For the Chicago Bears one of the more intriguing position battles heading into the 2017 season will be at the wide receiver position.
The team currently has nine wide receivers battling to make regular season 53-man roster.
The safe locks for the position will be Kevin White, Cameron Meredith, and Victor Cruz in the slot position.
White has played in just four games in his first two season battling injuries since being selected in the first round of the 2015 NFL Draft. Both his long term injuries have overshadowed the production he was having at the start of the season, when he was injured midway through the fourth game of the season. He was leading the Bears with 19 receptions.
Furthermore, White’s improvement and confidence showed as his reception totals increased with every game.
For Meredith, he made the most of the opportunity provided to him as he showed that he could be a good wide receiver in the league. He averaged 10 catches for 122.5 yards in his two starts after taking over for the injured White.
Meredith was the most consistent wide receiver for the Bears last season as he posted four 100 yard receiving games and was the only Bears player to catch a touchdown from all three Bears quarterbacks that started under center.
With Alshon Jeffery gone, Meredith enters the 2017 season as the team’s go-to receiver in the offense.
Cruz comes over from the New York Giants with the hopes to prove that he is still a Pro Bowl caliber wide receiver. Cruz returned last season after missing a full season and a half with injuries to post adequate numbers with the Giants in 2016.
The biggest number for Cruz in 2016 was that he caught at least one pass in 13 of the 15 games he played in last season.
The rest of the wide receiver group include a mix of players who played for the team last and free agent signing this past season. The returning wide receivers include Josh Bellamy, Deonte Thompson, and Daniel Braverman.
Chicago signed free agents Markus Wheaton, Kendall Wright, and Rueben Randle in hopes of bringing a veteran presence to this roster.
What favors Bellamy, Thompson, and Braverman is that they not provide depth on offense but also with depth on special teams. Bellamy, who worked as a special teams gunner made tough catches, but hurt the team with dropped passes at crucial moments as well.
Thompson has returned kicks for the Bears for over a season and a half and came on strong late in the season with two touchdown catches in the last five games highlighted by an eight catch 110 yard receiving game in week 15.
Braverman’s biggest catch last season was called back on a holding penalty against Detroit, but the organization is still high on his potential as a slot receiver.
Chicago sees Wheaton as a potential deep threat for the Bears offense. He was a key contributor for the Pittsburgh Steelers offense in 2015 averaging 17 yards per catch.
He was limited to just three games last season with just one touchdown coming in Week 4 against Kansas City. On Sunday, Wheaton was ruled out indefinitely after having his appendix removed early Sunday morning. Although it isn’t a football injury, just the potential of missing any practice hurts Wheaton as the Bears have high expectations for him.
Wright comes over from the Tennessee Titans where he was drafted in the first round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Wright’s best season came in 2013 as he recorded 94 receptions for over 1000 yards receiving, but has seen his numbers decrease since then.
What gives Wright an inside track during training camp is that his best season came when Bears offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains was the offensive coordinator for Tennessee in 2013.
For Randle, he may have the hardest odds of the free agents to make the week 1 roster as he did not play at all last season after being released by the Philadelphia Eagles last August. The receiver did have a few productive years when he was with the Giants as he recorded 57 catches his last season with them in 2015.
What hurts Randle is that he does not provide much from a special team standpoint which would be needed if he were going to be the team’s fourth or fifth wide receiver.
The Bears will most likely carry five wide receivers into the regular season with a small possibility of carrying a sixth.
Meredith, White, and Cruz should be top three on the depth chart leaving two spots open for the remaining six on the roster. Wheaton’s appendectomy may hurt his chances depending on what his recovery time is.
Wright’s prior history with Loggains should help him as Loggains will most likely dial up plays that favor Wright’s strengths as a wide receiver. With Bellamy, Braverman, and Thompson, the one sleeper to make the team may be Thompson has he has shown big play ability the last two seasons as a wide receiver and as a kickoff return man. Braverman will most likely be cut to be signed to the practice squad leaving Bellamy unfortunately as the odd man out.
With a week and a half to go before their first preseason game on August 10th against the Denver Broncos, the Bears will see intense battles leading up to the game as all these receivers have NFL experience under their belt.
Having a new starting quarterback and a rookie quarterback, both needing game reps will help the wide receivers as the with a running game that is already accounted for, Bears coaching may be more inclined to call more pass plays during the pre-season giving the wide receivers a much-needed chance to stand out.