Chicago Bears wide receiver Markus Wheaton has unrivaled optimism when it comes to his teammates lining up beside him at his position group.
“I think we are definitely underrated,” Wheaton told CSN Chicago’s Chris Boden. “We’ve come in and worked to get where we wanna be. We will get there, and it will show up on the field.”
Few positions experienced as much turnover in the offseason as the Bears’ group of receivers. Wheaton joined Kendall Wright, Victor Cruz, and Rueben Randle as free agent additions brought in by GM Ryan Pace this offseason in an attempt to shore up the receivers corps. That quartet will join returning starters Cameron Meredith and Kevin White among the 11 wideouts the Bears will bring to training camp this summer. The competition for playing time will be fierce, so maybe it will breed excellence in a group that is not highly thought of nationally, and was recently ranked as the second worst going into the season.
It’s an unenviable task for quarterbacks Mike Glennon and Mitch Trubisky to link up with a brand new group of pass catchers with ease. But if Bears wideouts are going to be properly rated in 2017, Wheaton’s performance in the first year of a two-year deal will be key.
Wheaton isn’t too far removed from his best season, as he gained a career best 749 yards, averaging 17 yards per reception – which ranked ninth in the NFL back in 2015. He was often a big-play threat for quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, owning a 47.1 deep ball catch rate that was second among AFC North receivers that season – better than teammate Antonio Brown (42.4) and just behind A.J. Green (50.0) of the Cincinnati Bengals. Overall, Wheaton’s deep ball catch rate ranked 11th of 62 receivers who saw at minimum of 12 deep targets.
A deep threat game hasn’t really been there for the Bears in recent years. Even with Alshon Jeffery in the fold, the team didn’t find much consistency between injuries and inconsistent play from the quarterback position. Glennon has a reputation of throwing a decent deep ball, so perhaps he can sync up with Wheaton and provide a few defense-stretching plays in the vertical passing game.
Perhaps it’s fitting, then, that over at Pro Football Focus, Brett Whitefield sees Wheaton sliding into the slot receiver position where PFF’s stats graded him at an average level while in Pittsburgh. He earned a 74.1 grade in 2014 and 73.4 in 2015, which happens to be a season in which he played in the slot on 67 percent of his snaps.
As it stands, Bears receivers provide more questions than answers going into training camp. However, it looks like Wheaton will get the first crack at providing a solution to a problem the offense needs to solve to get moving in the right direction in 2017.