Offensive coordinator Mike Martz wisely built up the receiving corps shortly after his arrival in Chicago, claiming “you can put that in granite” that the unit would be one of the club’s strengths.
Certainly the wideouts flashed moments last season, but the Bears receivers didn’t exactly live up to Martz’s promises, leaving the position likely in line for an upgrade at some point next week during the NFL draft.
“Most of our guys [such as] Johnny [Knox] -- Earl [Bennett is] a little bigger -- they are smaller receivers,” Bears coach Lovie Smith said. “So to just add a little bit different flavor [in terms of size] wouldn’t be a bad idea. As much as anything, though, we’re just trying to add a guy that can play ball. We’re going to try to improve the receiving corps just like all our positions. We’re going to always look to improve, but we have a solid core in place right now.”
Perhaps that’s true, but the team will surely look to supplement the talent on its roster. Outside of starters Devin Hester and Knox, Bennett and Rashied Davis are the only proven commodities, with Devin Aromashodu set to depart in free agency.
The problem, however, is this year’s class of receivers isn’t as deep as years past, according to general manager Jerry Angelo.
“The thing that creates the biggest challenge in this draft [is] there’s probably about four positions that we would look at and say it’s not up to par as what normal drafts would give you,” Angelo said. “That will be the biggest challenge: how does that affect the draft as a whole with teams and how they assess it? As we’re going through out evaluation process we’re seeing probably more positions where it wasn’t to the level that you’d like it to be or maybe that you’d see year in and year out.”
Receiver definitely fits that description. Still, let’s take a look at the top 20 prospects at the position and where they’re projected to be selected in next week’s draft:
The next 10: 11. Niles Paul, Nebraska, 6-1, 224; 12. Tandon Doss, Indiana, 6-2, 201; 13. Gregory Salas, Hawaii, 6-1, 210; 14. Terrence Toliver, LSU, 6-4, 212; 15. Austin Pettis, 6-3, 209; 16. Ronald Johnson, Southern California, 5-11, 199; 17. Cecil Shorts III, Mount Union, 6-0, 205; 18. Denarius Moore, Tennessee, 6-0, 194; 19. Jeremy Kerley, Texas Christian, 5-10, 189; 20. Vincent Brown, San Diego State, 5-11, 187.
Position grade: C
Analysis: The Bears hope to add a receiver in the mid to late rounds with physical attributes such as speedy lateral agility and explosive run-after-catch ability, which fit into the Martz’s scheme. But such traits typically aren’t found in the taller receivers.
A potential Bears target, Gates (6-0) comes from the same small school as Knox, and would be an intriguing prospect in the third or fourth round. Gates appears to possess the physical skill set (4.35-second 40-yard dash speed) the Bears are looking for in Martz’s scheme, having averaged 17.9 yards per catch as a senior.
Ultimately, though, the Bears -- depending on what’s available in their slots -- might deem it more important to surround quarterback Jay Cutler with protection (offensive linemen) than weapons (receivers).