a concern for most teams. He isn’t built to take big hits. He patterns his play after another small-framed receiver, DeSean Jackson. Jackson finished his 12th season and has three Pro Bowl appearances, 10,420 career receiving yards and 55 touchdowns.
Hamler is a high-risk, high-reward prospect. He can make a big play at any moment but could suffer a severe injury on any hit. If he comes to Chicago and becomes a hit then the Bears have two Nittany Lions helping the offense reach new heights.