CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin will be going position by position as the Bears approach the 2016 NFL Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need and what draft days and after could have in store.
Bears pre-draft situation
The stress fracture sustained by Kevin White last offseason cost the Bears any contribution from what was to be a linchpin of their offense. White went on the PUP list and eventually had surgery in August after the conservative approach of healing through time and rest didn’t work.
The Bears gave strong thought to elevating him to the 53-man roster when his PUP eligibility was done but were 5-8 at that point and White, while wowing coaches and teammates in closed practices, was shelved for the remainder of the season, giving the Bears de facto two No. 1’s coming into the 2016 season.
Alshon Jeffery and the Bears were in talks for a multi-year contract through the start of free agency in early March, at which point the Bears bought some time in the form of the franchise tag. A long-term deal remains the preferred solution for both sides, but in the meantime, Jeffery has gone all-in with rigorous offseason training intended to help fortify against the kind of hugely annoying injuries (calf in preseason, then hamstring, groin, shoulder and hamstring) that limited him to nine total games — and not any of those at full strength.
Jeffery still finished with a team-high 54 catches and a solid 14.9 yards per catch with 100-plus receiving yards in four of his eight starts. His combined production of averaging nearly five catches (4.94) per game over four seasons — albeit with 12 games missed in that time — has him in the “consistency” discussion with A.J. Green (5.46), Demaryius Thomas (5.36) and Dez Bryant (4.90), if a little short of Julio Jones (6.37) — all first-round draft picks.
The Bears got less than expected from Eddie Royal, primarily because Royal, because of injuries, was thrust into starting nine games, none as the slot receiver he was signed to be. Eventually he broke down, going inactive three different times with different health issues.
Marquess Wilson remains a roster option but has yet to establish himself as a starting NFL wideout and finished last season on IR with a foot injury and has never played more than 11 games in any of three Bears seasons.
Marc Mariani was re-signed and is a comfortable target for Jay Cutler, with catches in nine of his last 10 games after working into the receiver rotation mid-season amid injuries elsewhere. Mariani started five games in addition to punt-return duties. Josh Bellamy was one of the Bears’ best special-teamers and earned a one-year tender offer for his efforts, which included 19 pass receptions and three starts.
Bears draft priority: Low
The Bears have met with multiple wideouts throughout this offseason, though investing anything before the fourth round would likely only happen if a premier talent surprisingly slipped down draft boards.
The franchise tag on Jeffery and debut of White give the Bears a young, talented tandem at the edges. Add in a better situation for Royal (turning 30 in May) as a No. 3 rather than a starter, and it gives the Bears the top three they envisioned after the draft last year.
But the Bears were done in on offense in no small measure because of the drumbeat of injuries to Jeffery and Royal, which gave opportunities to Wilson but also revealed his limitations and those of Bellamy and Mariani as impact receivers. The Bears used the No. 7 pick last draft on White, whom they had very highly graded, and need his presence to stretch the field for an offense that will throw but wants to tilt even more toward John Fox’s template of a run-based approach.
Barring an unexpected fall by a top talent this year, few expect the Bears to look at wide receiver early, given the focus on defense and offensive line. But at some point the organization will shore up the receiver depth chart from its too-thin state.
Keep an eye on ...
… gems surprisingly falling out of the first round and early draft rounds entirely.
Chris Brown, Notre Dame: Attractive size (6-foot-2) and showed steady improvement over four seasons but needs to add 20 pounds.
Michael Thomas, Ohio State: Led the Buckeyes the last two years with 110 total receptions and 18 touchdowns. Good physical receiver at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. Redshirt junior with upside.
Laquon Treadwell, Mississippi: Would have to go into freefall to reach second round. Consistent, huge production (202 receptions) despite severe leg/ankle injuries in 2014.