Chicago Bears need more WR production to improve NFL-worst pass game
INDIANAPOLIS -- To be competitive in 2018, the Bears must upgrade their production at wide receiver, a position where they were arguably less talented than any NFL team in 2017 and, as a result, finished last in passing yards.
"The receiver position is a need position for us," general manager Ryan Pace said at the NFL Scouting Combine. "Unfortunately, we have a lot of injuries there, so we're kind of assessing where each one of those guys are in their rehab and then also looking to see what our options are as we go into the draft and free agency.
"I think that's an area where you can get better quickly through free agency or the draft. It's always a deep position, usually in both areas. So it's just our communication with our scouts and our coaches, just keeping on the same page on what players fit our scheme."
As far as getting immediate help at wide receiver in the draft, that hasn't been the case in the previous three years. Of the 13 wide receivers selected in the first round from 2015-17, the Raiders' Amari Cooper is the only one who has produced a 1,000-yard season. No one else has even been close.
That group includes the Bears' Kevin White, who has been limited to five games and 21 catches for 193 yards in three injury-ravaged seasons after being drafted seventh overall in 2015.
This year's group of wide receivers provides enough depth that starting-quality players should be available through the third round and maybe into the fourth.
Pace was loathe to expound on the qualities the Bears would be looking for in this year's draft-eligible pass catchers.
"It's hard to get into some of those details here," he said. "(But) there's a lot of flexibility with this offense, so football IQ is important at that position. There's a lot of different alignments, so we have to be mindful of football IQ as we go forward."
Bears coach Matt Nagy was more expansive and offered up some traits that he values more than eye-popping 40 times.
"I like looking for guys that are just natural receivers, guys that know how to play football," Nagy said. "It's easy to get caught up in some of the other (physical testing) stuff, but at the same time that's why we're here.
"That can maybe move a guy because of a 40 time, and I might move a guy (up or down the draft board) because of another test.
"For me, it's nice to be able to be in the interview process, get to see how they are as people. What's their intel? How well do they reciprocate what you talk about?"
As Pace alluded, the Bears have some uncertainty at the position because of injuries.
Cam Meredith, who missed all of last year following a preseason torn ACL, is expected to be available by the start of training camp. If he returns to his 2016 form (66 catches, 888 yards), the Bears have a legitimate WR2.
The wild card is White, who has the traits of a No. 1, but is still a project because of his extensive down time.
"Kevin is a guy who hasn't had a lot of games these past few years," Nagy said. "That's the challenge as a head coach. You love to see those kinds of situations, and you don't make any promises that anything's going to happen. But you see a kid like that, you know his road and where he's at, and I look at that as a personal challenge to get him to a place where we want to get him."
If there was a silver lining to White's fractured scapula in 2017, it's that it occurred in the season opener, giving him more time to heal, and it did not involve his legs, as his previous injuries did.
"The good thing with Kevin (is it's) an upper-body injury," Pace said. "He's been able to run and work on his route quickness and those types of things. He's kind of got a chip on his shoulder now, so we're going to add more to that room. It's just unfortunate with the injuries, but we're still excited about where he's at."
The Bears still have last year's UFA disappointment Markus Wheaton on the roster, but it's unsure whether he will stick around to improve on last year's disaster when he had just 3 catches for 51 yards, partly because of injuries.
Last year's leading receiver, Kendall Wright (59 catches, 614 yards), and occasional contributor Dontrelle Inman are unrestricted. Inman, a midseason trade acquisition, caught 23 passes for 334 yards.
• Bob LeGere is a senior writer at Pro Football Weekly. Follow Bob's Bears reports on Twitter @BobLeGere or @PFWeekly.