Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Feeling The Love

The Bears bandwagon is about to be really crowded.

Under the leadership of Phil Emery, the arrow is pointing straight up for the Bears and the national media is due to take notice. Considering the off-season that the Bears just had their way with, I think they're going to become the popular pick this year. You know, that team that that all of the analysts start hyping up as a team that "may surprise you." Like when the Eagles signed Nnamdi Asomugha (and Vince Young) and everyone picked them for the Super Bowl. Even when they lost four of their first five games, the national coverage never slowed down. They still had the media believing that they would turn it around. The coverage that the Bears are going to end up getting this season is going to be something comparable.

While there's not going to be a lot of analysts taking the Bears as their Super Bowl favorites, the Bears have enough going for them that would deserve to stay on the national radar. They have a defense that's been known for carrying them them for as long as we can remember. They have a QB who finally won over the nation's heart last season even before he tore his thumb apart. They also have a top 10 RB coming back from surgery who wants to cash in on this bizarre trend of teams overpaying at the RB position. They have new blood in the front office that came in and immediately made their mark without hesitation.

When you factor all of these different elements in, it seems as if the timing is right for the Bears to be the "it" team. But I think the most important factor in all of this is their potential to have an explosive offense. With the addition of Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, the Bears finally have playmakers at the WR position. Defenses just won't be able to key in on Matt Forte and Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery all at the same time. The NFL has shifted to an offense-based league, and this is the first time the Bears are bringing a qualified offense to the table.

This has been the missing link. They've had the great defense. They've had the great special teams. It's always been the offense who hasn't carried their weight, and now that they've begun to address that part of the roster, the national media will be ready to start claiming them.

The Bears have been scheduled for thirteen prime time games in the past three seasons and are slotted for another five in 2012. They've had plenty of national exposure over the past three season, but they haven't had very much support from NFL experts in that time. Throughout the 2010 season, while they marched to the NFC Championship game, the Bears were always billed as lucky rather than deserving of their success. While the Bears continued to rack up wins, nobody seemed to believe in them.
This is going to be the year when that all changes. With what has quickly become an impressive arsenal of offensive weapons, the Bears are finally going to have an offense that we can believe in... an offense whose primary function is to score points, rather than to give the defense a breath... an offense that's going to make the highlight shows and demand national attention.

I love hearing national analysts say positive things about the teams I like. I'm so used to them not believing in the Bears -- not believing in the Bulls -- and I'm ready to hear them acknowledge that they finally do. I'm ready for them to stop calling the Bears "lucky" and start calling them "legitimate." This is going to be the year when the Bears are finally likable throughout the country and non-fans start wanting the Bears to win. It's going to be a fun season and the national love is going to start soon... right around the time training camp gets here. Can't wait.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Phil Recognize Trill

Phil Emery came into the Bears organization and immediately did what Jerry Angelo failed to do during his tenure. He addressed the Bears biggest need right away, instead of facing the same issues over multiple off-seasons. From 2008-2011, the offensive line was the Bears biggest weakness every single off-season. This year was the first time since then that the Bears needed to upgrade a different position more than the line. Emery came to Chicago with an unbiased opinion and accurately pointed at the WR position as the big weakness on the roster.

Ever since Jay Cutler came to the Bears we have been yelling for a big bodied WR to throw to. Somebody that could resemble the kind of target that he had back in Denver when he went to the Pro Bowl. Somebody who can make adjustments to the ball downfield and take advantage of Cutler's ability to make throws through tight windows.

I asked Phil Emery to do two things for this team when he signed on. The first thing was to sign a free agent WR that could be the number one target for Cutler. The second thing was to draft one of five WRs that have the potential to become a #1 receiver in the NFL.

Phil Emery came through brilliantly on both of those wishes. He didn't just settle for one of the three free agents WRs worth targeting, he traded for one that is better than all three of them and that already has an established rapport with Jay Cutler. Still, he wasn't satisfied with adding just one WR. He then drafted the WR with the highest ceiling in the 2012 draft. Alshon Jeffery has the athletic potential to become the best WR out of the entire draft class, better than Justin Blackmon and Michael Floyd.

Emery came to Chicago and projected this aura of competence that we hadn't seen from the Bears GM position in decades. From his early press conferences, it was clear that he understood the Bears did not have an offensive roster up to 2012 NFL standards. So he did something about it. He identified the problem and addressed it. There's no guaranteeing that it will work out, but with the actions he took, there's a damn good chance that it will work out.

Phil Emery also identified the two biggest weaknesses of the defense. The Bears obviously needed a pass rusher and they are far from set at the safety position. When the Bears selected Shea McClellin most of us were wondering who that was. While we may have been expecting them to pick Whitney Mercilus or Chandler Jones, Phil Emery identified a player that he liked more than anyone and took him without hesitation. Even if you don't know anything about defensive line technique if you watch some tape of McClellin running around a football field, you can tell that he'll find his way to the QB. He is capable of fast, fluid movements that will allow him to get past defenders.

After the Bears made their first two picks I wondered if they would spend a draft pick on a safety after the Angelo regime had missed so many times in the past. In a move I didn't expect, Emery went after one in the 3rd round. Even though everything about this selection screams "Lovie pick," the truth of the matter is safety is a position that still needed to be upgraded. Major Wright is not a legitimate starting safety in the NFL, he is a backup. While he may start the season atop the depth chart, the Bears have brought in somebody else who can challenge for his spot. Regardless of how much we believe Lovie has a boner for Major Wright, if somebody else can come in and play the position at a higher level, he will go with that somebody else.

We don't know for sure how any of the Bears picks will turn out but, now that it's over, most of us came out with the feeling that Phil Emery has a general idea of what he's doing. Between free agency moves and the draft, we can feel confident that the Bears now have a GM that actually knows what he doing. It's a very unfamiliar feeling but I like it.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

I Choose You

This is the first off-season since 2008 that the Bears biggest need is not the offensive line. While they are far from a finished group, there is a fair amount of depth at 4 out of 5 positions on the offensive line. They clearly still need a LT, but I am comfortable saying that they have enough talent at LG, C, RG and RT to expect, at the least, satisfactory play from these positions next season. I expect Mike Tice to use the strengths of his offensive linemen with his play calling, which should allow them to keep rushing effectively but also better protect Jay Cutler in the passing game.

And the passing game is exactly the one area where the Bears need to improve most next season. Adding a LT to replace J'Marcus Webb would do wonders for the offense, but the way to make the greatest impact before Week 1 would be to upgrade the WR position.

In order for Phil Emery to bring the Bears up to current NFL standads, he's going to need to add two impact WRs. If he's only able to add one, I think the off-season would have been a failure.

There is no guarantee that the Bears will be able to sign one of the three free agents that are legitimate #1 WRs, which is why they need to draft somebody who they think can become that option. Ideally, you want to not only draft a future top WR, but you want to be able to sign one of these guys in free agency too.

There are a handful of WRs in this year's draft that have the potential to become the best WR on their team. The Bears need to draft one of these receivers with the #19 pick. There's no way that all five of these guys will be off the board by the time the Bears pick, and they have to take one. The goal is to draft somebody who can produce like a #1 WR before he gets to the end of his rookie contract.

The best possible outcome of this off-season is the Bears sign either Vincent Jackson, Marques Colston or Dwayne Bowe and they draft a WR with the #19 pick. The second best outcome is to sign one of these three WRs and also sign a second-tier WR. The only other acceptable outcome would be to draft a WR with their first pick and sign a second-tier WR in free agency.

This offense could do some very nice things if the Bears were able to add two WRs that are at the top of the depth chart when playoffs start.

Earl Bennett is the only receiver on the team that Cutler has real trust in... The only receiver who he can throw open because he knows he Bennett will beat the defender to the ball. The Bears need to add more pieces that Cutler can trust. They need WRs that have the physical tools to make catches even when they are not wide open.

Devin Hester, when used properly, can be a productive WR. In each of the two seasons before Mike Martz took threw his playbook at Hester's face, Hester caught over 50 passes. He can make plays on offense, but you can't ask him to be a complete receiver for 40 or 50 snaps per game.

We don't know how Johnny Knox is going to recover, but even if he gets back to 100% health he's just another role player like Hester. Knox is a vertical threat, but not much else. Johnny Knox will never go for 1000 yards in a season, unless he moves to an offense like New Orleans. But Knox could be a very good asset if you added two more options to this WR corps that are better than he is.

The Bears need to target a WR who has three very specific characteristics. Somebody that has a physical advantage over defenders, who can catch a high volume of passes and also be able to find the end zone. The Bears don't have any WRs that fit this description, but it's exactly the type of player that Cutler needs in order to reach his full potential.

  • Cutler needs somebody big enough to win a ball that isn't thrown perfectly on target, who can be the primary target in the red zone. 
  • Cutler needs somebody who can catch at least 70 passes and will lead the Bears in targets. 
  • Cutler needs somebody who can score at least 7 TDs this season, which means they can not only catch the deep ball but they can also make a play after the catch.
There are three free agent WRs that meet all three of these criteria and the Bears need to focus all attention on signing one of them until all three are off the market. If they're not able to land one of these guys, they absolutely have to come out of free agency with one of the second-tier WRs.

Top 3

1. Vincent Jackson - 6'5, 241 lbs

Vincent Jackson is the best option for the Bears in free agency. With a great physical stature, Jackson is the type of receiver that can outjump anyone on the field for a ball. He is a big play receiver who has 31 TDs in 68 games since 2007. Jackson is not only an elite deep threat, his size also makes him an ideal target in the red zone. Last season, Jackson had 60 catches but was part of a talented receiving corps who all had to take turns sharing the ball. If Jackson were brought to the Bears, he would be the clear #1 and likely become Cutler's favorite target if they could get on the same page.

Jackson has very good hands and excellent leaping ability. He can make the difficult catch in traffic and does not usually shy away from contact. He finished 2011 with 60 catches for 1,106 yards and 9 TDs. I'm confident that he would bump up his production to 70+ catches as the best receiver in Chicago. Jackson is the exact kind of WR that could take Jay Cutler to the next level.

The biggest drawback to Vincent Jackson is his history of off-field issues. Thanks to his multiple DUIs, Jackson is one mis-step away from a year suspension. However, this same exact punishment was hanging over his head for the entire 2011 season and he stayed out of trouble. With Jackson looking for a large, multi-year contract, he knows how much money he figures to lose if he were suspended for an entire season, so I don't think the Bears would have to worry about him getting in trouble. Vincent Jackson is well worth taking a chance on, because of the playmaker that he is on the field.

2. Marques Colston - 6'4, 225 lbs

Marques Colston is a player who really stands out when the Saints line up before the snap. His long arms and big hands add to already large frame which provides an enormous target for his QB. Colston is a player that is very effective over the middle and excels catching the ball in traffic. He also has the leaping ability to make plays downfield by snatching the ball from a point that is higher than any of the DBs can reach. Colston is a remarkable talent after the catch and will try to run over defenders that are in his way. 

The biggest concern with Colston is his injury history. He's had microfracture surgery on each of his knees and has missed eight games in the past five seasons. He missed two games in 2011 and one game in 2010. But when he's on the field and he's healthy, Colston is a big time playmaker. The lowest TD total in his career was 5 TDs in 2008, when he only played in 11 games. In those 11 games he caught 47 passes for 760 yards. In the three seasons since then, he has never gone for less than 70 catches, 1,023 yards and 7 TDs.

Being in a pass-happy offense, his numbers are slightly inflated, so if he came to the Bears, it would be too much to expect him to catch 80+ passes like he did in 2010 (84) and 2011 (80). But if he played 16 games in this Bears offense in 2012, Colston would very likely reach 70 catches and 8 TDs. So the question is whether he's worth the type of multi-year investment he's seeking, when there's a strong possibility that he doesn't play 16 games in any season for the rest of his career. Personally, I say he is worth the risk, because when he is on the field, he is guaranteed to produce.

3. Dwayne Bowe - 6'2, 221 lbs

At 6'2, Dwayne Bowe does not have the exaggerated size advantage like Jackson or Colston, but he is still bigger than any CB or S that is going to be lined up against him. Bowe is an excellent red zone option with good leaping ability to snatch a ball thrown high. He works very well over the middle and has the ability to make a play after the catch. 

Bowe is not always the best route runner but will usually win the fight for a 50/50 ball. Bowe tied for the lead league with 12 drops in 2011, but he also hauled in 81 receptions for 1,159 yards and 5 TDs in an offense with questionable QB play. If you pair him with a more talented QB like Cutler, Bowe has the ability to increase his TD numbers, but it would be a stretch to expect him to repeat his 2010 season when he caught 15 TDs. Despite his lack of elite top-end speed, Bowe can still make plays downfield but he's better at making defenders miss than he is at outrunning them.

The biggest reason I have Bowe ranked third out of these three top-end WRs is mostly his size. The size advantage that Jackson and Colston each have just make it so much more difficult to cover them than Bowe, who is 6'2. He does a good job of playing a little bigger than he is, but it still doesn't match what the other two WRs can bring to the table. Having gone for 70+ catches and 1,100+ yards in each of the past two seasons, Bowe would be a welcome addition to the Bears offense. If he could focus in a little more and reduce his number of drops, Bowe could become the best WR in Chicago in recent years.


4. Stevie Johnson 6'2 , 210 lbs

Stevie Johnson has had a rocky career so far. Known for his excessive celebration penalties and his odd post-game remarks, Johnson is considered a selfish player by some. But he has consistently produced since becoming a starter in 2010 when he grabbed 82 catches for 1,073 yards and 10 TDs. Last season he caught 76 balls for 1,004 yards and 7 TDs in an offense that was wildly inconsistent.

Johnson has great athleticism with good size and strength. He has excellent speed and knows how to find his way behind the defense. He's a home run threat who can also be effective in the red zone. As with all of the other WRs on this list, Johnson would be the Bears best WR if he were to sign with them.

It is believed that Johnson will likely end up signing a long term contract with BUF, but if he were to test free agency, he's the first WR I would target outside of the top three.

The Bears are not a team who get flagged for excessive celebration, so I believe they would send that message loud and clear to Johnson if he were to come to Chicago. With such great veteran presence in the locker room, it wouldn’t be hard to keep Stevie Johnson in check. I think he could be a big time playmaker for the Bears.

5. Brandon Lloyd 6'0, 188 lbs

Brandon Lloyd is a player that Bears fans are somewhat familiar with, as he spent the 2008 season in Chicago. The popular opinion around here seems to be that Brandon Lloyd wasn't very good when he was on the Bears, but I disagree. The biggest problem that he had was he couldn't play through injury after being hurt early in the season. He started his one year in Chicago well with five catches in Week 2 and 6 catches in Week 3. But then he got hurt in Week 4, took too long to come back, and was less effective once he got back.

The next season he was at the bottom of the depth chart in DEN but broke out in 2010. He caught 77 passes for 1,448 yards and 11 TDs in an offense that let Kyle Orton throw 34 times per game. Lloyd played in all 16 games for the first time sine 2005 and finally showed return on his talent. The next year Josh McDaniels was gone and the offense was completely different. Lloyd got traded STL where he caught 51 catches and 5 TDs in 11 games. In an offense that was not good at all, Lloyd was able to put up pretty good numbers.

Brandon Lloyd will be 31 when the season opens, but still has good football ahead of him. The concern with Lloyd is always injuries, but he will make plays if he's healthy. He has great hands and can make the difficult catch in traffic. He does not have elite speed but can make plays downfield.

Lloyd would be the best WR on the Bears if he was to come here, but he's not an elite player. If you could sign Lloyd, as well as draft a WR with the #19 pick, you would have good collection of options on offense. Lloyd has been strongly linked to the Patriots this off-season and might not even listen to other offers.

6. Mario Manningham 6'0, 185 lbs

Mario Manningham is not a big receiver but he is a playmaker. He was expected to become the complimentary WR to Hakeem Nicks but he struggled with injuries this year. Victor Cruz was able to step up and build a rapport with Eli Manning which took away opportunities from Manningham. Manningham is a good route runner with but he struggles with drops. In 12 games in 2011, he caught 39 passes for 523 yards and 4 TDs. 

Manningham is not a good enough receiver to be the best option in an offense and would not provide enough of a boost without the Bears adding a WR with their first round pick. He is capable of making big plays, but is not a go-to option that will you can look for on every play.

With his clutch performances in the playoffs, Manningham's asking price is probably much higher than he's worth and I'm sure there will be a team (such as TB) willing to overpay for his services. Manningham is not an ultimate solution to the Bears WR problem, but could offer a weapon slightly better than what they already have.

7. Reggie Wayne 6'0, 198 lbs

Reggie Wayne isn't getting any younger. He had a quiet, yet productive season in 2011 with terrible QB play. He pulled in 75 catches for 960 yards and 4 TDs. While clearly not the WR he was a few years ago, Wayne can have a couple more very productive seasons ahead of him. 

Wayne has played in all 16 games in each of the last 10 seasons, which is incredible, but also means that he has a lot of miles on his legs. Still, with no history of major injury, Wayne should be able to stay on the field and keep producing. He could still be a good option if paired with a young talented WR and, at the very least, be somebody who Cutler can trust to catch the ball when it's thrown to him. He could be a guy Cutler looks for throughout the game, even if he's not finding the end zone.


Most Bears fans cringe at the idea of bringing in either Randy Moss or Terrell Owens. Both players have caused their share of controversy over the years, but they have both been extremely productive as well. After a short-lived retirement, Moss is looking to make a comeback in 2012. I do think he could be an effective player, but he’s not much more than a deep threat. He’s no longer the guy that you can throw the ball to 9 or 10 times per game.

Owens is very intriguing to me. Known for keeping himself in tremendous shape, Owens never caught on with a team last season because he was returning from knee surgery. Despite being 38 years old, I absolutely believe that Owens will be in the NFL producing at a respectable level in 2012. He might not get picked up until after the season already starts, but I think he has plenty left in the tank. 

People will point out his troubled past and his reputation as a locker room cancer. Earlier in his career, that might have been true, but these exact worries were talked about before he made his last two stops (in BUF and CIN). Owens kept his mouth shut the entire time in BUF, despite being in a poorly ran offense that underachieved. The next season he went to CIN, where he clearly outshined Chad Johnson. Again, Owens got through the season without causing any problems and was able to be the best option in their offense. 

I would much rather take a chance on Owens than I would Moss at this point. I think if the Bears signed him, at the end of the season, we would all be happy with how much he produced. He’s definitely not a #1 option like he was in his prime, but he’s more than capable of making plays. You can tell by recent interviews that he’s done that Owens has been humbled by his inability to land a job last season. He is reportedly hurting for money and knows that the best way to help himself out is to keep his nose clean and make plays on the football field. I think the fear of losing all of his assets is enough motivation for T.O. to stay focused and play football. He’s not someone who would require a multi-year investment, so he would be playing for another contract in 2013.


1. Michael Floyd - 6'3, 220 lbs

Michael Floyd is clearly the best WR in this draft right now that isn't named Justin Blackmon. He has very good size with long arms and big hands. He was a big time playmaker at the college level and put up impressive numbers. In 2011, he caught 79 passes for 1,025 yards and 12 TDs. His off the field issues are overstated. He got a DUI, which is never acceptable but the other times that he "got in trouble" were simply for underage drinking. Floyd is known as a hard worker and should continue to improve as a receiver.

He has good initial quickness and is capable of beating press coverage. He will sometimes run sloppy routes and clearly needs work in that department, but he has good hands and is very capable at adjusting to poor throws. He is willing to go over the middle and catch the ball in traffic, but he’s most effective when used outside. Floyd is a home run threat that could add a dimension to this team that we were hoping Knox or Hester could have brought. If he can stay on a straight path off-the-field, Michael Floyd could turn out to be a great draft pick.

2. Alshon Jeffery - 6'4, 215 lbs

Alshon Jeffery has tremendous upside thanks to his great size. He has excellent hands and a very large catch radius. He is slow to get moving but once he gets going he has decent speed for his size. He tends to be sloppy with his route running and really needs to improve this facet of his game. He is typically known as a hard worker, but it was reported at the combine that he had clearly stopped lifting weights while dropping more than 15 lbs since school ended. Some teams have put red flags on him, but with a lot of work, Jeffery could eventually end up as the best WR in the draft.

Jeffery is a former basketball player who has great leaping ability. He can make plays down field and does a good job of shielding the defender with his body. While he is a home run threat, he is not great at making plays after the catch. If Jeffery can develop his route running he could turn into a dominant receiver based on his size, athleticism and sure hands. I think Alshon Jeffery would be a very rewarding draft pick despite the risk associated with him.

3. Kendall Wright - 5'10, 188 lbs

Kendall Wright is the only little WR on this list. While he's not the ideal big receiver that the Bears need, it's impossible to ignore his incredible production in 2011. He caught 108 balls for 1,600 yards and 14 TDs from a talented QB who’s projected to go #2 in the draft. Wright's best attribute is his speed, despite his disappointing 40 time at the combine. His worse than expected combine showing might worry some teams, but he plays very fast on film, which is far more important.

Wright is an undersized WR who desperately needs to get stronger. He may struggle to get off jams at the pro level. His hands are not consistent enough so he struggles with drops. He's not afraid to catch the ball in traffic and is an excellent home run threat. I would rather the Bears draft a big bodied WR, but Kendall Wright could have a very good NFL career.

4. Rueben Randle - 6'3, 210 lbs

Rueben Randle is another WR with ideal size. At 6’3 with long arms, Randle has the look of dominant WRs in today’s NFL. He has great hands and works well over the middle. At LSU, he was in a run-first offense with terrible QB play, so he didn’t put up eye-popping numbers. However with a legitimate QB like Cutler, Randle could explode on to the scene with his size and athleticism. Many believe that the #19 pick is a bit of a reach for Randle, but he won’t be around by the time the Bears pick in the 2nd round, so it would be worth it to secure him when you can. The point isn’t to get the greatest value possible with this draft pick, it’s to improve your team as much as you can.  Randle could develop into an elite WR if he were to work on his route running and physicality. He needs to add weight to his frame, but that will come with time.

5. Mohamed Sanu - 6'2, 211 lbs
Mohamed Sanu was a very productive player in college. In 2011, he caught 115 passes for 1,206 yards. He is more of a possession receiver than he is a home run threat. He has great hands and does a good job of using his size. He’s is not afraid to catch the ball and take contact, but he needs to be more physical to get off the press. He will initially struggle to get off the line at the NFL level. A very good route runner, but he sometimes gets sloppy with his footwork. He makes up for his lack of ideal speed with a large catch radius. Sanu could develop into a go-to WR, even if he never comes around as an elite downfield threat.


Stephen Hill 6'4, 215 lbs

In the unlikely event that there's a run on WRs in the first round, before the Bears pick, there is one last WR that I'm interested in the Bears drafting. Stephen Hill is a player who impressed a lot of people at the combine. He has great size with elite speed, but is far from a finished product. If Floyd, Jeffery, Wright, Randle and Sanu are somehow all drafted before the #19 pick, I would be ok with the Bears selecting Stephen Hill. He's more of a second or third round pick than he is a legitimate first rounder, but it's essential that the Bears bring in somebody who projects to be a #1 or #2 receiver.

The Bears have a terrible history of developing WRs, so Hill is not an ideal fit at this point in his career. But his combination of size and speed could allow him to become a big time NFL WR, if he were to drastically improve his route running and ability to read defenses. Hill will most likely take longer than the other five WRs before he produces at a consistent level, but he could contribute during his rookie year if he's utilized properly by a smart play caller.