What a difference one offseason has had on the complexion of the Chicago Bears offense.
Last season, Mitch Trubisky and the Bears struggled to complete passes longer than 10 yards downfield. That’ll change this year, and a big reason why is free-agent addition, Taylor Gabriel.
Gabriel will play the zebra position in coach Matt Nagy’s offense, the same role that turned Tyreek Hill into a star with the Chiefs last year. Gabriel has many of the same traits as Hill with the most important being his blazing speed. But don’t expect "Turbo" to be a one-trick route-runner; he’ll be targeted downfield as often as he is on bubble screens and short routes that give him a chance to make plays after the catch.
Gabriel can be a dynamic weapon with the ball in his hands. He proved that in Atlanta with limited opportunities behind Julio Jones and Mohamed Sanu. His best season came in 2016 when he averaged 16.5 yards per catch and scored six touchdowns. He was a threat to flip the field every time he touched the ball, and he’ll present the same challenge to opposing defenses this year with even more targets and a bigger role in Chicago.
Gabriel is a critically important piece to the Bears’ offensive puzzle in 2018. If he makes good on his projection and brings a presence to the passing game that defensive coordinators are forced to respect, he’ll make Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Kevin White and Trey Burton that much better. In fact, his impact will go beyond his statistics. A few big plays early in the season will keep defenses honest all year, giving Trubisky the ability to thrive in the mid-level passing game.
Signed to a four-year, $26 million contract in free agency, Gabriel has one of the highest salary cap figures on the roster this season (second-highest receiver behind Robinson). He’s being paid to produce and the Bears will give him every chance to prove he’s worth his big contract.
Gabriel is a bit of a projection, however. He's never had more than 621 yards in a season (his rookie year) and it's yet to be seen how he'll respond to facing more attention from better cornerbacks as a full-time starter. Still, speed like Gabriel's is hard to find and if Nagy and offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich can gameplan ways to put him in favorable situations, his impact should be significant and immediate.