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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(Too) Bold Predictions: Leonard Floyd scores the 1st Bears touchdown of the season

(Too) Bold Predictions: Leonard Floyd scores the 1st Bears touchdown of the season

(Too) Bold Predictions aims to take nuanced, well-researched information and use it to make wildly improbable predictions. Analysis! 

J.J. Stankevitz: 
1. The Bears' first touchdown of 2019 will be scored by...Leonard Floyd.
The thought here: Denver's offense is not designed to get the ball out quick, and Joe Flacco is generally immobile in the pocket. As long as the Bears' downfield coverage is as good as it was last week (save for one play-action bomb Aaron Rodgers hit), Floyd and Khalil Mack will have plenty of chances to tee off on Flacco. So one of those chances will lead to a strip-sack deep in Broncos territory, with Floyd scooping it up and jogging into the end zone. 

2. Mitch Trubisky will have a passer rating of 95.4.
That was Trubisky's passer rating in 2018...which was 33.3 points higher than his rating in Week 1. Generally speaking, it's hard to imagine Trubisky being significantly worse in 2019 than he was in 2018, even in light of how bad things were against the Packers. So even against a Vic Fangio defense, Trubisky will put up numbers close to or matching his per-game averages in 2018: 66.6 completion percentage, one touchdown, one interception, 230 yards, two sacks. And that'll be good enough for the Bears to win. 

Cam Ellis
1. The Bears will double their season touchdown total in the 1st quarter
This is, admittedly, just a round-about way of saying the Bears will actually get into the end zone this week, which would typically not be very bold. And yet, here we are. After 10 days of having to hear about the run game issues in Week 1, the bet here is that Nagy goes to David Montgomery early and often. Even with Vic Fangio at the helm, the Broncos' defense doesn't yet look like the intimidating sides he's been synonymous with. Let's say Montgomery gets in first from 10-15 and then Trubisky hits Anthony Miller for the 2nd. 

2. Eddy Pineiro will hit his first NFL field goal from 50+ yards
This game has Pineiro's name all over it. Consider: 

a. The way the offense played in Week 1 
b. The thin air
c. How frequently Nagy's decision to not try Pineiro from distance in Week 1 was questioned. 

The Bears spent all summer talking about the 'leg talent' Pineiro had, and while that alone didn't win him the job, it certainly didn't hurt (*Elliot Fry nods sadly*). They also frequently talk about getting Pineiro in a rhythm, and what better place to let him rip some than Denver in September? Since (Too) Bold Predictions are really just thinly-veiled optimism, let's say he sneaks one in from 53.

Three keys and prediction: Bears at Broncos

Three keys and prediction: Bears at Broncos

1. Let David Montgomery eat. Before the season, one of the narratives surrounding the Bears' offense was turning over 75 percent of the running back personnel from 2018 to 2019 would allow Matt Nagy's run scheme to flourish, which in turn would help Mitch Trubisky be a better quarterback. Having Trubisky pass 45 times with only 12 rushing plays to a player in the backfield in Week 1, then, hardly fit that narrative. 

A better run-pass balance will only help Trubisky be more comfortable going through his reads in the pocket, which should lead to him being more efficient. It has to happen this week, too, given the looming specter of Broncos edge rushers Von Miller and Bradley Chubb 10 days after the Packers generated a ton of pressure and five sacks on the pass-happy Bears. It’ll be a lot easier for Miller and Chubb to get after Trubisky if they can reasonably know a pass play is coming. 

So this brings us to the main point here: The Bears need to get Montgomery going. They didn’t trade up within the third round, sacrificing a 2020 fourth-round pick, to draft a running back who only gets seven touches. Yes, Montgomery will share time with Mike Davis and Tarik Cohen (assuming Cohen doesn’t line up out wide or in the slot on nearly every snap he takes again), but committing to a better run-pass balance — with Montgomery leading it — will work wonders for the Bears’ offense. 

The Oakland Raiders did this in Week 1, with rookie Josh Jacobs rushing 23 times for 85 yards (3.7 yards/carry)…while Derek Carr completed 22 of 26 passes in a 24-16 win. 

2. Don’t let Joe Flacco push the ball downfield. Flacco completed seven of 11 passes that traveled at least 10 yards beyond the line of scrimmage in Denver’s season opener, but only one of those traveled 20 or more yards beyond the line of scrimmage. The Broncos’ offense isn’t totally designed to get the ball out quick and scheme out edge rushers, but it might have to with big-ticket free agent right tackle Ja’Wuan James out (though the team trusts backup Elijah Wilkinson). The Bears’ defense should be good enough to make the necessary tackles and plays on those short throws to keep Denver out of the end zone. 

The goal, then, will be to not let Flacco hit a deep shot to Courtland Sutton or Emanuel Sanders, be it on play action or a straight drop-back. The good news is the Bears paired their coverage and pass rush well against Green Bay in Week 1, with cornerbacks and safeties generally not letting things develop downfield while Leonard Floyd/Khalil Mack/Roy Robertson-Harris/Akiem Hicks/etc. got after Aaron Rodgers. Do the same and Denver’s offense will have a tough time getting on the scoreboard. 

3. Win on first down. The best way for the Bears’ defense to deal with the attitude and heat facing them Sunday will be to not allow positive plays on first down. Denver’s offense wasn’t totally inefficient in Week 1, and reached Raiders territory on six of its eight possessions — yet didn’t score a touchdown until its last drive of the game. The Bears would do well to keep the Broncos from having the kind of extended drives they had on Monday (7.6 plays per drive) given the conditions Sunday.

The worry here is if Denver is able to extend drives, the Bears’ defense will get gassed quickly and might be more prone to allowing those drives to end in points than a Raiders defense high on inspiration but middling on talent was. So this means getting a good pass rush if Flacco drops back on first down, or having Akiem Hicks boss the interior while Roquan Smith and Danny Trevathan get downhill to stop the run. Do that, and Denver’s offense likely won’t be good enough to overcome second- and third-and-long downs. 

Prediction: Bears 19, Broncos 16. The Broncos haven’t lost at home in Week 2 since 1979, and have a 12-game winning streak in Week 1 or Week 2 home games. Beneath those numbers are two things: First, the Broncos have been one of the NFL’s best franchises over the last 40 years; and second, it’s often difficult to play on the road at altitude early in the season, when players aren’t quite in peak football shape yet. 

The altitude will, of course, be present on Sunday. A good Broncos team will not. This game will nonetheless be close, but the team with the better roster will win. And that team is the Bears.