The Chicago Bears offense has seen its fair share of turnover the last few years, and this is especially true at the wide receiver position. The days of enjoying a dominant one-two punch of pass-catchers like Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery seem like a distant memory, and a new era is beginning. With Marshall joining his second New York team in two years, and Jeffery now a member of the Philadelphia Eagles, can the Bears receiving corps truly be successful without any star players on the roster?
Assessing the 2017 Chicago Bears Wide Receivers
The answer to this question is somewhat complicated. In fact, a brief glance at the Bears’ stable of wideouts indicates that the team’s goal is to fill the number one receiver role with a committee. New quarterback Mike Glennon is tasked with bringing this team back to respectability, but he’s not going to do it on his own. Quietly, general manager Ryan Pace has been building a stable of wideouts to support his young quarterback, and four names in particular stand out as the most important contributors in 2017.
Cameron Meredith, the Bears’ top wideout from 2016, has to be the first name on this list. With 66 catches for 888 yards and four touchdowns last season, Meredith led the team in every major receiving category. An undrafted player back in 2015, he has proven to be a pleasant surprise for this team, and around the organization, there is optimism about his future.
The Illinois State product boasts an insanely wide catch radius, and at only 24, is still maturing as a professional. Even though he only has a year of proven production to his name, the Bears are excited about his potential. If he can replicate, or even build upon his successful 2016 campaign, he will likely retain his role as the team’s top target.
Former Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Markus Wheaton was one of the Bears’ first additions when the new league year opened on March 9th. Agreeing to a two-year, $11 million contract, the 26-year-old Wheaton immediately became the team’s highest-paid receiver, so it’s clear the franchise has plans for him.
Wheaton never really broke out from the Steelers’ crowded group of wideouts. However, he did flash big-time potential on occasion, particularly when securing nine catches for 201 yards and a touchdown in a face-off against the dominant Seattle Seahawks defense back in 2015. Now he finds himself on a team that lacks a true number one receiver, and as such, he has the opportunity to carve out a very meaningful role for himself.
Wheaton may have been the Bears’ highest-profile acquisition at wideout this off-season, but don’t sleep on former Tennessee Titan Kendall Wright. The team signed Wright to a one-year deal back in March. Wright, the 20th overall selection of the 2012 NFL Draft, had an up-and-down career with the Titans, but has an opportunity to get his career back on track in a new setting.
In fact, Wright is the only receiver currently on the Bears roster with a 1,000-plus yard season to his credit, having snagged 94 receptions for 1,079 yards and two touchdowns back in 2013. While his career has tailed off a bit since then, it’s clear he can succeed at this level, and he will get every chance to do so with his new team.
Without a doubt, the biggest wild card in this equation is third-year wideout Kevin White. The seventh overall pick of the 2015 NFL Draft is without question, the most athletically gifted receiver on the Bears roster. However, through his first two seasons he has been unable to stay healthy.
The former West Virginia star has only played in four of a possible 32 career contests, catching 19 passes for 187 yards in the process. White spent his entire rookie season on Injured Reserve with stress fracture in his shin, and a severe high ankle sprain/broken fibula ended his 2016 in Week Four.
Clearly, he has been incredibly unlucky to this point in his career, but the Bears invested heavily in him and he will have a platform to turn things around in 2017. Still only 24, and boasting a size and speed combination similar to that of Julio Jones, White is capable of big things if he can stay off the trainer’s table. Without question, he has a lot to prove in his third season.
The Bottom Line
The Chicago Bears wide receivers may not do much to inspire fear in the minds of opponents as of today, but the potential is there for this to be an effective unit in 2017 and beyond. Meredith thrived in 2016 as a virtual unknown. Wheaton and Wright have often be labeled underachievers, but they have enjoyed some stretches of productivity in the NFL, and have both been granted a fresh start and a path to playing time. White has been unfairly labeled a bust because of injuries, but the fact remains that he’s never really had the chance to showcase his abilities.
When all is said and done, there may not be a duo on this roster that can replicate the high point of the Marshall and Jeffery era, but there is no reason to write this group off altogether. Young, talented, and hungry to succeed, the Bears’ stable of young pass-catchers could open a few eyes in 2017.