Bears

Bears grades and needs: Do Robinson, top WRs have another gear in 2019?

Bears grades and needs: Do Robinson, top WRs have another gear in 2019?

2018 Depth Chart

1. Allen Robinson
Usage: 13 games, 71.2 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: $15 million cap hit

From a production standpoint, Robinson’s 94 targets, 55 receptions, 754 yards and four touchdowns aren’t eye-popping for a guy on a three-year, $42 million contract. But his averages weren’t all that far off from what he did in 2016. To compare:

2016: 12.1 yards/reception, 4.6 receptions/game, 55.2 yards/game, 48.3 catch percentage, 0.4 TDs/game

2018: 13.7 yards/reception, 4.2 receptions/game, 58 yards/game, 58.5 catch percentage, 0.3 TDs/game

Robinson did miss three games with groin and rib injuries, limiting his overall numbers. But if what he did in 2018 is the baseline for his time in Chicago, that’s not a bad thing — especially because there are reasons to believe Robinson can be even better in 2019. 

The No. 1 reason, which Robinson pointed out a day after the Bears’ season ended, is he’ll begin this year’s offseason program in April fully healthy, as opposed to a year ago when he was still rehabbing the torn ACL that ended his 2017 season in Week 1. 

“Just being able to go into OTAs and training camp and having that time period to be at 100 percent, to be able to condition myself for a whole season, just being able to prepare a lot better,” Robinson said. “Being able to not be just worried about getting back on the field and playing and running routes at about 60, 70, 80, 85 percent. Being able to do that at 100 percent and getting those 100 percent quality reps is going to be big.”

Robinson broke a franchise record with 143 receiving yards in the wild card loss to the Eagles, with the 33 yards he gained on consecutive catches getting the Bears into field goal range for Cody Parkey’s ill-fated double-doink. The connection he showed with Mitch Trubisky in a brief playoff appearance was encouraging, and expectations in 2019 should be high for a guy who doesn’t turn 26 until a few weeks before the season begins.  

2. Taylor Gabriel
Usage: 16 games, 77.2 percent of offensive snaps
2019 status: $6.5 million cap hit

Gabriel blew past his career highs in targets (93; previous high: 72), receptions (67; previous high: 36), yards (688; previous high: 621), catch percentage (72, previous high: 70) and offensive snaps (830; previous high: 61.2). Gabriel had six receptions of 30 or more yards, and flashed some impressive downfield ball skills on tough 40-plus yard grabs against the Dolphins (twice) and Vikings. 

Over half of Gabriel’s receptions on third down generated a first down, with the 5-foot-8, 165 pound receiver displaying strong hands and slick route running to become a favorite target of Trubisky’s when he needed to gain tough yardage. Gabriel’s catch percentage ranked 14th among qualified receivers in 2018. 

With opposing defenses often working to take away the deep ball from Trubisky’s arsenal, Gabriel didn't have a ton of downfield opportunities (he averaged a little under one target of 20 or more yards downfield per game, per PFF). He wasn’t able to do much after the catch, either — per NFL’s Next Gen Stats, he had the league’s third-worst difference in his average yards after the catch per reception (3.6) to his expected YAC per reception (5.1), though that number is likely skewed by some of the screens and short throws that required better blocking execution around him. 

Even if Gabriel’s statistical profile may not show it, he remains a speedy, versatile threat who Matt Nagy surely will try to do more things with in 2019. This is a guy nicknamed “Turbo,” after all. 

3. Anthony Miller
Usage: 15 games, 53.6 percent of offensive snaps, 9.2 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $1,216,750 cap hit

Miller may miss some or all of OTAs and minicamp after undergoing offseason surgery to repair his shoulder, which separated twice during the season (including once while he was carrying an end-around against the Vikings in Week 17). Miller, though, wore a shoulder harness and battled his way through the season, playing in 15 games and leading the Bears with seven receiving touchdowns. 

Miller did disappear within the offense for a three-week stretch in December, only receiving three targets against the Giants, Rams and Packers. But that stretch didn’t change the team’s long-term outlook for the former second-round pick. 

“We probably overloaded him to some extent in the middle of the season because we, ‘Oh, my gosh, throw everything at him!’ And we kind of throttled that back a little bit,” offensive coordinator Mark Helfrich said in the midst of that December stretch. “People adjusted to him, you know. For a while it was, ‘Hey, let’s cover this guy. Or double this guy. Or what about this guy?’ So he’s been played a little bit differently but very, very excited about his future.”

4. Josh Bellamy 
Usage: 16 games, 29.9 percent of offensive snaps, 57.8 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: Unrestricted free agent

“Beezo” will hit free agency as one of the most popular, universally-respected players in the Bears’ locker room. He’s a core special teamer and has the flexibility to play all three receiver positions in Nagy’s offense. 

While Bellamy did mis-handle a Trubisky pass that led to an interception against the Patriots in October, he only had one other drop during the season, per PFF. He’s much better suited for the role he played in 2018 — fourth/fifth receiver, core special teamer — than having to be relied upon as a top-three receiver, which he had to be frequently during the John Fox era. His offensive usage rate in 2018 was the lowest in his four-year tenure with the Bears. 

That’s all to say it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Bears retain Bellamy in free agency next month. 

5. Kevin White
Usage: 9 games, 15.9 percent of offensive snaps, 1.2 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: Unrestricted free agent

White’s future with the Bears was sealed in Week 9, when he was among the inactives for a game against the Buffalo Bills in which Robinson (who, to be fair, played a different receiver position) was inactive as well. Nagy hoped having White focus on playing on position — he was the backup to Gabriel — would allow him to being to seize on the potential that led Ryan Pace to draft him seventh overall in 2015. That didn’t happen. 

White was healthy for the entire 2018 season, which was a positive, but was only targeted eight times. Some team will take a flier on him in free agency, but he’ll face an uphill battle to earn an active roster spot wherever he lands. 

6. Javon Wims
Usage: 4 games, 2.8 percent of offensive snaps, 1.2 percent of special teams snaps
2019 status: $593,978 cap hit

Wims is an intriguing prospect with good size (6-foot-4, 215 pounds), good hands and good ball skills. Still, he wasn’t able to crack the Bears’ receiver rotation and was only active for one-quarter of the team’s games. 

Still, WIms likely left a positive impression on coaches with two tough catches on third down against the Vikings in Week 17. He’ll be given an opportunity to move up the depth chart during the offseason program and OTAs, but he’ll have to show improvement as a route runner to assure himself of a roster spot in 2019. 

7. Tanner Gentry
Usage: Practice squad
2019 status: Reserve/future contract

The Bears likely will bring in a few other receivers for camp competition with Wims and/or to replace White on the roster, with Gentry being a part of that competition. The Bears liked him enough to keep him on the practice squad all season and give him a reserve/future contract, but the 2017 training camp fan favorite has a long way to go to earn a roster spot. 

8. Cyril Grayson
Usage: Practice squad
2019 status: Reserve/future contract

Grayson actually has a fascinating background: He’s a former track star who ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at LSU’s pro day in 2017, landing him a contract with the Seahawks despite not playing a down of football since his senior year of high school in 2011. The Bears signed him to their practice squad in November and will keep him around as their roster swells for training camp. 

Level of need (1-11, with 11 being the highest): 3

The Bears have decisions to make on Bellamy and the depth behind Robinson/Gabriel/Miller. Drafting a receiver wouldn’t be out of the question if there’s someone scouts like, but this isn’t a position at which the Bears will spend much in free agency outside of retaining Bellamy and/or bringing in some cheap veteran competition for training camp. 

Previous units: QBs | RBs

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Taking a post draft, rookie-minicamp look at the Bears 2019 opponents: Weeks 11-17

Taking a post draft, rookie-minicamp look at the Bears 2019 opponents: Weeks 11-17

A lot has changed since the NFL released the 2019 schedule. Teams have added through the draft and free agency, and learned more about their rosters with rookie minicamps. Now with all that behind us, let’s take another look at which opposing rookies could make an impact in 2019. We’ll go over the first five opponents on Wednesday, the next four on Thursday and the last four on Friday.

Week 11 at Rams

If LA doesn’t re-sign Ndamukong Suh they’ll have a major vacancy on their defensive line: enter fourth-rounder Greg Gaines. The Rams traded back into the fourth round to snag Gaines, so clearly they think highly of the first team All-Pac-12 DL who had 56 tackles and 4.5 sacks last season at Washington.

Week 12 vs. Giants

The Giants made the biggest splash of the draft by selecting Daniel Jones No. 6 overall. Reactions to the picks in the media and on social media were very similar to when the Bears traded up to pick Mitchell Trubisky No. 2 overall in 2017, and Trubisky has already publicly given Jones advice for how to deal with the negative attention. Will Jones follow in Trubisky’s footsteps and have replaced Eli Manning under center by the time the Giants visit Chicago?

Week 13 at Lions

See Thursday’s preview of Bears’ opponents. 

Week 14 vs. Cowboys

Fourth-round pick Tony Pollard is the lesser-heralded running back from Memphis rather than Darrell Henderson, but he can run and catch. Over his last two seasons, he put up 782 rushing yards, 994 receiving yards and 15 total touchdowns. He also adds much needed depth to the Dallas running back room, as the leading rusher behind Ezekiel Elliott last season was Dak Prescott with 75 attempts for 305 yards. After that, it was Rod Smith with 44 attempts for 127 yards.

Week 15 at Packers

See Wednesday’s preview of Bears’ opponents.

Week 16 vs. Chiefs

If Tyreek Hill doesn’t play this year due to domestic violence allegations, second-round pick Mecole Hardman could get a lot of snaps at WR in his stead. Hardman can blow by defenders, like Hill, and ran a 4.33 40-yard dash at the combine. That number was good for fifth-best among all participants this year. On the field for Georgia, he caught 35 balls for 543 yards and seven touchdowns. He added a punt return touchdown, as well.

Week 17 at Vikings

See Wednesday’s preview of Bears’ opponents.

Numbers game: What recent data tells us about expectations for David Montgomery and Kerrith Whyte Jr. 

davidmontgomerykustiffarm.jpg
USA Today

Numbers game: What recent data tells us about expectations for David Montgomery and Kerrith Whyte Jr. 


A line has often been drawn between David Montgomery and Kareem Hunt, with the Bears’ third-round pick’s current and former coaches making that favorable skillset comparison. Both have similar running styles, both are adept pass-catchers, both were third round picks, both played for the same coaching staff in college, etc. 
 
“There are some clips that you can go back and forth and watch and say man, (Montgomery) kind of reminds me of Kareem," Iowa State offensive coordinator Tom Manning said. "And you go back to cuts from (Hunt) too and you’re like man, that’s kind of strange, it looks a little like David there in that sense. They’re different, but I do think there are some similarities.”


The Montgomery-to-Hunt comparison carries with it lofty expectations. Hunt’s dynamic rookie year — under the watch of then-Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy — saw him gain a league-leading 1,327 yards on 272 carries (4.9 yards per attempt) with eight touchdowns, as well as catch 53 passes for 455 yards with three touchdowns. That level of production is the dream scenario for the Bears with Montgomery.

Hunt’s rookie year was, clearly, well above average. But how much above average was it? That was the question this article set out to answer. We wanted to build a baseline for what Montgomery’s rookie expectations should be. What it turned into was a dive into how all 257 rookie running backs who were on a 53-man roster in the last seven seasons fared, from Saquon Barkley to Taquan Mizzell. 

We’ll start here: Only running backs whose rookie seasons fell from 2012-2018 were included, given 2012 was the first draft conducted under the league’s new collective bargaining agreement. Plus, it’s recent enough to account for the NFL’s gradual (but hardly total) shift away from placing a high value on running backs. 

Receiving stats weren’t taken into account here, given how different offenses use different running backs in the receiving game — and how the Bears can reasonably expect Montgomery to be an above-average pass-catcher as a rookie. So only running statistics were used, which also hold the most importance for the 2019 Bears after Jordan Howard’s uneven 2018 season. 

Also, compiling these numbers wouldn't have been possible without the essential Pro Football Reference Play Index. 

Beginning with a wide lens, the average production for a rookie running back over the last seven years — drafted or undrafted — is 56 carries for 243 yards (4.3 yards per attempt) with 1 1/2 touchdowns. But that’s not a totally useful measuring stick, given it includes 121 undrafted free agents, and 47 of those UDFAs didn’t receive a single carry in their rookie seasons. 

The 136 running backs who were drafted from 2012-2018 have a meatier average: 88 carries, 371 yards, 4.2 yards per carry, 2 1/2 touchdowns. Or, another way: That’s about a third of Howard’s 2018 totals (250 carries, 935 yards, 9 touchdowns) while improving his average yards per carry by a half yard. 

Drilling deeper: Third round running backs — 18 players, highlighted by Hunt — put together an average season of 108 attempts, 473 yards (4.4 yards per attempt) and 2.9 touchdowns. That feels like a good starting point for Montgomery, especially if he’s being used as part of a time-share with Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen. 

Perhaps something closer to what Arizona’s David Johnson did his rookie year is better, adding a few more carries and removing a couple of touchdowns (125 carries, 581 yards, 4.7 yards per carry, 8 touchdowns). If that’s what Montgomery winds up doing in 2019, it’ll be an improvement over Howard — and an even more pronounced one if Davis winds up being effective, too. 

What about Kerrith Whyte Jr.?

The thought here is we’ll see Whyte battle with Mizzell in the coming weeks and months for a roster spot that carries with it a small role in Nagy’s offense (Mizzell, for all the consternation about him, only played 6.5 percent of the Bears’ offensive snaps in 2018). He’s not the first, second or third option, but as a speedy change-of-pace guy he does carry some intrigue as another weapon in Nagy’s arsenal. 

It’s rare for seventh round running backs to make much of an impact on the ground their rookie years, with the Eagles’ Bryce Brown having the best season not only in this timespan, but in the last 20 years, with 564 yards on 115 carries (4.9 yards/attempt) with four touchdowns in 2012. Only four of the 18 seventh round running backs in the last seven seasons have averaged more than four yards per carry. 

Round-by-round data

Ryan Pace has picked a running back in the third round (Montgomery), fourth round twice (Cohen, Jeremy Langford), fifth round (Howard) and seventh round (Whyte) during his five years as Bears’ general manager. The three guys who’ve played — Langford, Howard, Cohen — were all rookie-year successes, to varying extents: Howard’s 1,313 yards in 2016 are the sixth-most for a rookie running back since 2012; only two fourth-round picks in the same timespan rushed for more yards than Langford’s 537 in 2015 (Andre Williams, Samaje Perine). Cohen’s impact, of course, goes beyond his on-the-ground production. 

The point here being that Pace has a track record of finding productive mid-round running backs, even if we’re only talking about three players here. That’s a good skill for a general manager to have; plenty smart observers consider it wasteful to use a first round pick on a running back, let alone a top 10 selection, which Pace had in his first four drafts. 

Naturally, though, it’s easier to find an immediately productive running back earlier in the draft than later. But that there have been standout players to come from nearly every round of the draft (and from the undrafted free agent pool) bolsters the compelling case for not using high picks on running backs. The round-by-round averages are:

First round (11 players): 212 attempts, 934 yards, 4.4 YPC, 7.4 TDs
Best season: Ezekiel Elliott (322 attempts, 1,631 yards, 5.1 YPC, 15 TDs)

Second round (19 players): 135 attempts, 572 yards, 4.2 YPC, 4.2 TDs
Best season: Jeremy Hill (222 attempts, 1,124 yards, 5.1 YPC, 9 TDs)

Third round (18 players): 108 attempts, 473 yards, 4.4 YPC, 2.9 TDs
Best season: Kareem Hunt (272 attempts, 1,327 yards, 4.9 YPC, 8 TDs)

Fourth round (26 players): 82 attempts, 312 yards, 3.8 YPC, 1.9 TDs
Best season: Andre Williams (217 attempts, 721 yards, 3.3 YPC, 7 TDs)
— Includes 1 player who did not receive a carry


Fifth round (22 players): 71 attempts, 310 yards, 4.4 YPC, 1.8 TDs
Best season: Jordan Howard (252 attempts, 1,313 yards, 5.2 YPC, 6 TDs
— Includes 2 players who did not receive a carry


Sixth round (23 players): 43 attempts, 183 yards, 4.3 YPC, 1.0 TDs
Best season: Alfred Morris (335 attempts, 1,613 yards, 4.8 YPC, 13 TDs)
— Includes 6 players who did not receive a carry


Seventh round (18 players): 28 attempts, 109 yards, 3.9 YPC, 0.6 TDs
Best season: Bryce Brown (115 attempts, 564 yards, 4.9 YPC, 4 TDs)
— Includes 5 players who did not a receive a carry


Undrafted free agent average (121 players): 20 attempts, 88 yards, 4.4 YPC, 0.5 TDs
Best season: Phillip Lindsay (192 carries, 1,037 yards, 5.4 YPC, 9 TDs)
— Includes 47 players who did not receive a carry


If you want a look at the full, raw data, click here.

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