Bears

Five wide receivers the Bears could draft to replace Cameron Meredith

Five wide receivers the Bears could draft to replace Cameron Meredith

We’ll get a chance to hear Ryan Pace’s explanation as to why he didn’t match the New Orleans Saints’ offers sheet for Cameron Meredith later this month, a few days before the NFL Draft begins. Whatever the reasoning — medicals, scheme fit, money, etc. — the Bears now have a need for a receiver that, previously, wasn’t as pressing. 

The Bears are still fourth in the NFL in wide receiver spending and shelled out eight-figure contracts to Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel. Those two players should be viewed as the team’s top receivers, with whoever else is brought in (via the draft or free agency) as the team’s No. 3 receiver, at best. 

What the Bears want out of that guy receiver depends on a few things. Should he be a bigger, stronger outside-only guy? Should he be a diminutive, shifty slot-only receiver? Or should he be able to play both inside and outside? 

Meredith has the ability to play both inside and outside, though if the Bears really were concerned enough with his medicals to let him go for less guaranteed money than they paid Markus Wheaton, that decision doesn’t offer much in the way of a clue as to scheme fit. 

Maybe a better starting point is looking at what the Bears already have at receiver. Robinson and Kevin White are mostly outside receivers: A little under 20 percent of Robinson’s career routes have been from the slot; for White, he’s run a little over 20 percent of his routes from the slot, according to Pro Football Focus. Josh Bellamy is right around the same percentage, too. 

And here’s where it’s worth noting the “Zebra” receiver position, where Gabriel will play, isn’t exclusively a slot position. Far from it: Only 36 percent of Tyreek Hill’s routes were from the slot in Nagy’s Kansas City Chiefs offense last year, while Gabriel actually ran a lower percentage of routes from the slot with the Atlanta Falcons than Robinson, White and Bellamy (he was at 15 percent in 2017). It’s a flexible position designed to create mismatches all over the field, even with a 5-foot-8 guy like Gabriel. 

The point being: The Bears probably need more of an Albert Wilson-type player than they do a bigger go-up-and-get-it guy, since they already have him in Robinson and, if healthy, White. But Wilson hardly was “only” a slot guy for the Chiefs last year, too —  58 percent of his routes came from the slot, per Pro Football Focus. 

This is a longer way of saying the Bears need someone who can be flexible to play outside and in the slot. More than likely, the Bears primary “slot” guy will be tight end Trey Burton, with Gabriel and Tarik Cohen pitching in there. 

So where does this leave the Bears if they indeed wind up drafting a receiver? They have a few options:

Anthony Miller, Memphis

Miller was hugely productive as a senior for the Tigers last year, catching 96 passes for 1,462 yards with 18 touchdowns while splitting time between the slot and outside. Those weren’t one-year wonder numbers, either: As a junior, Miller had 95 catches for 1,434 yards with 14 touchdowns. 

NFL.com’s Lance Zierlein projects the 5-foot-11, 190 pound Miller as a second or third round prospect, and crucially, the report on him is that he’s already a solid route runner. The biggest knock on his game is a few too many dropped passes, which shouldn’t be overlooked, and he may not carry with him a second-round grade. With the Bears not having a third-round pick, though, they may wind up over-drafting him or hoping he’s still on the board in the fourth round. 

James Washington, Oklahoma State

Like Miller, Washington is another hugely productive collegiate receiver with the ability to play both the slot and outside. At 6-foot, 205 pounds, he’s an explosive threat with big-play ability, but perhaps isn’t as good a route runner as Miller or some of the other prospects in this class (which could be the product of him playing in the defense-barren Big 12 for a high-octane spread offense at Oklahoma State). 

Washington, though, stood out at the Senior Bowl back in January. If he’s available when the Bears’ second-round pick comes around — which may not be the case — he’d seemingly be a good fit for what Nagy and Pace are looking for. 

D.J. Moore, Maryland

At 6-foot, 210 pounds, Moore fits the profile of an inside/outside guy and is viewed as a potential Day 1 prospect. That may make him too rich for the Bears’ liking — especially if they stay at No. 8 — but could make him an option in a trade-down or Day 2 scenario. 

Like Washington, he has some route-running questions, but his speed, quickness and athleticism make him an intriguing player if the Bears want to go with a receiver with one of their first two picks. 

Cedrick Wilson, Boise State

The 6-foot-3, 188 pounder is built more like Meredith, but if the Bears want to address that position through a mid-round pick, they could do worse than Wilson. He may not have the physical and athletic profile of Day 1 and 2 guys, but NFL.com describes him as a “nuanced route runner,” which should help his adjustment to the league. For what it’s worth, Pro Football Focus ranks him as the sixth-best receiver in this draft class, ahead of bigger names like Equanimeous St. Brown and Christian Kirk. 

Christian Kirk, Texas A&M

While Pro Football Focus indeed ranks Kirk only 10th among draft-eligible receivers, he’s the guy who could most fit the profile or being a better Albert Wilson. To wit: Wilson is 5-foot-9, 200 pounds; Kirk is 5-foot-10, 200 pounds. Wilson is regarded as a savvy route-runner who knows how to get open; Kirk flashed the traits in college to be the same at the NFL level. 

The issue with Kirk is that he’s more of a projection as an outside guy, having almost exclusively played out of the slot at Texas A&M. He’s another Day 1 trade-down possibility, or someone the Bears could grab on Day 2 if he’s still on the board. 

Under Center Podcast: Virtual drafting and an actual QB competition is happening

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USA TODAY

Under Center Podcast: Virtual drafting and an actual QB competition is happening

With the NFL trying to operate as normal, they have opted for a virtual draft this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Host Laurence Holmes, JJ Stankevitz and Cam Smith discuss does this change the strategy in drafting for the Bears. Later on, they get into Ryan Pace saying there will be an open competition at quarterback with the addition of Nick Foles.

(1:34) - How will the NFL execute virtual drafting?

(6:00) - Football coaches worried about virtual drafting

(10:32) - The Bears were honest that this is a competition for the starting QB spot

(17:10) - How will Mitch Trubisky handle playing for his job?

(24:40) - How can the Bears improve the offensive line?

(28:40) - When should the Bears draft a QB?

Listen here or in the embedded player below:

Under Center Podcast

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Bears lost the Nick Foles trade according to one prominent NFL writer

Bears lost the Nick Foles trade according to one prominent NFL writer

Every city needlessly hates on the national media, but it feels like Bears fans are going to blow a fuse if another prominent NFL writer comes out and rains on Ryan Pace's expensive parade. The latest? ESPN's Bill Barnwell, who weighed in on the recent Nick Foles trade in a column on Wednesday afternoon. You can read the entire thing right here, though he hits on the trade right from the top. In particular, it's the contract that Barnwell takes issues with: 

There's nobody else on a veteran contract like this in football. Foles has most of his third year guaranteed, and when players get three guaranteed seasons, they're usually being paid like superstars. Borderline starters like Foles rarely get more than one guaranteed year on their deals. He is essentially guaranteed to get top-level backup money for two years and what will be mid-tier backup money in the third. That's not necessarily a bad deal in itself and it's much more in line with Foles' established level of play than his prior deal.

He gives the Bears a C- for the deal, which isn't outrageous as much as it's the latest in an endless line of reminders what teams have to deal with when they get their QB evaluations wrong. The real kicker is giving the Jaguars an A- for "getting out of the Foles pickle." As for the blockbuster quarterback competition coming to Lake Forrest at some point in the future, Barnwell suspects that "the Bears still badly want Trubisky to win the job and traded for a quarterback who was just good enough to push him without being good enough to clearly push him aside." An exciting time to be a Bears fan! 

And if you think that's bad, you can probaly just skip over Barnwell's evaluation of the Jimmy Graham signing. Just keep reminding yourself that that C's do actually get degrees, or even concentrate on the B's he gave to the Robert Quinn and Germain Ifedi deals. Just don't read the Jimmy Graham blurb. 

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of the Bears.