Bears

How do ACL tears affect wide receivers? The numbers are promising for Allen Robinson, Cameron Meredith

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USA Today

How do ACL tears affect wide receivers? The numbers are promising for Allen Robinson, Cameron Meredith

For all the excitement generated by the news that hit in the wee hours of Tuesday morning, the Bears' top two receivers in 2018 are still working their way back from torn ACLs suffered last year. 

Cameron Meredith tore his ACL in a preseason game against the Tennessee Titans on Aug. 27, 2017. Two weeks later, on the third play of the season, Allen Robinson tore his ACL against the Houston Texans. Both players missed the remainder of the 2017 season following their injuries. 

Robinson says he'll be fully cleared for training camp, and the Bears hope the same will be the case for Meredith. Getting both players as many practice reps with Mitch Trubisky is key, given Robinson was with a different team a year ago and Meredith's only chance to fully practice with Trubisky came leading up to that third preseason game against the Titans. 

"We’re going to try and get together as much as we can in the offseason," Meredith said in January. "Try and make up for the lost time. I’m excited to just to get in rhythm with him, come practice time."

All of that will be part of the Bears' efforts to improve the team around Trubisky. Having his two best receivers coming off ACL surgery seems risky, but recent history shows it may not be as risky as it may sound. 

This comes with the caveat that every injury is different and every recovery is different. But since 2013, there have been 34 wide receivers who have suffered a torn ACL. We're crossing out 13 of those players, most of whom played only a handful of games in the NFL and aren't comparable to Meredith or Robinson. So that leaves us with this list of 20 players who we can use to can compare pre-ACL tear performace and post-ACL tear performance. 

To keep the stats even, we're using Pro Football Reference's 16-game average, even though some of these players didn't play in every single game after returning. But it's an even benchmark for comparing production in this case. On to the table: 

Of these 20 receivers, six never made it back from their torn ACLs. Domenik Hixon and Danario Alexander each had suffered multiple torn ACLs/knee injuries prior to their career-enders, while Sidney Rice decided to retire due to multiple concussions. Stephen Hill is the outlier here age-wise, but the former second-round pick wasn't particulary effective prior to his injury. The average age of when these six players tore their ACLs is 27.2 years old.

Seven players (Vincent Jackson, Kelvin Benjamin, Louis Murphy, Jordan Norwood, Arrelious Benn, Reggie Wayne and Leonard Hankerson) returned from their torn ACLs and saw their production decline. Jackson and Wayne were in the mid-30's when they tore their ACLs, while Murphy, Norwood, Benn and Hankerson were varying levels of productive before suffering their respective injuries, and they didn't play much after getting hurt. Benjamin's effectiveness declined, but not sharply until after he returned with 63 catches for 941 yards and seven touchdowns his first year back off the ACL tear. The average age of when these seven players tore their ACLs is 28.4. Among these 13 players who were either out of football or saw their production decline, the average age of when they suffered their injury is 27.8. 

So that leaves seven players who saw their production improve after returning from tearing an ACL: Keenan Allen, Jaron Brown, Jordy Nelson, Paul Richardson, Jeremy Maclin, Charles Johnson and Travis Benjamin. We'll leave Johnson, who tore his ACL before his NFL debut, out of this argument for the moment. So narrowing it down to Allen, Brown, Nelson, Richardson, Maclin and Benjamin, we come up with this: Those six players saw an average increase of 26.8 targets, 12.3 receptions, 196.8 yards and 1.8 touchdowns in their 16-game averages. 

And here's maybe the most important number: Those six players suffered an ACL tear when they were, on average, 25.2 years old. Meredith turns 26 in September; Robinson turns 25 in August. 

Does this guarantee that Robinson will get back to his pre-ACL tear level of production (143 targets, 75 receptions, 1,060 yards, 8 TDs)? Or what about Meredith, who caught 66 of 97 targets for 888 yards and four touchdowns in 2016? Not exactly. But if you're looking for some reason to be optimistic the Bears' bet on Robinson will pay off alongside Meredith this fall, recent history could be it. 

 

 

Bears Season in Review: Eddie Jackson

Bears Season in Review: Eddie Jackson

Chicago Bears safety Eddie Jackson didn't enjoy the kind of remarkable season in 2019 that he had in 2018, but he still played at a high enough level to be picked for the NFC's Pro Bowl squad and remains widely considered one of the best young defensive playmakers in the game.

He was paid like one this offseason, too, when GM Ryan Pace inked Jackson to a four-year, $58 million extension making him the highest-paid safety in NFL history.

Jackson finished 2019 with 60 tackles, two interceptions and a forced fumble but was blanked in the touchdown column after scoring three in 2018. His Pro Football Focus grade dropped significantly in 2019 to 66.9, the lowest of his three-year career and a far cry from the elite 93.2 he scored in 2018.

RELATED: Top 30 Free Agents of the 2020 NFL Offseason

Jackson's regression was just another example of an overall down year for a Bears team that has too much talent to be an 8-8 club. He didn't bring the same magic to the secondary that Bears fans have become accustomed to seeing, but now that he's been paid like one of the best players in the NFL, you can bet he'll be motivated to play at that level next fall.

It'll be interesting to see who lines up next to Jackson come Week 1. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix is scheduled to hit unrestricted free agency and it's highly unlikely Chicago will pay two safeties at the top of the position's market. After playing his whole career with Adrian Amos and Clinton-Dix, Jackson could be headed for a 2020 season paired with an underachieving veteran or unheralded rookie. He'll have to up his game.

Fortunately, the Bears don't have to worry about losing Jackson anytime soon. Even if 2018 was his career-year, Jackson's overall skill-set will keep him in the top-tier of safeties for as long as he's healthy and in his prime. 

NFL Mock Draft: Bears get aggressive at QB in 2nd round

NFL Mock Draft: Bears get aggressive at QB in 2nd round

The Bears' 2020 NFL draft needs haven't changed since our last mock draft, but with the Senior Bowl in the books, there are several prospects whose stocks are on the rise while others are beginning to experience the dreaded pre-draft fall.

It's unfair to suggest that three days of on-field practices will tank the stock of a player like Oklahoma QB Jalen Hurts, but his questionable performance did create more questions than answers about his ability to be an NFL starter. As a result, teams that may have pegged him as a strong Day-2 option for their quarterback depth chart have no choice but to dive deeper into other potential options at the position.

The Bears fall into that category, and in this mock draft, they swing at another young passer who could be a long-term answer under center if Trubisky fails.

Check out our updated seven-round mock draft:

Chicago Bears Post-Senior Bowl Mock Draft