Bears

Bears NFL Draft Preview: WR low priority barring surprises

Bears NFL Draft Preview: WR low priority barring surprises

CSNChicago.com 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.

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Even without practicing, Allen Robinson is making a strong first impression with the Bears

Before Bears wide receivers coach Mike Furrey met with the media on Wednesday, Allen Robinson was curious what his position coach would say about him in public. 

“I just told him, I don’t know you,” Furrey quipped. “Who’s Allen Robinson?”

Furrey, of course, knows who Robinson is. But the point behind that joke is that Furrey, the Bears’ court wide receivers coach in four years, is still getting to know all of his receivers — let alone the one who hasn’t participated in a practice yet. For all the positivity that's easy to find around Halas Hall these days, the Bears' biggest offseason acquisition hasn't taken a rep yet. 

The good news for the Bears, of course, is that Robinson’s past play speaks for itself. He combined for 153 catches, 2,883 yards and 20 touchdowns in 2015 and 2016, and has been adamant he’ll return to that high level of play when he’s cleared to practice. The Bears were confident enough in Robinson’s medicals to guarantee him a little over $25 million in March, per Spotrac, about a month before they let Cameron Meredith sign with the New Orleans Saints largely over medical concerns (Meredith’s torn ACL was viewed as more serious than Robinson’s, in short). 

So the getting-to-know-you phase for Furrey and Robinson is largely taking place off the field in the meeting rooms of Halas Hall. 

“What a great young man,” Furrey said. “He’s come in here, obviously, rehabbing and doing all those things. But he’s alert, he comes to meetings, he’s ready to go. Really, really smart, you can tell that from the beginning and he’s a professional.”

What Furrey, in particular, likes about Robinson is that he’s an “alpha,” but is far more than all talk and no action. 

“And a lot of times that alpha talks a lot and they don’t really put it out there,” Furrey said. “He kind of has that alpha quietness to him. He understands what’s going on, you can look at him and you just kind of get that feel of he has a great understanding of how to approach this game at this level. Obviously he’s been highly successful for a couple years with some big numbers, but he doesn’t act like that. He’s still hungry, he wants to learn, and I think he’s got a chip on his shoulder, which is a good trait to have too. So we’re excited about that.”

The expectation all along has been for Robinson to be cleared to fully participate in training camp practices. So while coach Matt Nagy said last week Robinson is “ahead of the game,” that may not mean he takes part in the final round of OTAs next week or veteran minicamp the first week of June. 

But while Robinson can’t prove himself to his new coaches on the field yet, he’s doing the right things off the field to make a positive first impression. 

“He knows you gotta come in early, he knows you gotta be the last one to leave, he knows you gotta study,” Furrey said. “It doesn’t matter five years in, six years in, you gotta take notes. It doesn’t matter if you hear it 10 times, you just gotta keep taking notes. He’s been really good at that, and I’ve been really impressed with that. I’ve been able to get on the field with him a little bit, just kind of throwing some balls to him, and I didn’t know he was that big. But obviously we’re excited for it to happen out there.” 

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Protection Issues: Bears O-line ranked 21st in NFL

Mitch Trubisky has been set up for a huge season in 2018 with all the firepower the Chicago Bears added on offense. Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Trey Burton will give the second-year quarterback a variety of explosive targets to generate points in bunches.

None of the headline-grabbing moves will matter, however, if the offensive line doesn't do its job. 

According to Numberfire.com, the Bears' starting five could be the offense's Achilles heel. They were ranked 21st in the NFL and described as poor in pass protection.

Last year, the Bears ranked 26th in Sack NEP per drop back and 23rd in sack rate. These issues were especially apparent after Trubisky took over. In the games that [Kyle] Long played, their sack rate was 8.2%. It was actually 7.2% in the games that he missed. They struggled even when Long was healthy.

The Bears added Iowa's James Daniels in the second round of April's draft and he's expected to start at guard alongside Long. Cody Whitehair will resume his role as the starting center, with Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie at offensive tackle.

If Long comes back healthy and Daniels lives up to his draft cost, they should be a good run-blocking team from the jump. But Long has played just 18 games the past two years and is entering his age-30 season, so that's far from a lock. On top of that, the pass blocking was suspect last year and remains a mystery entering 2018.

The biggest addition to the offensive line is Harry Hiestand, the accomplished position coach who returns to Chicago after once serving in the same role under Lovie Smith from 2005-2009. He most recently coached at Notre Dame and helped develop multiple first-round picks. He's going to have a huge impact.

The good news for the Bears is they weren't the lowest-ranked offensive line in the NFC North. The Vikings came in at No. 25. The Packers checked-in at No. 13, while the Lions were 16th.