Chicago Bears 2015 Position Preview: WR
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With free agency and the NFL draft completed, the core of the Chicago Bears 2015 roster is in place. There may be an undrafted player who makes the team via mini-camp, like RB Senorise Perry and CB Al Louis-Jean did last year, or a free agent signing of a cap casualty late in the preseason, but for the most part the roster is in place. Over the next few weeks I will be breaking down the Bears depth chart at every position.
The Bears receiving core will have a new look this season after the trade of long-time #1 WR Brandon Marshall and the release of a disappointing cast of back-up wide receivers (Holmes, Morgan, C Williams) who failed to seize the 3rd WR job last season. Alshon Jeffery, Marquess Wilson, Marc Mariani and Josh Bellamy are back and will be joined by newcomers Eddie Royal and 1st round pick Kevin White. Relative unknowns like John Chiles and Rashad Lawrence will compete with undrafted rookies Cameron Meredith and Levi Norwood for the last spot on the depth chart.
Position Previews: QB | RB | WR
2015 Bears WR Depth Chart:
With the departure of Brandon Marshall, Alshon Jeffrey is taking over as the Bears #1 WR. His numbers slipped a little after his breakout season in 2013, but he still had his second consecutive 1,000+ yard season and increased his touchdown production from 7 to 10. Former HC/OC Marc Trestman made an effort to get Jeffery the ball on short passes and reverses, but new OC Adam Gase ran similar plays for Broncos WR Demaryious Thomas so the Bears offense should still be a good fit for Jeffery’s skill-set. Jeffery has the size and talent to be even better than he has the last two seasons and at only 25 years old, could be primed for a monster season if the Bears get decent play out of Jay Cutler.
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The Bears first round pick has big shoes to fill after the Bears traded Brandon Marshall, but White has the talent to exceed Marshall’s production over the last few seasons. At 6’3, 215 pounds with 4.35 speed, White could be a game-breaking weapon in the passing game. New OC Adam Gase’s short passing scheme should be a great fit for White, allowing him to run simple routes and use his elite athleticism to make things happen after the catch. White also excels at jump balls which seemed to be Jay Cutler’s favorite pass last season. The Bears now have three red zone weapons 6’3 or taller (Jeffery, Bennett, White), but White also gives the Bears a player who can take the top of defenses with his 4.35 speed. His biggest weakness is his route running ability, since he wasn’t asked to run certain NFL routes at West Virginia, but Gase’s track record proves he can adapt his scheme to a receiver’s strengths and if he does White could have a huge rookie season. It would be a significant disappointment if White can’t beat out Marquess Wilson for the #2 WR job.
Signing Royal was one of the most underrated moves of the offseason. The Bears biggest weakness on offense last season was probably the O-line, but a close 2nd was the lack of a slot WR. The Bears just didn’t have a receiver who could get open consistently in the slot. They were desperate enough to try retreads like Santonio Holmes and rookies like Chris Williams, but no one stepped up and earned the job. The lack of a reliable option over the middle had something to do with Jay Cutler just launching balls up for grabs so often. Royal is a “QB-friendly” WR who runs crisp, precise routes and gets open consistently. He can be a safety-valve for Cutler and Royal has proven to be dangerous after the catch when healthy.
Royal’s best season was as a rookie in 2008 with 91 catches for 980 yards and 5 TDs, which just so happens to be Jay Cutler’s last year in Denver. Cutler and Royal had a natural rapport and he is exactly what Cutler and the Bears receiving corps needed last year. The Bears didn’t have a receiver who excelled at getting open by running sharp routes, but now they do. Last season the Bears had three very similar weapons in Jeffery, Marshall, and Bennett, but they have added a deep threat in White and a reliable slot option in Royal. If Cutler can’t succeed with this group, then he should get his walking papers before the 2016 season.