Part 10 of a 10-part series previewing the NFL draft.
The Bears could replace Brandon Marshall with Brandon Marshall.
West Virginia wide receiver Kevin White reminds NFL Network analyst Charles Davis of Marshall, the five-time Pro Bowler the Bears dealt to the Jets last month. They’re strong and physical and play angry.
Either the 6-3, 215-pound White or, albeit less likely, polished Alabama receiver Amari Cooper could be available when the Bears draft seventh overall in six days. The team has met with both men— receivers coach Mike Groh worked out White on his pro day —and is position to do something that once seemed ridiculous: take an offensive player first.
After giving up the most points in franchise history in 2013 and the second-most last season, there’s no question the Bears hunger for defensive talent. Many, though, consider this an elite draft for wide receivers, both in terms of high-end skill and second- and third-day depth. ESPN’s Jon Gruden said this week that nine or 10 of the top 35 players in the entire draft are wideouts, and that teams “can get a really good receiver this year in the second or third round, no question.”
If the Bears’ replacement for Marshall can be found later, then, why would the team use its first-round pick on Cooper or White?
“If one of those two wideouts were available and you’re trying to outscore some people, I’d have zero problem with that,” NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said Thursday.
The Bears don’t need to be nudged toward receiver.
GM Ryan Pace said last month the transition from college to the NFL has come easier for rookie receivers in recent years.
“When I first got into the league it didn’t feel that way, and I remember us having discussions about it,” he said. “But recently it does feel that way. And I don’t know if that’s just because the talent’s better.”
Pace’s Saints traded up to No. 20 last year to draft receiver Brandin Cooks in what might have been the greatest draft year ever for pass catchers. Four rookies— the Giants’ Odell Beckham Jr., the Buccaneers’ Mike Evans, the Panthers’ Kelvin Benjamin and the Bills’ Sammy Watkins —finished in the top 25 in receiving yards.
“I don’t think the offenses have changed that much,” Pace said. “But it does feel like receivers have come in and made more of an immediate impact sooner.”
The Bears could trade down a few spots and take Central Florida receiver Breshad Perriman, who ran a 4.26 40-yard dash at his pro day, or Louisville wideout DeVante Parker.
At No. 7, though, the team will likely weigh Cooper and White against the best available defensive player left on its board.
More and more, it seems like the Bears’ answer would be to enact their Marshall Plan.
“I think people might be surprised if they go wideout there,” Mayock said. “But I would not be.”
POSITION SPOTLIGHT: WIDE RECEIVER
Rating the Bears’ need: High
Brandon Marshall was sent to New Jersey, and Bears fans went looking for one.
The receiver might have been the team’s most popular player outside Halas Hall. No Bears player sold more jerseys than Marshall, whose No. 15 was ranked 18th in the NFL last season.
While fans found new shirts after the March trade that sent Marshall and a seventh-round pick to the Jets for a fifth-rounder, the Bears needed to replace the player.
They still have yet to.
They gave Eddie Royal a three-year deal worth $10 million guaranteed to reunite with former Broncos teammate Jay Cutler, but he’s a slot receiver.
That leaves Marquess Wilson— and his 19 career receptions—to play across from Alshon Jeffery, assuming the third-year player beats out four lesser-known names, led by Josh Bellamy.
The Bears don’t figure to enter training camp this way, and could select a receiver with the No. 7 overall pick or find value later in the draft.
Best of the best
Alabama’s Amari Cooper and West Virginia’s Kevin White will be taken in the top 10, while Louisville’s DeVante Parker and UCF’s Breshad Perriman could be gone by the 20th pick.
Teams will be able to find starters on the first two days. Scouts are wary of Dorial Green-Beckham’s off-the-field issues — he was kicked off the Missouri team in 2013 and hasn’t played since —but intrigued by his 6-5, 237-pound frame. Arizona State’s Jaelen Strong, USC’s Nelson Agholor and Ohio State deep threat Devin Smith could all be available when the Bears pick in the second round.