For the first time in years, the Chicago Bears have a good problem on their hands at wide receiver. The position is loaded with plenty of talent and competition, making things intriguing with cuts looming for the 53-man roster.
Even with one preseason game left Thursday against the Buffalo Bills, things are starting to take shape. It’s likely that the Bears will carry six wide receivers on the roster heading into their week one matchup with the Green Bay Packers. We know that free-agent signings Allen Robinson and Taylor Gabriel as well as second-round rookie Anthony Miller are locks.
But what about Kevin White? The 2015 first-round pick showed flashes in training camp and finished Saturday’s preseason game on a high note. Like White, rookie Javon Wims also had some noteworthy highlights throughout practices and game action. There also are other names like Josh Bellamy, Bennie Fowler III, Marlon Byrd, Tanner Gentry and Demarcus Ayers who could have value as backups or on special teams.
With those names in mind, here are our predictions for who makes the final three spots and who gets cut.
The magic number: 6
1. Javon Wims
Wims was a seventh-round pick in April, but don’t let his draft stock fool you. In limited action, he’s proving to have the size, skill and IQ to be at least a solid NFL receiver. Standing at a robust 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, he has a strong body to make contested catches but can still gain separation against quick corners. Add that to his strong hands and toe-tapping ability and there’s a more than solid chance he’ll make the 53-man roster.
2. Josh Bellamy
Bears fans seem to be annoyed with Bellamy. He’s been around since the Phil Emery/Marc Trestman era and became a prized special teams’ contributor under John Fox. His ability as a receiver? Meh. We’ve all seen enough drops and mediocre route running to know he’s nowhere near a regular contributor or even a reliable backup. However, his value on special teams probably earns him a spot on the roster. Unless one of the guys below lights it up in Thursday’s final preseason game, of course.
3. Kevin White
To quote a famous movie line, some fans probably wish the Bears “knew how to quit” White. However, it’s hard to cut bait with a former first-round draft pick, especially one who was the first ever selection by GM Ryan Pace. While he hasn’t showed why he was worth taking seventh overall, he might have done just enough to avoid the chopping block. He not only had a solid training camp, but he also some decent plays throughout the preseason.
For instance, in the Bears’ second preseason game against the Denver Broncos, White drew a key pass-interference call and would’ve had an uncontested catch if it weren’t for an underthrown deep ball by Mitchell Trubisky. During Saturday’s preseason game against the Kansas City Chiefs, he made a nice double move that froze cornerback Orlando Scandrick on a 29-yard touchdown reception.
Obviously, you should expect more from a top pick, but expectations should be tempered given all the injury setbacks and lack of playing time. With three other key receivers ahead of him on the depth chart, there is nothing wrong with giving White another chance. Aside from his draft stock, two key factors are in his favor.
First, White’s near $5.3 million cap hit makes it financially savvier to keep him. Second, head coach Matt Nagy seems to be pulling for White and often notes his value as a possible weapon in the offense. Unless that talk is to garner trade offers, it seems like he has a vote of confidence from his coach.
1. Demarcus Ayers
Let’s be honest. Most fans probably don’t even know who Ayers is… and neither do we. Just kidding!
Ayers was on the Bears practice squad last season, signing a reserve/future contract in January. Before coming to Chicago, he was drafted by the Pittsburgh Steelers in seventh round of the 2016 NFL Draft and spent the beginning of 2017 on the New England Patriots practice squad. Aside from eight catches for 70 yards in the first two preseason games, he hasn’t really stood out enough to warrant a spot on the 53-man roster.
2. Marlon Brown
Brown spent three seasons with the Baltimore Ravens, catching 87 passes for 891 and seven touchdowns from 2013-2015. Since then, he hasn’t played a down in the NFL. While his 6-foot-5, 214-pound frame would seem like an asset, he was likely brought in solely as a training camp body. Besides, the Bears already have big-bodied receivers like Robinson, Wims and White who have flashed more than Brown to this point.
3. Bennie Fowler III
Fowler seemed to fill an important need after Cameron Meredith walked in free agency, but the additions of Miller and Wims in the draft made him more of a special teams contributor than a No. 4 or 5 option. Given some key drops and lack of noteworthy plays throughout the preseason, it might make Fowler expendable. If they just need someone to fill a special teams and emergency receiver role, the Bears might be better off with devil they know in Bellamy.
4. Tanner Gentry
Gentry was last year’s preseason star, drawing plenty of “oohs and aahs” in training camp practices and exhibition games. However, he was standing out among a subpar group and proved to be underwhelming in four regular season games. With stiffer competition on the roster this season, he hasn’t flashed at the same rate he did in 2017.
He could be kept around for special teams’ depth, but the Bears likely have more pressing areas to fill. There is a chance Gentry might make the practice squad, allowing team a chance to bring him aboard to the active roster in case of injury.