After major changes, where do Bears’ skill players fit in Matt Nagy’s offense?
Of the team’s projected top 10 wide receivers, running backs and tight ends, five are new. A look at how they stack up as the Bears try to turn around their struggling offense.
The one area of the team where the Bears really were able to reshuffle was their skill players. That’s not as important as getting it right at quarterback or fortifying the offensive line, but it should help coach Matt Nagy’s redesign of the offense.
Of the Bears’ projected top 10 skill players, five are new. Here’s a look at the pecking order with a month away from training camp:
This group is still spearheaded by an ultra-reliable star. The Bears dropped Taylor Gabriel, who still hasn’t signed elsewhere, and won’t be as dependent on Anthony Miller having a breakthrough. Miller showed progress last season, but there are still concerns about discipline and grasp of the playbook. The team brought in apt challengers for him in rookie Darnell Mooney and veteran Ted Ginn.
Gabriel’s injuries, Miller’s inconsistency and the lack of productivity from Trey Burton and Tarik Cohen resulted in Allen Robinson getting 27.2 percent of the Bears’ targets. While he absolutely should be the focal point of the passing game, he’ll be more dangerous if the other receivers also make an impact. Miller was the only other receiver to reach even 80 yards in a game and did so just twice.
The ideal scenario for the Bears at this position is Miller establishing himself as a clear No. 2 to Robinson. They traded up to take him No. 51 overall in 2018 and they’re right to put pressure on him in Year 3. If he comes through, that allows Nagy to mix in Ginn, Mooney and Cordarrelle Patterson to keep the Bears unpredictable.
Tight end is the most important non-quarterback position in Nagy’s offense, and he certainly didn’t want to start from scratch personnel-wise. But after getting barely anything from the position last season, the Bears had no choice.
Burton was an excellent fit and had a career year in 2018, but general manager Ryan Pace was unwilling to give him one more season to get healthy and return to form. He cut Burton, signed 33-year-old Jimmy Graham, drafted Notre Dame’s Cole Kmet and picked up proficient blocker Demetrius Harris. There’s no guarantee that will work.
The Bears are betting that Graham will bounce back to how he played in 2017 and ’18 (a combined 112 catches, 1,156 yards, 12 touchdowns), Kmet will develop ahead of schedule (rookies usually require patience at this position) and Harris will have the best season of his career at 29. If they don’t get all three — Graham, most importantly — it’ll be another tough season at tight end.
The Bears didn’t run much last season, and when they did, they were 29th in the NFL at 3.7 yards per carry. They were down nearly 500 yards rushing from the previous season, and the percentage of their offense that came from the ground game dipped from 34.1 to 30.7.
Nagy is the biggest factor in whether the Bears turn that around. They need him to adapt his offense. Throwing the ball close to 40 times per game is fine with Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, but it’s not advisable with the Bears’ quarterbacks.
After Nagy, the next factor is the offensive line. Then comes the actual crew of running backs. That personnel hasn’t changed much, unless the Bears are planning to use Ginn out of the backfield or stick Patterson back there more often.
David Montgomery is the closest thing they have to a classic running back, so they’ll be banking on him to become more of a threat. He was second on the team in total yardage at 1,074, with 889 of that coming on the ground. The Bears got an average of 3.8 yards on his rushes and targets combined. The NFL had 19 running backs top 4.5 yards per carry last season, and the Bears need Montgomery to be in that group.