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.
One season was all it took for Khalil Mack to enter the conversation among the all-time best Bears players.
Six forced fumbles, 12.5 sacks, 10 tackles for loss, four pass breakups and one pick six kept him in the Defensive Player of the Year conversation despite an ankle injury.
It’s hard to stack one dominant season against players who maintained excellence over multiple years, but Hall of Fame writers Dan Pompei and Don Pierson did just that in their ranking of the top 100 Bears players of all time.
For Mack’s efforts in 2018, he came in 60th on the list, one spot behind former defensive end Julius Peppers.
Richard Dent is the only player in Bears history to record more than 12.5 sacks in a season, and Mack’s production was tied for the third best year for the franchise since they started recording sacks in 1982.
Peppers hit double-digit sacks twice in his four years in Chicago with three trips to the Pro Bowl, but Pompei and Pierson may have been hesitant to rank Mack too highly given how little time he’s spent at Halas Hall.
The star outside linebacker is not the 60th most talented player in team history, but in terms of best contributions while on the Bears, his lack of tenure could be what keeps him lower on the list.
If he continues at his current rate, he should rise near the top of the rankings after another few seasons.
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The summer days of the offseason are prime ranking season, and the Bears official website is entering the mix as part of the team’s 100th season celebration.
Hall of Fame writers Dan Pompei and Don Pierson ranked the top 100 players in franchise history for their upcoming centennial scrapbook, and Monday the team released the first 25 names on the list.
The biggest standout was quarterback Jay Cutler, who ranked 85th.
Plenty of Hall of Famers should rank above the Bears’ all-time leading passer, but 84 is quite a few.
It’s hard to compare a modern quarterback to players from previous decades, like 82nd-ranked George Blanda, but Cutler even came in behind the likes of wide receivers Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, neither of whom spent more than five years in Chicago.
Third-year safety Eddie Jackson also made an appearance at 96 on the list, and beloved former long snapper Patrick Mannelly started off the list at 100.