Don’t let the Chicago Bears yo-yo treatment of Tanner Gentry distract you from the fact that a proven deep threat is scheduled to make his debut on Sunday against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Markus Wheaton left the Steelers to sign a two-year contract with the Bears last offseason, and he’s got one goal in mind entering his first game with his new team:
Bears receiver Markus Wheaton could return Sunday and add a needed element to the offense: "I want to make plays down the field."
— Chris Emma (@CEmma670) September 20, 2017
In a wild twist of fate, the Bears want Wheaton to make plays down the field, too.
Ideally, Wheaton can provide some answers at a position that has been loaded with questions since allowing former Pro Bowler Alshon Jeffery to walk away in free agency.
Specifically, Wheaton enters the lineup and becomes the kind of deep threat that has been absent for two weeks. No receiver on the Bears roster has a higher yards per catch average than Wheaton’s 14.1 career mark. And when he was healthy, few receivers sparked a deep passing game like Wheaton, who didn’t miss a game in 2014 or 2015 (but missed most of 2016 with a shoulder injury). Wheaton made the most of his 165 targets as he averaged 14.4 yards per catch, and hauled in seven touchdown receptions.
According to Pro Football Focus’ data, Wheaton’s deep ball catch percentage of 47.1 ranked 11th of the 62 receivers who had a minimum of 12 deep targets in 2015. Further, he produced the 20th highest yards per route run out of the slot that season. 2015 was a magical year for Wheaton, whose 17 yards per reception ranked ninth in the NFL – ahead of stars such as Mike Evans, A.J. Green, and Odell Beckham.
This should all come to the benefit of quarterback Mike Glennon, who’s thrown 95 passes in two games, but with just two traveling more than 20 yards in the air. Frustratingly, Glennon’s dink-and-dunk style has made the Bears’ passing offense predictable and easy to defend. At a minimum, then, Wheaton is a proven threat to at least run a deep route into an opposing secondary.
He should also be one of the team’s more versatile players, having experience lining up in the slot and outside the numbers. Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains has been creative with who he has lined up at receiver and where he has placed them in his formations, so where Wheaton takes his position still remains to be seen.
With all of that said, Wheaton didn’t play at all during the preseason – because of an emergency appendectomy and a broken pinkie finger – so expectations should be tempered a bit. He hasn’t had any regular reps with Glennon, but it’s evident that he has the potential to bring an element to the offense that has been lacking since the season kicked off.