By Adam Hoge-
The fourth in a series of depth chart breakdowns leading up to the start of Bears training camp in Bourbonnais.
(CBS) There’s little debate that the Bears had their deepest group of wide receivers in a long time last year. And yet, Jay Cutler’s passer rating actually dipped.
The explanation for that isn’t complicated though. Alshon Jeffery and Earl Bennett struggled to stay on the field and with the lack of depth behind them, Cutler was forced to zero in on Brandon Marshall. When the season was over, Marshall had posted single-season franchise records for both receptions (118) and receiving yards (1,508), but the offense was still as stagnant as ever in the Jay Cutler era.
General manager Phil Emery made minor changes with the receiving group in the offseason, seemingly rolling the dice that his top guys will be able to stay healthy. The biggest move was removing Devin Hester from the wide receiver depth chart and bringing Devin Aromashodu back to Chicago.
Let’s take a deeper look at a position group that could struggle if injuries hit hard:
|1st Team||2nd Team||3rd Team||4th Team|
|WR||Brandon Marshall||Earl Bennett||Joe Anderson||Brittan Golden|
|WR||Alshon Jeffery||Devin Aromashodu||Eric Weems||Marquess Wilson|
Brandon Marshall – Should have another big year but will offseason hip surgery hold him back?
Alshon Jeffery – Has the tools and talent to be a star, but needs to stay healthy enough to practice.
Earl Bennett – Another guy with potential who is continually held back by minor injuries.
Devin Aromashodu – Returns to Chicago after only catching one touchdown in two years in Minnesota.
Joe Anderson – After flashing on special teams last year, he’ll compete to stay on the 53-man roster again.
Eric Weems – Will be interesting to see if this solid special-teamer will have any other role with Marc Trestman in charge.
Marquess Wilson – The Bears’ seventh-round pick comes in with character concerns, but should push for a roster spot.
Brittan Golden – Returns for second training camp with Bears after spending time on the Jaguars’ practice squad last season.
Terrence Toliver – Third-year wide receiver out of LSU has never played in an NFL game.
Josh Lenz – Wouldn’t be surprising to be see the undrafted rookie flash in Bourbonnais, but he has an uphill battle to make the team.
Jerrell Jackson – Made it onto the Jaguars’ active roster for Week 17 last year, but did not catch a pass.
Marcus Rucker – Undrafted free agent out of Memphis has good height at 6-3, but will have to prove he’s NFL ready.
Training Camp Outlook
When the Bears arrive in Bourbonnais, Marshall, Jeffery and Bennett all need to be on the field Day 1. If they’re not, that will immediately raise questions. The Bears said Marshall’s hip surgery wouldn’t limit him this season, but he missed the majority of offseason workouts so that has yet to be proven true. Alshon Jeffery has a high ceiling, but he needs to be on the practice field if he is going to take the next step. Minor injuries nagged him throughout the offseason.
This isn’t a particularly deep group and the Bears would love for a younger receiver to emerge. Joe Anderson made some big special teams plays late last season after being promoted to the active roster, but he still needs to prove he’s an NFL wide receiver. Marquess Wilson is intriguing because he graded out as a higher draft pick before his fallout at Washington State. Can he earn enough respect with the Bears?
Devin Aromashodu was a favorite of Jay Cutler during his last stint in Chicago, but his ceiling is already known. He could be a vertical threat in Trestman’s offense, but he’s not the kind of guy who is going to draw double teams.
Beyond the top three, anything could happen with this group. Weems appears to be safe because of his role on special teams, but his value could come into question if he doesn’t find a role in the new offense.
Sleeper: Marquess Wilson. When Mike Leach took the job at Washington State, many expected Wilson to become one of the best wide receivers in college football and possibly become a first-round draft pick. Instead, Wilson ended up quitting the team by November and accused the coaching staff of physical and mental abuse. Bears GM Phil Emery admitted Wilson made an “immature decision” but still took Wilson in the seventh round, mainly because the kid can still play football at a high level. Wilson impressed at the NFL Combine and there are certainly players with greater character concerns who went higher in the draft. There are valid questions about whether or not Wilson is coachable, but if he buys in, he could end up being a steal for the Bears.
Adam Hoge covers the Bears for CBSChicago.com and is a frequent contributor to 670 The Score. Follow him on Twitter at @AdamHoge.