Do the Chicago Bears need speed to replace Taylor Gabriel.
The Chicago Bears released starter Taylor Gabriel this offseason and have yet to replace him. Two seasons ago, Taylor Gabriel was the second leading wide receiver on the team behind Allen Robinson but was the third leading receiver on the team behind Tarik Cohen. Gabriel was thought of as a deep threat. The team was thought to have a player to keep the safeties at bay, but Gabriel was much more than that.
Matt Nagy told reporters that Taylor Gabriel is his all-around receiver. He would deploy Gabriel from out wide, in the slot and on jet sweeps. This specific receiver position was one that needed to be able to do everything. Unfortunately, Gabriel would succumb to many injuries and finish the season appearing in only nine games.
Players that stepped up in his place were Anthony Miller, Javon Wims, and Riley Ridley. With Anthony Miller entrenched as the zebra (slot) receiver, who will take over for the departed Gabriel? Some have suspected a draft pick will, but what if the Chicago Bears already have those players? Javon Wims played in all 16 games while starting in six. Wims caught 18 of his 39 targets for 186 yards and one touchdown. Wims was good for 10.3 yards per route with a 46.2 catch percentage.
Riley Ridley didn’t get any real action until week 13. Ridley played in five games catching six passes on seven targets for 69 yards and no scores. Ridley was good for 11.5 yards per route, with an 85.7 catch percentage. The most action he got to see was week 17 against the Minnesota Vikings, where he caught 3 of 4 balls for 54 yards.
The big question was, why didn’t Ridley play more? Was he not doing well enough in practice? Looking back on Matt Nagy and his rookies, he is very timid to play rookies early. In Wims’ rookie season he only played in four games. David Montgomery, who the Chicago Bears traded up for, only started eight games. James Daniels, who the Bears selected in the second round didn’t start until his fourth game.There is a big theme with Matt Nagy and rookies. He just doesn’t like to play them early until they get acclimated.
With Wims and Ridley entering their third and second year, I expect Nagy will unleash them more this season. While neither is known as a burner, Gabriel wasn’t used downfield as much as one would expect of a receiver with his skill set.
According to playerprofiler.com, in 2019, Taylor Gabriel had nine deep targets on his 48 targets on the season. If you double both, that comes out to 18 deep targets. In 2018 Gabriel had 464 air yards, which was 45th in the NFL. Compared to Allen Robinson in 2018, he had 531 air yards, which was ranked 34th. Robinson, in 2019 had 27 deep targets, which ranked eighth in the NFL.
The speed Taylor Gabriel has wasn’t being used solely to beat cornerbacks deep downfield. Gabriel led the team in 2018 in the most complex routes run. That confirms Nagy’s intention to have the receiver opposite of Robinson to be able to run precise routes instead of beating defenders over the top.
Riley Ridley was known for his route running in college with Georgia. And Javon Wims has a year on Ridley to have learned the intricacies of route running. Pure speed might not be what Matt Nagy is looking to have. He might already have his players primed for the 2020 NFL season.