Mullin: Best collection of Bears skill players?


Mullin: Best collection of Bears skill players?

Monday, Sept. 12, 2011
Posted: 10:46 p.m.

By JohnMullin BearsInsider Follow@CSNMoonMullin
Every Monday afternoon I have a good time talking Bears with the folks at SportsRadio 1450, WFMB-AM in Springfield (and the Bears have some serious fans downstate). The guys put a great question on the table in the aftermath of the Atlanta game:

Is this the best collection of Bears skill players in the last 25 years?

The quick-evaluation answer on the show: Yes.

With more time to think about it and look back in some detail: Yes.

These comparison things are generally tiresome and clich. Usually its comparing the defense to the 1985 or 1986 group; enough of that, please.

But since the guys downstate asked, lets think about it:

For all of the Jay Cutler debate, or whether Matt Forte is worth Chris JohnsonFrank Gorewhoever money, or whether the Bears have or even need a No. 1 receiver, looking at the skill players was more fun.

Sadly, the points of comparison are pretty scant. The 1988 group, basically. Maybe the 1995 core of Erik Kramer-Rashaan Salaam-Curtis Conway-Jeff Graham. Thats about it.


Right now, Cutler is a better passer and arguably as good a quarterback as the 1988 Jim McMahon; Neal Anderson and Forte are a wash and two of the best all-around backs in franchise history. Tight ends are bit players in both systems.

But the 2011 Bears wide-receiver group is significantly better than Dennis McKinnon (best season, 45 catches) group, even if none of Earl Bennett - Devin Hester - Johnny Knox - Roy Williams - Sam Hurd - Dane Sanzenbacher are remotely in McKinnons class as a blocker.

I didnt consider the Bears receivers trash last year and I definitely dont now. Whether theyre anywhere close to good enough for reaching a Super Bowl (they showed last year that they were), go ahead; have at it. But this corps is the deepest for the Bears of the past quarter-century.

The 1995 group is the only other one with a seat at the table. Cutler hasnt had a season yet thats quite at the level of Kramer and his 93.5 passer rating, but Cutler has topped 100 for passer rating in six of the last nine games, including Sundays 107.8. Forte is a better runner, a far better blocker and an exponentially more accomplished receiver than Salaam. Plus, he holds onto the football.

Conway and Graham were both 1,000-yard receivers and each was better than any of Bears wideout right now. Those are the only two from the 95 skills who would start for the 2011 Bears, unless you like Keith Jennings over Matt SpaethKellen Davis.

But would you take Michael Timpson as your No. 3, or Bennett? Knox? For this offense and this quarterback, no comparison. And does anybody not think the 2011 group has a collective arrow pointing up?

None of these comparisons mean a whole lot. But as clichd as it has been to denigrate particularly the Bears wide receivers, give it all a rest. Enjoy it. This group may not play more than 16 games (the 95ers didnt) but its as good as theres been here since Walter Paytons era.

They can see that all the way down in Springfield.

Passing thoughts

Atlantas Matt Ryan became the latest quarterback to perform below his norm against the Bears. Of the 18 quarterbacks facing the Bears last season (not including fill-in Drew Stanton in Detroit), only Tom Brady (Patriots), Mark Sanchez (Jets) and Matt Hasselbeck (Seahawks) twice managed to reach their season passer rating against the Chicago defense.

Ryan, a 91.0 passer in 2010, posted just a 76.5 rating against the Bears.

John "Moon" Mullin is's Bears Insider and appears regularly on Bears Postgame Live and Chicago Tribune Live. Follow Moon on Twitter for up-to-the-minute Bears information.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will Cam Meredith return to the Bears?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Will Cam Meredith return to the Bears?

Hub Arkush (Pro Football Weekly/670 The Score), Mark Grote (670 The Score) and Mark Carman (WGN Radio) join Luke Stuckmeyer on the panel. Quenton Nelson works out at Notre Dame’s pro day. If he’s still on the board at 8, should the Bears take him? Plus the panel talks about the Cubs outfield heading into 2018 and if it’s time to shut down both Jonathan Toews and Lauri Markkanen.

Could Quenton Nelson increase his value by playing tackle?

USA Today

Could Quenton Nelson increase his value by playing tackle?

SOUTH BEND, Ind. — Quenton Nelson hasn’t met with the Bears yet during this pre-draft process, and doesn’t have a local visit scheduled with them. But maybe that’s not too surprising.

Harry Hiestand has better intel on him than anyone else after coaching him for the past four years at Notre Dame, after all. 

“Coach Hiestand, he’s known me since I was an immature freshman that wasn’t good at football, until now being a lot more mature and responsible and doing the right thing and a good football player,” Nelson said. “He knows everything about me.”

Could part of that intel provided by Hiestand be that Nelson has the ability to eventually play tackle?

Nelson might be the closest to a “sure thing” prospect in this year’s draft, with his reams of dominant film and off-the-charts work ethic projecting him as an All-Pro for years to come. But that he plays guard is a stumbling block, given interior positions generally don’t hold as much value as tackles in the NFL.

So here’s a potential scenario for the Bears: They draft Nelson at No. 8 — which is still "high" for a guard — and plug him at left guard in 2018. They then, under the careful watch of Hiestand, slide him to tackle in 2019. 

“I’m pretty convinced that Q could do whatever he sets his mind to,” Mike McGlinchey, a first-round tackle in his own right who's Nelson’s ex-Irish teammate and workout buddy, said. “If that’s what teams want him to play, I’m sure he’ll take that head on and perform to the best of his ability.” 

Nelson, to his credit, is confident he could make the switch to tackle (he was recruited by Hiestand as a tackle, and began his college career backing up Zack Martin at tackle). He said the only team that’s asked him about it so far is the Cincinnati Bengals, though it’s unlikely he’ll still be on the board when they pick at No. 21. 

But maybe the thought of guards being significantly less valuable than tackles is slowly becoming antiquated in today’s NFL. Four of the top 10 highest paid offensive linemen, by total contract value, are interior linemen. Three of the top 10 offensive linemen with the most guaranteed money are guards, led by Andrew Norwell, who inked a five-year, $66.5 million deal with the Jacksonville Jaguars earlier this month with $30 million guaranteed at signing. Only one offensive lineman — Nate Solder, who just signed with the New York Giants — is guaranteed more money. 

Following the money, if teams are willing to splash down loads of cash for the best guards in the league, a team may be willing to spend a top-10 pick on a guard who could immediately be among the best at his position in the NFL. Or the calculation for whatever team drafts him may be this: Would you rather have him as a perennial All-Pro guard or "merely" a solid-to-good tackle? 

Regardless of where he ends up playing, though, Nelson is one of those supremely-talented players who takes the right approach to his craft — in other words, one of those guys you just want to get in your building. And while Nelson said he’d love to play for his hometown New York Giants — who could be interested in him with the No. 2 pick — he said getting to link back up with Hiestand would be an incredible opportunity, too. 

“That would be amazing to play for him,” Nelson said. “He’s the one that made me into the player I am today. I wouldn’t be here without him or be in any conversations in the draft without him, so it would mean a lot to play for him again.”