Tanner Gentry

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. 

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Can Tanner Gentry and/or Tre McBride be a diamond in the rough for the Bears?

Can Tanner Gentry and/or Tre McBride be a diamond in the rough for the Bears?

The most obvious change the Bears could make after a 1-3 September was playing Mitchell Trubisky instead of Mike Glennon, but that wasn’t the only performance-based swap available to this coaching staff. Tre McBride played 43 snaps on Monday against the Minnesota Vikings, while Josh Bellamy played only seven offensive snaps after averaging 36.75 in the Bears’ first four games. 

And on Tuesday, Deonte Thompson was released and Tanner Gentry was promoted from the practice squad. With Markus Wheaton (groin) out for at least Sunday’s game against the Baltimore Ravens, Gentry should be in line for a bigger opportunity than he had in Week 2, when he received largely garbage time snaps in that blowout loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. 

“Coach Fox always says this: He says, ’If it’s not broke, don’t mess with it.’ If it’s not going the right way, let’s try something else,’” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “We’re not ecstatic where we’re at right now in the passing game. I know it’s getting better and better each week. It’ll continue to get better as we built some continuity with Mitch and some of these new receivers.” 

The Bears’ receivers need to better help Trubisky, and Gentry and McBride likely can’t be much worse than the rest of a group that’s combined for 45 receptions on 75 targets for 494 yards and two touchdowns (of that total, Kendall Wright has 18 receptions, 23 targets, 200 yards and one touchdown). 

While Gentry and Trubisky showed a strong rapport during training camp, it’d be unfair to expect the undrafted rookie from Wyoming to go from being waived twice (and not picked up by another team) to being a go-to target for the rookie quarterback. Gentry's ball skills and instincts, though, are good assets for Trubisky to have at his disposal. 

“I guess my mindset every day is just give them a reason to keep me around,” Gentry said. “Make a play, whether that’s a block, special teams, a big catch — whatever that is, do something positive so that when they see the film they can see that and basically give them a reason to yeah, keep me around, and that’s it.” 

McBride flashed a bit on Monday night, with an 18-yard reception and what would’ve been a big-time 26-yard catch had Cody Whitehair’s holding penalty not called it back. Prior to the Vikings game, McBride played all of two snaps against the Buccaneers, which were his only offensive snaps since the end of the 2015 season. 

“This game has its obstacles, but that’s what they pay us for,” McBride said. “They pay us to come in and adapt and to make plays happen when they call our name, no questions asked. So that’s what I’m trying to do and that’s what we’re all trying to do.” 

Ideally, the Bears would’ve been able to play Gentry and/or McBride because they forced their way into the mix through continued competition from training camp into the regular season. But injuries to Cameron Meredith, Kevin White and now Wheaton (who only had one catch on nine targets) forced the Bears to get creative with their receiving corps. 

Perhaps the Bears unearth a hidden gem in Gentry and/or McBride. Perhaps they don’t. But it’s certainly worth giving them both a shot at this point in the season. 

Get your popcorn ready: The Mitch Trubisky-Tanner Gentry connection is back

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USA TODAY

Get your popcorn ready: The Mitch Trubisky-Tanner Gentry connection is back

It doesn't take a football expert to see that Bears rookie quarterback Mitch Trubisky is limited when it comes to weapons in the passing game.

The Bears did something to patch up part of that problem on Wednesday.

In a move that likely should have been made before Trubisky's first career NFL start, the Bears promoted wide receiver Tanner Gentry to the 53-man roster.

Gentry, an undrafted free agent out of Wyoming, had a strong preseason and developed some chemistry with the Bears rookie quarterback. In four preseason contests, Gentry caught four receptions for 77 yards which included a 45-yard touchdown pass from Trubisky in a victory over the Titans.

Gentry, who was signed to the practice squad following the preseason, was on the Bears active roster in a Week 2 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Gentry hauled in two passes for 27 yards and was placed on waivers and signed back to the practice squad shortly after.

To make rook for Gentry on the active roster, the Bears released wide receiver Deonte Thompson.

Thompson, who played the most snaps out of any wide receiver on the Bears through the first four games of the season, had 11 receptions for 125 yards and a touchdown in 2017.

Thompson played in 28 games across three seasons with the Bears and registered 35 receptions for 455 yards and three scores. Thompson also served as the Bears primary kickoff returner during that span.

The Bears also added linebacker Carl Bradford and wide receiver Darreus Rogers to their practice squad.