2020 Bears Roster Review: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, and then what?

2020 Bears Roster Review: Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, and then what?

Bears Roster Review is a weekly conversation about the state of the 2020 Bears roster from JJ Stankevitz and Cam Ellis. This week: wide receivers. 

CAM ELLIS: JJ, hello. Last week we talked about the Bears' running backs – all two of them. (1.5?) Today, it's wide receivers, which is exciting because there are lots! And they're good! Mostly. So when I say 'Bears' WRs' what is the VERY first thing that crosses your mind?

JJ STANKEVITZ: How good Allen Robinson is at football. He's a legit No. 1 receiver in this league - I won't hear any arguments he's not among the 10 best at his position - and the Bears are lucky to have him for his impact both on and off the field. 

Like, let's not take Allen Robinson for granted. He's an incredible route technician and has the size, speed and physicality to put up 1,000+ yards every year - like he did in 2019!

ELLIS: It was an *exceptionally* quiet 1000+ yard season, which is probably par for the course on an 8-8 team. So I'll just dive into my ARob take right now: why would he re-sign with the Bears? Maybe he likes Chicago, and maybe he sees a future here and that's enough for him. Totally fine! But he's going to get PAID, and the team's immediate future feels like it's a lot closer to 2019 than the season before. I just have always wondered why we're all assuming it's going to happen. 

There are good teams –– actually good teams that don't need to rely on historically great turnover rates –– that would happily pay for him. 

STANKEVITZ: Yeah, the pandemic and the concerns teams have about the 2021 salary cap might also have something to do with why A-Rob hasn't signed an extension yet. I think it's an interesting question as to WHY he would want to re-up with the Bears, though. On one hand, yeah, he's caught passes almost exclusively from Blake Bortles and Mitch Trubisky in his career. I don't think anyone could blame him if he wanted to go play for a team that has a top-tier quarterback in place. 

But on the other hand, he tore his ACL in a contract year in 2017. I also wouldn't blame him if he wanted the security of a contract extension and lots of guaranteed money three years after that. A-Rob really does hold all the cards here - if he wants to stay in Chicago, the Bears will make it happen. If he wants to leave, there are a bunch of teams that would love to have him. 

ELLIS: It just has begun feeling more and more like a leap in logic to me that he'd happily sign away the last of his prime without ever trying to see what life with a competent passing game is like. But it's time he got his due, and he is, frankly, the least of that room's concerns. I can't decide what is, though: Anthony Miller's progression, or someone stepping up into WR3. Miller finding consistency would be a scary thing for NFC North secondaries, but the depth in the Bears' WR group hasn't quite developed at the speed people thought they would. Javon Wims and Riley Ridley (and to a lesser extent Cordarrelle Patterson) would be making me nervous if I were a Bears fan right now. 

STANKEVITZ: I think Miller taking that Year 3 leap is the biggest concern here. We'll get to the depth later (especially when it comes to speed) but having an explosive, reliable No. 2 WR should help give this offense an important dimension. From Week 11-15, Miller averaged about six catches for 86 yards in that stretch. In his other 11 games Miller averaged about a catch and a half for 20 yards per game. 

Miller clearly has the talent but hasn't been able to quite harness it consistently enough in his career. The Bears have to hope having two years of experience will help him finally make the leap we were expecting him to make in 2019. And I sorta am confident he will! He's a guy I'm going to be watching closely in training camp, provided we're actually on-site for training camp. 

ELLIS: I was struck by the tone that WR coach Mike Furrey took when talking about Miller. It was ... harsh. He more or less implied that Miller's "professional development" was to blame for any lack of early-season production, which is a courteous (albeit thinly-veiled) way of questioning effort. As someone who was also 25 not too long ago, it doesn't concern me that much. As someone who sees how Allen Robinson leads that WR room, it DEFINITELY doesn't concern me that much. Miller's bum shoulder is a bigger hindrance to any future successes than his attitude; you get him inbetween the lines and, according to all his coaches and teammates, he's as competitive as they come. 

But that shoulder just will NOT stay in, and I think it's an issue. 

STANKEVITZ: Yeah, Miller having another surgery on his shoulder this offseason is worrying. I give him credit for playing through it with a certain toughness - I don’t think I would be so flippant about my shoulder popping out, I’d probably faint. But I do think there’s a mental aspect Miller does still need to grasp. Just because he gets open doesn’t mean he always runs the right route, which is something Furrey alluded to him needing to learn during the 2019 season. Last year’s offense was such a thorough disaster, though, he like everyone else might benefit from a clean slate in 2020.

ELLIS: The Rams game from 2019 is a great example of that, I think. The big interception that sort of sealed the game/Trubisky's benching came on a route that Miller broke off way too early –– a somewhat critical aspect of the play that, unsurprisingly, got swept under the rug in favor of grand QB statements. That's life, though. OK, it's time: let's talk about Riley Ridley. Be careful what you say because Twitter WILL find this. 

STANKEVITZ: It kind of feels like Bears Twitter is hoping Ridley is a secret weapon in 2020, doesn't it? That's not a bad thing, but I kind of doubt it. 

And that's nothing specifically against Ridley. I just haven't seen enough of him -- or really anything of him at the NFL level -- that suggests a zero-to-60 breakout season is coming. Can Ridley be a solid No. 4 receiver in 2020? Sure. That'd represent a successful season for him, as a guy who can be counted on to step in as a backup. And for a former fourth round pick, that'd be pretty good!

ELLIS: Yeah that seems reasonable, which is probably why Bears' Twitter so adamantly refuses it. I just ... don't know where the volume for him to suddenly become a star is going to come from. ARob's getting his balls, as is Miller, and Jimmy Graham, and Cole Kmet, and Cohen/Montgomery. Patterson and Ginn will get their numbers called every once in a while, and the Bears might even try running the ball too! I think Ridley's ceiling this season is, not unlike you said, a backup or special teams guy. Special teams are made for guys like him. 

I didn't even mention the rookie! Who arguably brings a more important dynamic to the offense than Ridley does right now. 

STANKEVITZ: So, I sort of like what the Bears did in replacing Taylor Gabriel - who, by the way, was a better receiver than I think he might've got credit for being. But adding three speedy dudes - Darnell Mooney, Ginn and Trevor Davis - should give the Bears at least one guy who can reliably stretch defenses once or twice a week. 

Now, the quarterback still has to hit those throws - poor Gabriel was overthrown on deep balls way too much - but going cheap to find one trait isn't a bad idea!

ELLIS: I saw an interesting Tweet thread talking about Ginn's (lack of) real production. Of all WRs who ran at least 30 'go' routes in 2019, Ginn's EPA (expected points added) was the worst in football. The worst!  It sort of goes against what we've been told all this time about how He Still Has It. I love a good Eye Test vs. Stats debate, so what say you? Is Ginn going to be a legit option, or is he just going to get paid to run away from Allen Robinson? 

STANKEVITZ: I guess if he's getting paid to run away from Allen Robinson, he's not getting paid much, so who cares? All the Bears need is for him to catch a couple deep balls over the course of the season for his impact to be worth it. I think the combination of him and Mooney, most likely, will produce that - meaning there isn't too much put on the shoulders of a fifth-round rookie or a 35-year-old vet. 

ELLIS: Is it one or the other? plenty of 5th rounders haven't made the roster, but I'm not sure I agree with the line of thinking I see that implies there's only room for Ginn or Mooney. Maybe Mooney ends up on the practice squad to start the season, but I think the Bears would be foolish to think they only need one deep threat and therefore will choose between the 35 year old and the 5th rounder from the AAC. 

No disrespect to the best logo in college football, though.

STANKEVITZ: Oh no I think they're both on the roster, Ginn and Mooney. I think your WR depth chart is Robinson-Miller-Patterson-Ginn-Mooney-Ridley. That leaves Javon Wims on the outside looking in.

ELLIS: Tough look for Javon. OK, so wrapping this up. What is your hottest Bears WR take going into 2020, and what is your most reasonable Bears WR take going into 2020?

Hot: Anthony Miller is going to have the most 100+ yard receiving games in 2020.
Mild: Ted Ginn Jr. finishes with less yards than last year (421). 

STANKEVITZ: Hot: Allen Robinson has 1,300 yards and 12 TDs. 

Mild: Riley Ridley is a serviceable backup, nothing more, nothing less.

ELLIS: You certainly know your audience!

STANKEVITZ: I'm here for the Riley Ridley hive!

ELLIS: Yeah so stop yelling at JJ, you all!

Matt Nagy, Bears may be facing ironic end to 2020 preseason plans

Matt Nagy, Bears may be facing ironic end to 2020 preseason plans

Just when Matt Nagy actually wants to play his starters in preseason games, there might not be a preseason. 

Ironic, right?  

On Wednesday, Pro Football Talk reported what’s been anticipated for weeks: The NFL will cut its preseason schedule from four to two games. But, per NFL Network, the NFLPA hasn’t signed off on that reduction just yet – potentially because they’re hoping to not play any preseason games at all in 2020. 

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And why would the players want those games? All it’d be is another opportunity for team-to-team transmission of the novel coronavirus that’s still raging across the United States. And the NFL has very little monetary incentive to play these games, too, which would happen in front of empty stadiums and presumably don’t bring in much TV revenue anyway. 

So if playing these games would risk COVID-19 exposure – which is way more important than the next words you’re about to read – and wouldn’t negatively affect anyone’s bottom line, why play them?

Some coaches will argue they’re critical for getting players ready for the regular season. Nagy, up until this year, wasn’t among those coaches. Remember these tweets from last August?

“My biggest thing is I’m trying to do what’s best for the Chicago Bears, and every team is different, and that’s okay,” Nagy said last summer. “… We love where we’re at right now in regards to our starters. We feel really good about it.”

All the NFLPA has to do to argue against preseason games is point to how Nagy – as well as Los Angeles Rams coach Sean McVay – viewed the importance of those in the past. If teams felt prepared for the regular season without playing their starters in the preseason, why should that change in the midst of a pandemic? 

Nagy has since switched his thinking – this after a truly awful start on offense to the 2019 season – and committed to playing his starters during 2020’s preseason. Not only does Nagy need as many preseason games as possible to evaluate Mitch Trubisky and Nick Foles, but he needs it for the rest of his offense to find an identity and rhythm quicker than they did last year (if they ever found one at all). 

So that means having Anthony Miller catch passes from both Trubisky and Foles in preseason games. That means getting the interior of the offensive line – whether it includes Germain Ifedi or Rashaad Coward at right guard – reps together in live action. That means getting Cole Kmet’s feet wet before throwing him into the deep end of the “Y” tight end position in September. 

“As we talk, that's one of the things that I look back at from last year that I'm not happy about that I made a decision to do in the preseason," Nagy said on the Waddle & Silvy Show in May. "Number one, I think it's good for them to have it, but number two it sets the mentality. 

“So that's not going to happen this year."

Except it might not happen. And probably shouldn’t. 



Bears' Allen Robinson included in Big 10's All-Decade team

Bears' Allen Robinson included in Big 10's All-Decade team

Here's some fun news for your holiday weekend. 

Bears WR Allen Robinson has been named to the Big 10 All-Decade team: 

A two-time Big 10 receiver of the year, Robinson finished his three-year career at Penn State with 177 catches for 2479 yards and 17 touchdowns. Seven years after he went into the NFL, Robinson's name is still all over the Penn State record board. Currently, he's: 

- 3rd all time in receptions
- 1st in single season receptions (97 in '13)
- 3rd in single game receptions (12)
- 4th in receiving yards
- 1st in single season receiving yards (1432, '13)
- 2nd in single season TD's (11, '12) 

He's also one of two receivers in Nittany Lion history to catch three touchdowns in multiple games. Allen Robinson: underrated in the NFL, but now properly rated by the NCAA.