Bears NFL Draft Preview: WR low priority barring surprises

Bears NFL Draft Preview: WR low priority barring surprises Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin will be going position by position as the Bears approach the 2016 NFL Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need and what draft days and after could have in store.

Bears pre-draft situation

The stress fracture sustained by Kevin White last offseason cost the Bears any contribution from what was to be a linchpin of their offense. White went on the PUP list and eventually had surgery in August after the conservative approach of healing through time and rest didn’t work.

The Bears gave strong thought to elevating him to the 53-man roster when his PUP eligibility was done but were 5-8 at that point and White, while wowing coaches and teammates in closed practices, was shelved for the remainder of the season, giving the Bears de facto two No. 1’s coming into the 2016 season.

Alshon Jeffery and the Bears were in talks for a multi-year contract through the start of free agency in early March, at which point the Bears bought some time in the form of the franchise tag. A long-term deal remains the preferred solution for both sides, but in the meantime, Jeffery has gone all-in with rigorous offseason training intended to help fortify against the kind of hugely annoying injuries (calf in preseason, then hamstring, groin, shoulder and hamstring) that limited him to nine total games — and not any of those at full strength.

Jeffery still finished with a team-high 54 catches and a solid 14.9 yards per catch with 100-plus receiving yards in four of his eight starts. His combined production of averaging nearly five catches (4.94) per game over four seasons — albeit with 12 games missed in that time — has him in the “consistency” discussion with A.J. Green (5.46), Demaryius Thomas (5.36) and Dez Bryant (4.90), if a little short of Julio Jones (6.37) — all first-round draft picks.

The Bears got less than expected from Eddie Royal, primarily because Royal, because of injuries, was thrust into starting nine games, none as the slot receiver he was signed to be. Eventually he broke down, going inactive three different times with different health issues.

Marquess Wilson remains a roster option but has yet to establish himself as a starting NFL wideout and finished last season on IR with a foot injury and has never played more than 11 games in any of three Bears seasons.

Marc Mariani was re-signed and is a comfortable target for Jay Cutler, with catches in nine of his last 10 games after working into the receiver rotation mid-season amid injuries elsewhere. Mariani started five games in addition to punt-return duties. Josh Bellamy was one of the Bears’ best special-teamers and earned a one-year tender offer for his efforts, which included 19 pass receptions and three starts.

Bears draft priority: Low

The Bears have met with multiple wideouts throughout this offseason, though investing anything before the fourth round would likely only happen if a premier talent surprisingly slipped down draft boards.

The franchise tag on Jeffery and debut of White give the Bears a young, talented tandem at the edges. Add in a better situation for Royal (turning 30 in May) as a No. 3 rather than a starter, and it gives the Bears the top three they envisioned after the draft last year.

But the Bears were done in on offense in no small measure because of the drumbeat of injuries to Jeffery and Royal, which gave opportunities to Wilson but also revealed his limitations and those of Bellamy and Mariani as impact receivers. The Bears used the No. 7 pick last draft on White, whom they had very highly graded, and need his presence to stretch the field for an offense that will throw but wants to tilt even more toward John Fox’s template of a run-based approach.

Barring an unexpected fall by a top talent this year, few expect the Bears to look at wide receiver early, given the focus on defense and offensive line. But at some point the organization will shore up the receiver depth chart from its too-thin state.

Keep an eye on ...

gems surprisingly falling out of the first round and early draft rounds entirely.

Chris Brown, Notre Dame: Attractive size (6-foot-2) and showed steady improvement over four seasons but needs to add 20 pounds.

Michael Thomas, Ohio State: Led the Buckeyes the last two years with 110 total receptions and 18 touchdowns. Good physical receiver at 6-foot-3, 210 pounds. Redshirt junior with upside.

Laquon Treadwell, Mississippi: Would have to go into freefall to reach second round. Consistent, huge production (202 receptions) despite severe leg/ankle injuries in 2014.

SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?


SportsTalk Live Podcast: Can the Bears pull off an upset at home against Tom Brady and the Patriots?

Chris Emma, Matt Zahn and Gabe Ramirez join David Kaplan on the panel.

0:00- NBC Sports National NBA Insider Tom Haberstroh joins the panel to discuss the Bulls’ terrible defensive performance as well as Zach LaVine’s impressive season debut.

11:35- Khalil Mack is listed as questionable for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. Can the Bears pull off the upset against Tom Brady?

23:50- NBC Sports Boston Patriots insider Tom E. Curran joins Kap to talk about how New England views the Bears and discuss how Matt Nagy’s team can exploit the Patriots’ weaknesses.

Listen to the full episode at this link or in the embedded player below.


Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears set to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack appears in line to play Sunday with Tom Brady, Patriots looming

Khalil Mack participated in the Bears’ final practice of the week on Friday, clearing the way for the edge rusher to play Sunday against the New England Patriots. 

ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported earlier Friday that the Bears expected Mack, who hasn’t missed a game in his career, to play after suffering an ankle injury early in Week 6’s 31-28 loss to the Miami Dolphins. Mack is officially questionable for Sunday’s game at Soldier Field. 

Mack had little interest in discussing his ankle with the media on Friday, passing on answering questions about his readiness for New England. Coach Matt Nagy, though, said he thought Mack “looked pretty good” during practice on Friday. 

Mack didn’t record a sack against Miami and was held to just one pressure, per Pro Football Focus. The Dolphins’ gameplan was to commit plenty of resources to stopping Mack, but he wasn’t effective even when he had one-on-one pass rushing opportunities as the game went on. 

“He was (affected),” defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said. “I can't put a percentage on it, but he definitely was.”

Having Mack available — even if he’s not full strength — will be critical for the Bears’ defense to have a chance at keeping Tom Brady from lighting up the scoreboard. The key for the Bears will be to generate pressure on the 41-year-old quarterback without blitzing, which is something Fangio’s defense was successful at prior to Sunday’s wacky loss to the Dolphins. 

Brady’s passer rating is 138.4 when he’s blitzed, per Pro Football Focus, while when under pressure his rating is 87.2. That’s still pretty good, but it’s worth noting that all of the six interceptions he’s thrown this year have come when he hasn’t been blitzed. And only one of the eight sacks he’s taken has come when he’s been blitzed. 

The point being: If the Bears feel like they have to start blitzing to generate pressure, they can expect Brady to pick them apart.  

“You could say all of that but ultimately (Brady’s) a gamer,” Mack said. “He’s going to take those hits, and you gotta be able to deliver them but also have coverage over the top. It’s going to be real important for us.” 

The good news for the Bears, perhaps, is that New England’s tackles have struggled at times this year. Left tackle Trent Brown has allowed 17 pressures in 234 pass blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus (about one in every 14 snaps). And starting right tackle Marcus Cannon is out with a concussion, giving way for backup La’Adrian Waddle, who’s allowed eight pressures in 78 pass blocking snaps (about one in every 10). 

So the opportunities will be there for Mack, Leonard Floyd, Akiem Hicks and the Bears’ pass rush to affect Brady on Sunday.

A bigger injury concern?

While cornerback Prince Amukamara (hamstring) was a full participant in Friday’s practice and will play Sunday, slot corner Bryce Callahan suffered an ankle injury during Thursday’s practice and did not participate Friday. He’s officially questionable for Sunday. 

Callahan “did his ankle,” Nagy said, toward the end of Thursday’s practice, and he felt worse as the day went on. Nagy characterized Callahan’s absence from Friday’s practice as “precautionary.”

Callahan’s availability may be more of a pressing concern than Mack’s, given how well the Patriots’ offense has played since slot receiver Julian Edelman returned from a four-game suspension to begin the season. While his numbers aren’t eye-popping (11 catches on 16 targets, 111 yards, 1 TD), New England’s offense has scored 38 and 43 points in his two games back. 

“Brady has always had a guy in the slot that he’s comfortable with; whether it be (Wes) Welker, (Danny) Amendola or Edelman,” Fangio said. “It’s a big part of their offense. They haven’t missed a beat, but I really think it’s helped their offense and played a big part in them basically averaging 40 points in the last three weeks. I really appreciate and respect how good of a player he is and has been.”

If Callahan isn’t available, Sherrick McManis could be the next man up at slot corner.