Bears position breakdown: The wide receivers
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Third in a position-by-position series of training-camp capsules on every player on the Bears’ 90-man roster. The Bears open training camp on July 20 at Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais.
No. 12 Allen Robinson
6-3, 211 pounds
Acquired: Signed to a three-year, $42 million contract in free agency in 2018.
NFL experience: 43 games (41 starts) in four seasons.
Background: A second-round draft pick (61st overall) by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2014. Robinson had a break-out Pro Bowl season in 2015 when he had 80 receptions for 1,400 yards (17.5 avg.) and an NFL-best 14 touchdowns. Production dipped to 73-883 (12.1 avg.) and six touchdowns in 2016 and he missed most of last season after suffering a knee injury in the opener.
Notable: Robinson had limited participation at best in the Bears’ offseason program, but expects to be ready when training camp opens. We’ll see about that.
The skinny: Typical of the Bears’ plight in recent years, their biggest splurge in free-agency is an X-factor entering camp. With Matt Nagy and Mitch Trubisky, the potential for impact production is there. But Robinson has to prove he’s fully recovered from the torn ACL — and he has to prove he’s the same receiver he was in 2015.
No. 18 Taylor Gabriel
5-8, 165 pounds
Acquired: Signed a four-year, $26 million contract ($14 million guaranteed) in free agency in 2018.
NFL experience: 58 games (13 starts in four seasons.
Background: Signed by the Browns as an undrafted free agent after a record-setting career at Abilene Christian, Gabriel showed big-play capability as a rookie (36-621, 17.5 avg., 1 TD), but his production dipped in 2015 and he was cut after the preseason in 2016. The Falcons signed him and he was a solid contributor (35-579, 16.5, 6 TDs) on a Super Bowl team. But again the numbers dipped the second year (33-378, 11.5, 1 TD).
Notable: Rated the ninth-fastest player in the NFL last year by ESPN analyst Matt Bowen, Gabriel has 10 receptions of 40 or more yards in the NFL. He had three receptions for 76 yards (25.3 avg.) in Super Bowl LI against the Patriots.
The skinny: Gabriel has speed (4.27 40) but is more than just a burner. He also has proven open-field quickness and awareness and could blossom if Matt Nagy’s offense is all it’s cracked up to be.
No. 17 Anthony Miller
5-11, 190 pounds
Acquired: Second-round draft pick (51st overall) in 2018.
NFL experience: None.
Background: Lightly recruited as a prep football/track star in Memphis, Miller walked on at Memphis in 2013. After sitting out two seasons (redshirt/injury) he started four games in 2015 and blossomed into a prolific star in 2016 (95-1,434, 15.1, 14 TDs) and 2017 (96-1,462, 15.2, 18 TDs).
Notable: Miller was limited in the offseason program because of a broken foot he suffered in his final game at Memphis. The Bears traded a 2018 fourth-round pick (No. 105) and their 2019 second-round pick to draft Miller in the second round. His 18 touchdowns last year were the most in FBS.
The skinny: Ostensibly a replacement for Cam Meredith, who signed with the Saints in free agency after the Bears declined to match the Saints’ offer, Miller could be an upgrade if he can handle the challenge of adjusting to the the NFL and Nagy’s offense. Projects as a slot receiver, but has the versatility to play anywhere. Interesting prospect who doesn’t have a key measurable, but has a knack for making plays.
No. 11 Kevin White
6-3, 216 pounds
Acquired: First-round draft pick (No. 7 overall), 2015.
NFL experience: Five games (five starts) in three seasons.
Background: The second wide receiver taken in the 2015 draft (behind Alabama’s Amari Cooper to the Raiders), White has played just five games in his first three NFL seasons because of injuries — a stress fracture that forced him to miss the 2015 season; a fractured fibula/sprained ankle that limited him to four games in 2016 and a broken shoulder blade in the season opener last season.
Notable: Besides the injury issues, White has not been productive or stood out even when he has been healthy in training camp, the preseason or the few regular-season games he’s played. He has 11 receptions for 101 yards (9.2 avg.) with no touchdowns in the preseason and 21 receptions for 193 yards (9.2 avg.) with no touchdowns in five regular-season games.
The skinny: After the Bears declined the fifth-year option on his rookie contract, White faces a make-or-break season in 2018, with a ton to prove. And he’s in a tough spot — no longer the great White hope after the Bears upgraded their receiving corps with Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel and rookie Anthony Miller. Even if he stays healthy, White still has to prove he’s got all the tools the Bears said he had when they drafted him seventh overall in 2015. We haven’t seen that yet.
No. 13 Bennie Fowler
6-1, 212 pounds
Acquired: Signed a one-year, $1 million contract in free agency.
NFL experience: 45 games (five starts) in four seasons.
Background: Signed with the Broncos as an undrafted free agent in 2014 and spent his rookie year on the practice squad. Made an impact on special teams and made progress as a receiver in the following three seasons, including an active role in Super Bowl 50. Despite a career-high 29 receptions, 350 yards and three touchdowns last year, he was not tendered as a restricted free agent.
Notable: Was a key four-phase special-teams player last season for current Bears assistant special teams coordinator Brock Olivo. In a divisional playoff game, Fowler caught a 31-yard pass on third down in the fourth quarter that sparked the Broncos’ winning drive. Caught the last pass of Peyton Manning’s career — a two-point conversion for the final points of the Broncos’ 24-10 victory in Super Bowl 50.
The skinny: With the Bears having fortified their receiving corps, Fowlers’ best chance to make an impact figures to be as a core special-teams player who can provide wide receiver depth.
No. 15 Josh Bellamy
6-0, 211 pounds
Acquired: Signed as a free agent in 2014.
NFL experience: 59 games (12 starts) in six seasons.
Background: Signed by the Chiefs as an undrafted free agent in 2012, Thompson played in 12 games, almost exclusively on special teams, over his first three seasons with the Chiefs, Redskins and Bears. He’s played in 47-of-48 games with the Bears the last three seasons, with a career-best 24 receptions for 376 yards (15.7 avg.) and one touchdown in 2017. He was tendered a $1.9 million contract as a restricted free agent after last season.
Notable: Bellamy was second on the Bears with 10 special-teams tackles in 2015 and had five in 2016, but he had only two last season as his special-teams snaps dropped from 274 to 101 as his wide receiver role increased.
The skinny: Though he had a productive season at wide receiver last year — 11 receptions for 201 yards in the final four games, Bellamy’s best shot at sticking this year likely will be a return to a core special-teams role. And even there, he will be pushed as the Bears have upgraded on special teams as well in the offsesason.
No. 19 Tanner Gentry
6-2, 210 pounds
Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent, 2017.
NFL experience: Four games (three starts) in one season.
Background: A two-star recruit out of Aurora, Col. who had two scholarship offers, Gentry made huge strides at Wyoming. He averaged 18.4 yards per catch in his final two seasons, including 72 receptions for 1,326 yards (18.4 avg.) and 14 touchdowns as a senior in 2016. Gentry caught three passes for 35 yards (11.7 avg.) in four games as a rookie, but spent the final seven weeks on the practice squad.
Notable: Gentry was a training camp standout last season and had four receptions for 77 yards in the preseason — including a 45-yard touchdown pass from Mitch Trubisky — but was waived in the final cut-down and started the season on the practice squad. Had two receptions for 27 yards in Week 2 vs. the Buccaneers.
The skinny: He’s got an NFL wide-receiver build and a nose for the ball, but Gentry enters camp as a long shot again and will need the stars to align to make this team again. But don’t count him out.
No. 83 Javon Wims
6-4, 215 pounds
Acquired: Seventh-round draft pick (224th overall) in 2018.
NFL experience: None.
Background: Primarily a basketball player at Ed White high school in Miami, Wims started at NAIA Bellhaven, spent a year working at a retail store, then parlayed a breakout season at Hinds (Miss.) juco into a scholarship at Georgia in 2016. He was the Bulldogs’ leading receiver (62-910, 14.8, 8 TDs) on a team that reached the BCS championship game.
Notable: Wims did not have a 100-yard game in two seasons at Georgia. He did have six receptions for 73 yards against Oklahoma in the national semifinal, including a tie-breaking four-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter of Georgia’s double-overtime victory.
The skinny: Wims has the makings of a classic sleeper. He’s a former basketball player who has jump-ball/back-shoulder fade capability, but had a humble football background and put up modest numbers at Georgia while playing in a run-oriented offense with a true freshman quarterback last season — and he’s coming into an offense that seems much better suited to get the most out of him. But it could take awhile.
No. 81 Marlon Brown
6-5, 214 pounds
Acquired: Signed a one-year contract as a free agent in 2018.
NFL experience: 38 games (15 starts) in three seasons.
Background: Signed by the Ravens as an undrafted free agent in 2013. Won a starting job and had an impressive rookie season (49-524, 10.7, 7 TDs), but struggled to build off that in 2014 (24-255, 10.6, 0 TDs) and 2015 (14-112, 8.0, 0 TDs), missed the last six weeks with a back injury and was cut with an injury settlement the following spring. Signed with the Broncos in 2016, but was cut after the preseason. Did not play in 2017.
Notable: All seven of Brown’s touchdowns in 2013 were scored in the red zone, including a nine-yarded from Joe Flacco with four seconds left to beat the Vikings 29-26 in a wild-and-wooly finish that featured five touchdowns in the final 125 seconds.
The skinny: Brown hasn’t done much in the last four seasons, but made the roster out of a mini-camp tryout in April. A long shot who could be a factor if Allen Robinson isn’t healthy and Kevin White can’t cut it.
No. 14 DeMarcus Ayers
5-11, 190 pounds
Acquired: Signed as a free agent to the practice squad in November, 2017.
NFL experience: Two games (one start) in 2016 with the Steelers.
Background: A seventh-round draft pick (229th overall) by the Steelers in 2016. Ayers started his rookie season on the practice squad after suffering an ankle injury in training camp and was promoted to the active roster in Week 16. He had six receptions for 53 yards (8.8 avg.) and a one touchdown in two games — playing a key role in a victory over the Ravens that clinched the AFC North and a playoff spot. He had three receptions for 27 yards in two playoff games. He was cut the following preseason, signed with the Patriots practice squad and then signed to the Bears practice squad after getting cut by the Patriots.
Notable: Ayers was a kick returner at Houston. He scored a touchdown on a punt return and a kickoff return for the Cougars.
The skinny: Ayers will be challenged to stand out in a crowded wide-receiver corps, but could still earn a practice-squad spot. His kick-return experience could be a factor.
No. 2 Matt Fleming
6-0, 180 pounds
Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2018.
NFL experience: None.
Background: A football/track star at Simeon high school on the South Side, Fleming went to Division III Benedictine so he could also run track. He had 45 receptions for 731 yards and 10 touchdowns last season — including one or more in eight consecutive games. He applied for the draft with a year of eligibility remaining. After getting noticed at a local Pro Day event, Fleming earned a 90-man roster spot after a rookie mini-camp tryout in May.
Notable: At Benedictine, Fleming ran on the Eagles’ Division III national championship 4 x 100 relay team and was second in the long jump as a sophomore in 2017.
The skinny: Fleming showed some skills and speed in offseason practices, but in a crowded wide receiver field that — believe it or not — seems to have some speed and skill — it will be tough to get quality reps and he’ll likely be battling for a practice-squad spot.
No. 8 Garrett Johnson
5-11, 175 pounds
Acquired: Signed as an undrafted free agent in 2018.
NFL experience: None
Background: A three-star recruit out of Winter Haven, Fla., Johnson was a steady but not spectacular producer as a slot receiver in four seasons at Kentucky, with nearly identical numbers in 2015 (47-700, 14.9, 2 TDs), 2016 (39-585, 15.0, 5 TDs) and 2017 (48-539, 11.2, 2 TDs). He had two catches for 39 yards vs. Northwestern in the Music City Bowl in 2018.
Notable: Johnson had a knack for big games vs. quality opponents: vs. Florida (6-154, 2 TDs) in 2014; Auburn (9-160) and Missouri (6-119) in 2015; Louisville (5-164, 2 TDs) in 2016; and Missouri (7-111, 1 TD) in 2017.
The skinny: A player to keep an eye on if he can find a way to emerge from the back of a crowded WR field. Johnson flashed several times on the field against quality competition at Kentucky and has notable athleticism: Though not invited to the Combine, he ran a 4.39 40 at his pro day and his 40.5-inch vertical would have been tops among WRs at the Combine.