Not only did the NFL Draft serve its purpose in adding some much-needed potential impact talent to the Bears’ roster, it also put some pretty prominent names on notice. Especially among the team’s group of wide receivers.
There are currently 11 receivers on the Bears’ roster. The overhauled group features seven newcomers, including two draft picks (Anthony Miller, Javon Wims) and a newly signed undrafted free agent (Garrett Johnson). In addition to the three rookies, the Bears also added veteran help at the top of the depth chart (Allen Robinson, Taylor Gabriel) as well as a pair of players (Bennie Fowler, Marlon Brown) who project to be fighting for a spot at the bottom of the roster.
That is all a detailed way to say Kevin White is officially on the hot seat.
Trading up to draft Miller bumped White into the second tier of Bears receivers. Prior to the draft, White was at the top of the depth chart as a possible “Z” receiver with Allen Robinson at the “X” and Taylor Gabriel being in the “Zebra” slot.
Since becoming the team’s new head coach, Matt Nagy has talked up White and the challenge of getting the most from the team’s first-round pick from 2015. Nagy has said all the right things about giving White an opportunity to succeed and what White needs to do in order to make it happen. But since the beginning, Nagy has made it clear that nothing will be handed to White, which makes this training camp the most important of his NFL career.
And it won’t be easy, either. Especially with the sleeper potential possessed by Wims, a seventh-round pick Pro Football Focus listed as a top-100 prospect with similar size and athleticism to White, but without the experience. It wouldn’t be much of a shock to see Wims getting a significant look while playing as the “Z” receiver.
But that’s not all. Two players on the opposite ends of the fan-favorite spectrum will also join White as receivers on the hot seat this summer.
Josh Bellamy didn’t get much attention on the open market and signed his one-year restricted free agent tender to return to the Bears back in April. Bellamy has been an easy target for criticism, though he should be commended for his special teams work in addition to being thrust into a starter’s role he simply didn’t fit in. But with all the new additions, Bellamy is going to have to stand out to make the 2018 Bears’ Week 1 roster. Free agent Bennie Fowler, who has special teams experience and a brief past with special teams assistant coach Brock Olivo from his time with the Broncos, provides the biggest competition here.
On the other side of the coin is Tanner Gentry, a training camp star who connected with Mitch Trubisky early and often last summer while working deep routes will also have his work cut out for him. Gentry spent a chunk of the season on the practice squad and played a handful of regular season snaps with the team. The Bears didn’t really play to his strengths as a deep-ball target because they simply didn’t throw it down the field enough. If Gentry can show some special teams value in addition to his deep ball prowess, he has a fighting shot to make the team. If not, a return trip to the practice squad is in order.
At first blush, this is a rough sketch of what the Bears’ receiver depth chart looks like:
- “X” receiver: Allen Robinson, Kevin White, Javon Wims
- “Z” receiver: Anthony Miller, White, Taylor Gabriel, Josh Bellamy, Tanner Gentry, Wims
- “Zebra” receiver: Taylor Gabriel, Miller, Demarcus Ayers, Garrett Johnson, Marlon Brown
Or, to give it a different look:
- Allen Robinson
- Taylor Gabriel
- Anthony Miller
- Kevin White
- Josh Bellamy
- Bennie Fowler
- Javon Wims
- Tanner Gentry
- Demarcus Ayers
- Garrett Johnson
- Marlon Brown
Of this group, only five or six will make the roster. A few could end up on the practice squad, while others out of the organization altogether. We won’t see the domino effect the NFL Draft (and undrafted free agent signing period) will have on the Bears’ roster until September, but just know that it’s coming.