Toughest Bears roster battles to call should come at wide receiver

It's anyone's guess at receiver after Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel, Anthony Miller and Cordarrelle Patterson.

2019 training camp roster analysis

It was almost comical to hear wide receiver Taylor Gabriel talking during the offseason about the lack of downfield plays called by the Bears last year.

"When you kind of marginalize the playbook, I mean, it keeps us with those dinking and under-15-yard plays," Gabriel said.

It's a good thing Gabriel wasn't in Chicago the previous year or he'd have surely been sobbing when he saw that truly marginalized playbook.

There is no doubt the Bears didn't get as much out of their wide receivers as many teams last year, but they made strides.

"I feel like we came a long way," Gabriel said.

And this year the goal is to get the receivers more plays downfield, which should make Gabriel and the others happy.

"Last year we got a lot of zone (coverage) and that's taking away the deep ball," Gabriel said. "That's taking away those big shots. That's basically making us kind of drive down the field and put a full drive together.

"So that's something i was asked to do. I was asked to be consistent, I was asked to make those consistent catches, under 15-yard catches, but now I feel like I mean it's time to go over the top of people and I think we'll do that this year."

Gabriel led all Bears wide receivers in his first season playing the majority of offensive snaps. He definitely didn't expect to average a career-low 10.3 yards a catch. Gabriel's yards after the catch were worse, only 89th in the NFL at 226 yards. And he led all Bears wide receivers with that total. Allen Robinson had 216 for 96th in the league.

"I mean, that was our first time in the offense," Gabriel said. "Just in the sense of stats and what we did, I mean, just think about basically kind of (think of) a rookie going into a rookie offense."

Not all the stats of this group were negative or marginalized. They certainly proved a sure-handed group.

No one had more than four dropped passes. Anthony Miller was high with that total, and there were 45 players in the league with more drops. Robinson had only three drops.

Miller caught seven touchdown passes, not exactly a big number but good for a rookie.

Gabriel caught 67 of 93 targets for 72%, 16th among NFL wide receivers.

Now they want to see bigger plays and more touchdowns. Adding Cordarrelle Patterson to the group can't hurt.

The signing of undrafted free agent Emanuel Hall and Falcons free agent Marvin Hall increased overall speed.

Former Georgia teammates Riley Ridley and Javon Wims could find themselves battling for a roster spot, but with the large number of wide receivers in camp GM Ryan Pace said it's possible they'd keep seven instead of six.

It's likely the toughest competition coming up at training camp, with eight top receivers going for five to seven spots.

Key questions about this group

  • Will Miller be ready to go at the outset of camp after offseason shoulder surgery? He played through the injury much of last season.
  • Will Robinson make a big step up with a full offseason of work after he had to rehab his injured knee before last season?
  • How much has second-year knowledge of the offense helped receivers get open early in routes? If it happens, Mitchell Trubisky can get the ball out faster and the passing game's rhythm will be much better.
  • Is Emanuel Hall past a sports hernia surgery that occurred after rookie camp, leaving him little time to be ready.
  • Will Cordarrelle Patterson be better in this offense than he's been as a receiver in past offenses with New England, Minnesota and Oakland? He's never averaged more than 11.8 yards a catch and averages 31 receptions. He's also had only 10 career TD catches.

The bubble boys

Javon Wims, Riley Ridley, Emanuel Hall and Marvin Hall appear to be competing for two or three roster spots. It would be hard for the Bears to keep other teams away from Emanuel Hall if they cut him and put him on the practice squad. Marvin Hall has more going for him than the other three in skills outside of receiver as he can be an asset in covering punts. Wims had a year in the offense already and appeared more polished at minicamp and OTAs. Ridley, as a fourth-round pick, would appear to be safe from a roster cut, but stranger things have happened.

A player who could surprise

Jordan Williams-Lambert. This 6-foot-3, 230-pounder from Ball State, he was a conference rookie of the year last season in the CFL. At his size, if he shows good hands then why not put on a few pounds and go for a tight end spot. Just a thought, but it's going to be tough sledding making it past any of the receivers in the first eight.