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Bears Thu Jun 12 2014
When an article pops up ranking the NFL's receiver depth charts, your gut tells you to expect the Bears somewhere in the top three. Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery each caught more than 89 passes for over 1295 yards apiece, topped off by trips to the Pro Bowl in 2013. Martellus Bennett, though lagging behind statistically compared to the behemoth numbers put up by his flanking counterparts, still snared 65 balls and five touchdowns while being known more as a block-first tight end. That's a receiving core that pass happy teams salivate over, and we haven't even talked about the ridiculous blocking displays these guys put on.
In terms of talent in the starting core, you could argue the Falcons might be slightly ahead of the Bears with Julio Jones and Roddy White. And any team with Calvin Johnson on it should be in the conversation as the best receiving duo even if a manikin is lined up on the other side.
While scrolling through the article, the Bears and Falcons rank right next to each other -- at eighth and ninth respectively. Shocking? Not particularly, when you remember that these rankings take the entire receiving core into account and not just the starters. That's where the problem lies with the Bears.
Second year receiver Marquess Wilson has the inside track on the slot receiver job that Earl Bennett relinquished when he decided he didn't want to take a pay cut for a second consecutive season. Though Wilson is a recent graduate of Brandon Marshall Camp™, asking a former seventh round pick who all but red-shirted his first year in the NFL to jump in and make an impact the moment he enters the starting lineup is asking quite a lot. General manager Phil Emery and head coach Marc Trestman are obviously sold on the 6'3" Washington State product, otherwise they wouldn't have let Earl Bennett walk away.
Slot receiver is basically a starter in the modern NFL, but after Wilson on the depth chart, the view gets murky quite fast. Domenik Hixon was supposed to push Wilson for the third receiver position and help return kicks, but he's already been lost for the season and since released due to an ACL tear during organized team activities.
Josh Morgan and Eric Weems are next up on the depth chart, and that's a scary sight. Though Morgan has recorded a few 40-plus catch seasons in his NFL career, he's never made a significant enough impact to remain with a team after his contract was up. He's also had drop rates north of 10 percent from 2010 on according to Pro Football Focus, and that's a terrible way to ingratiate yourself with a quarterback throwing at the velocity Jay Cutler does. Weems' career high in receptions is 11 back in 2011, and his main job revolves around the special teams units. He's also been the subject of pay cut talks earlier this year as well.
Chris Williams floats in the realm of the unknown amongst the receiving core as a late season signee off the Saints' practice squad and previously the CFL. Unfortunately, he's never caught an NFL pass, and doesn't qualify as a guy you'd risk your house on if Marshall or Jeffery go down. The same can be said for the other depth chart fodder in Josh Bellamy, Armanti Edwards, and Michael Spurlock. A smart bet would be for all these guys to catch fewer than five passes combined this season.
Tight end is just a different chapter of the same book. The look of the roster behind Martellus Bennett was so bad last year that swing tackle Eben Britton spent a lot of time as the Bears' second tight end. Dante Rosario isn't a pass-catching threat and struggled in his blocking assignments, and Fendi Onobun, though loaded with raw talent, has no polish whatsoever. He can block alright, but has a hard time consistently catching the football. He's 27 years old and has yet to find a place in the NFL. Matthew Mulligan is on his fourth team in four years, and will likely get cut at some point too.
The Bears still have some money to kick around to cover themselves for injuries, and will be closely watching the waiver and free agent wire come roster cuts time to see if they can add a veteran to the mix somewhere. The problem with that plan is that if someone is being cut, it means they couldn't hack it somewhere else, and will also have a lot of catching up to do in learning the Trestman offense. The team is scarily thin at receiver, and an injury could be devastating to a team with Super Bowl aspirations.