The Bears addressed their desperate need for talent at wide receiver in some measure on Wednesday, trading a conditional late-round draft choice to the Los Angeles Chargers for wideout Dontrelle Inman. The result is an instant upgrade to the quiver of options available to quarterback Mitch Trubisky.
But while Inman fills an immediate vacancy – a big (6-3) wideout with some credentials (93 receptions over the past two seasons) — something of a shadow still falls over the future of the position in general: specifically, what kind of wideout skill set should the Bears be prioritizing? Because the Bears, along with a sizeable portion of the NFL, may be too often shopping in the wrong aisle for that talent as they contemplate building around Trubisky.
The point is, what single trait, beyond the obvious of just being able to catch a football and basic production, is most critical. Is it the ability to win “50-50 balls,” the ability to go up and win contested passes? Inman at 6-3 trends in that direction.
Or is “separation,” the quick-twitch burst to create a window of opportunity for the quarterback and decrease the chances of a contested ball in the first place? Inman has a 40-yard-dash range of 4.47-4.53 sec., which is straight-ahead speed.
Both types theoretically work, and an easy answer is to conclude that offenses need both tall and short.
But with an accurate quarterback, which the Bears believe they have in Trubisky, the preference may be receivers who gain separation for a quarterback who can deliver the ball to them and let them run (see: Hill, Tyreek). Tom Brady, a standard for accuracy, reached Super Bowls with Deion Branch, Troy Brown, Julian Edelman, David Givens, David Patten, Wes Welker – none taller than 6 feet.
“Open” in the NFL can lie the vertical, as in tall, or horizontal, as in separation. Right now, Trubisky and the Bears would probably settle for either.
Fixated on size?
A premium has been placed on big/6-2-plus receivers when drafting or searching for talent. Alshon Jeffery (6-3). Brandon Marshall (6-4). Kevin White (6-3), Cameron Meredith (6-3). But eight of the top 11 wide receivers for catches this year are 6 feet or under, including three of the top four (Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown, Miami’s Jarvis Landry, Carolina’s Christian McCaffery). Six of the top 10 catch leaders last season were under six feet. None of those groups contain Bryant, who was suspended for 2016 besides being 6-4.
The record for most catches in the first three NFL seasons (288) is shared by former LSU teammates Odell Beckham Jr. and Landry – both 5-11.
The Bears arguably may have been trending toward smaller/quicker in their priority receiver additions of Markus Wheaton (5-11) and Kendall Wright (5-10). With Meredith and White and now Inman, plus a collection of redwoods at tight end (Dan Brown, Zach Miller, Dion Sims, Adam Shaheen, all at least 6-4)) already in place, the Bears already had checked the height box.
From another perspective, recalling a piece I did some time ago, consider: The career length for bigger NFL backs (225 pounds or heavier) has been shown to be demonstrably shorter than that of smaller, quicker backs. The chief reason cited by players and coaches then was obvious, that bigger backs are less elusive and, while they can deliver physical blows with their greater mass, they also absorb more high-impact hits.
Now apply that measure very loosely to wide receivers, where the Bears have seen White (6-3, 211) suffer through three straight truncated seasons because of broken bones, and lost Meredith (6-3, 207) to a torn ACL in preseason. Consider this an extremely unofficial connection, however: Beckham and Edelman are both on IR, as is ironman Brandon Marshall, although Edelman has average 12 games per year for his eight seasons, and Marshall never played fewer than 13 in his 11 seasons prior to this year.
But Inman comes with an injury bill of particulars that include issues with an ankle (Dec. 2016), sports hernia (offseason surgery), groin (Sept. 2017) and hamstring (Oct. 2017).
The overarching consideration will always come back to production. But for a young quarterback needing downfield weapons, the Bears still need to determine exactly which type of wide receiver offers Trubisky the best chance of them.