Scouts Inc.'s Matt Williamson looks at NFC North players on the verge of a breakout in 2011.
BennettI strongly considered picking defensive tackle Israel Idonije for this honor, and the Chicago Bears have a slew of back seven defenders who do not receive the recognition they deserve, but wide receiver Earl Bennett is my choice because of his consistency and reliability. While he may never be a true “star,” I do now see him as a very competent starting NFL wide receiver -- and he should continue to improve in his second season in Mike Martz’s sophisticated passing attack.
Bennett did very little in the first six weeks of the season, but he picked up the pace and stayed quite steady after that first month and a half. The 24-year-old has a great history with quarterback Jay Cutler going back to their extremely productive days at Vanderbilt in the SEC. And while Bennett isn’t the prototypical quick and elusive Martz-type of wideout, his possession skills to move the chains and produce near the goal line set him apart from the Bears’ other wideouts. Bennett and tight end Greg Olsen are the Bears’ best red zone receivers and Chicago would be wise to feature Bennett more in this area of the field.
Last season, Bennett caught five or more passes in a game only twice. But though he lacks a lot of home run potential, the Bears should target him more often. It goes against Martz’s nature, but a controlled passing game featuring Bennett, Olsen and running back Matt Forte with some deep shots downfield could be a winning formula, considering how strong the Bears’ defense and special teams are.
Bennett runs sharp routes in the intermediate areas of the field and can go over the middle effectively as well. With Chicago’s woes in pass protection, Bennett is very important, as the Bears cannot stretch the field with their perimeter speed as much as they would like. Bennett does have sticky hands and is very reliable. He will never be a star, but the stabilizing presence he can bring to this offense and for his quarterback makes him very valuable.
Scouts Inc. watches games, breaks down film and studies football from all angles for ESPN.com.