Here’s what you can expect out of the Chicago Bears receivers and tight ends in 2016.
The Chicago Bears receivers have taken on a serious facelift over the last two seasons. Unfortunately, most fans will tell you they’ve gotten much uglier in that department. While that may be true, it was a necessary evil to improve the team’s attitude and help with serious upgrades in other areas.
Brandon Marshall was the first to go. Then it was Martellus Bennett. Matt Forte was closely behind and soon the Bears only had one of their remaining top receiving targets from 2014.
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This group of receivers can only go as far as Jay Cutler can take them. You can expect Cutler to perform similarly to what he did last season, but don’t expect any massive improvements. Cutler has a new offensive coordinator and some new personnel to mesh with. While the offense should remain mostly the same, that still means the Bears will focus on playing good defense and running the football.
In today’s pass-happy NFL, there is always plenty of room to throw. Gone are the days of 3 yards and a cloud of dust. Despite a focus on the run, the Bears will throw the football. If Cutler stays upright, he should reach nearly 4000 yards and throw roughly 20 TDs. That means there will be plenty bites of the apple to go around.
Let’s start with Alshon Jeffery who is playing this year on a franchise tag and is out to prove he’s worth a major investment. If Jeffery stays on the field, he will not disappoint. It’s hard to imagine Jeffery plays 16 games, but I would also doubt he’s banged up significantly and misses major time. If Jeffery plays about 14 games he’s going to have a serious impact. You can expect around 90 catches for 1300 yards and about 8 TDs. He will force the Bears to pay him the dollars he is worth.
Kevin White is still an enigma. He hasn’t played too much in the preseason and now he’s dealing with a hamstring issue. I expect White to have a very inconsistent season where he has some big games and shows some flashes but has some quiet ones as well. Based on the fact that he missed his rookie season and has another issue now, I’m going to expect White to be shelved for 4 or 5 games this season. He should finish the year with around 600 yards and four scores in 11 games played.
Many fans are down on Eddie Royal after what was a terrible 2015. Royal struggled with injuries but it still not fair to label him injury prone as he’s been relatively healthy most of his career. Royal should bounce back and become a reliable target for Cutler. He will play all or most every game and grab about 80 balls for 800 yards and 2 or 3 TDs.
Let’s not forget about Zach Miller. Miller became a favorite target of Cutler as the season progressed last year and that should continue in 2016. Miller is an effective receiver but the question remains if he can stay healthy for an entire season. I still say that answer is no and he will miss some time with injuries on a couple of occasions. If Miller can play about 10 games you can expect Cutler to find him about 40 times for 500 yards and about 5 TDs. Cutler will look for Miller in the red zone.
Some simple math shows you that the Bears still have about 600 yards and a couple TDs left to spread around. I wouldn’t expect the Bears backup tight ends to make much of a dent in these statistical columns, they’ll catch a few passes when Miller is hurt, but mostly Cutler will look another direction.
The Bears running backs won’t be involved in the passing game nearly as much as Forte, but they will have some success in screen passes and dump offs, mostly on the hands and legs of Jeremy Langford.
Finally, the rest of the yards will be eaten up by the likes of Josh Bellamy and Cameron Meredith. Both are quality depth pieces that will be solid fill ins if Cutler’s main targets miss any significant time. With the release of Marc Mariani, the Bears only have one true slot (Royal), that should open the door to Daniel Braverman to be call up from the practice squad at some point this season and he should be involved in the offense some when he’s on the active roster.
The Bears can expect big things from Jeffery and contributions elsewhere, but none of the other receivers (including White) will be major breakout stars to pair with Jeffery. Their development will take some time before they come into their own.