4. Chicago Bears
Out are Eddie Royal, Marquess Wilson and the aforementioned (Alshon) Jeffery and in are an alluring collection of athletes that all have a great opportunity of claiming a prominent role in the offense given Chicago’s paucity of proven mainstays.
Headlining this band of competitors is the 24-year-old Cameron Meredith, who came of age in 2016 by showcasing an electrifying blend of separation skills and the ability to explode for big gains after the catch.
The 2015 undrafted free agent was at his best with Brian Hoying at the helm, as he turned in back-to-back 100-yard efforts versus the Colts and Jaguars early in the season.
Meredith’s production suffered from the turnover at quarterback, but he reemerged in December with dominant performances versus the Packers and Redskins.
In addition to featuring game-breaking speed, the 6-foot-3 target is tough over the middle and catches everything cleanly in his hands.
Barring injury, Meredith will start the year as the primary receiving weapon in Dowell Logains’ zone-stretch scheme.
Kevin White is being penciled in as the other starter, but those asking, “Kevin who?” are justified in having lost track of the one-time seventh overall draft pick of the 2015 draft due to his injury dilemmas.
An assortment of leg and ankle injuries have caused the New Jersey native to miss all but four games in his two years in the NFL.
And outside of some impressive practices, White hasn’t distinguished himself in the little game action he’s seen by failing to properly execute a pro route tree.
White wasn’t getting open in the preseason last summer and one has to wonder if he can regain the explosiveness he showed at West Virginia following his latest lower-body setback.
Former Pittsburgh Steeler Markus Wheaton is a new addition that GM Ryan Pace signed to a 2-year contract. The 5-foot-11 speedster has intermittently flashed since entering the league in 2013 (see 201-yard outing versus Seattle in 2015), but last year’s lower-body and shoulder injuries hampered him throughout 2016.
While versatile enough to get open in the slot and on the perimeter, Wheaton has struggled catching the ball by allowing it to get inside his frame, which has led to critical drops.
If his shoulder is completely sound, this offseason pickup could be a pleasant surprise and easily beat out White for a spot in the starting lineup.
Multiple factors have resulted in keeping Kendall Wright from fulfilling expectations associated with being Tennessee’s 2014 first-round pick.
The fourth-year pro’s unruly nature, tardiness and hamstring issues were enough to make the Titan’s wash their hands of the 5-foot-10 slot man.
But unlike other inside receivers, Wright has the instant acceleration and long speed to create big plays on his own.
If this former Titan matures and plays to his potential, the Bears will be getting one of the great bargains of this year’s free-agent class, as they signed Wright to a modest one-year, $4-million deal.
The Bears have also enlisted the services of fading salsa dancer Victor Cruz to see if he has enough left as a complementary piece.
Cruz claimed his former team, the Giants, purposely kept his numbers down to facilitate his release when in reality he just can’t separate as he once did.
The G-Men stuck by the popular athlete throughout his long recovery from a torn patellar tendon and could have easily moved on from him prior to the 2016 season.
And then of course, there’s Rueben Randle who has never been able to build off the promise he once showed as a member of the LSU Tigers.
Missed assignments and a general inability to master the subtleties of the position have all but negated his physical gifts at the next level.
Holdover Deonte Thompson is a 28-year-old veteran with deep speed, but will have to make the club on the strength of his production in the return game.
Josh Bellamy did well last year when asked to contribute in the offense exhibiting both quickness in his routes and speed. But his major strength is his prowess as a special-teams coverage man, where he uses his athletic ability and determination to knife through blockers.
2016 seventh-round pick Daniel Braverman is a quicker-than-fast slot specialist that can manipulate speeds, but made zero impact as a rookie and underwent offseason surgery for undisclosed purposes.
It’s doubtful if the 177-pound receiver can withstand the punishment of back seven defenders that are significantly bigger and stronger than anything he went up against at Western Michigan.
As the older brother of Titans’ first-round pick Corey Davis, journeyman Titus Davis is a 6-foot-2 technician that needs to win with his route running and ability to read defenses due to his subpar explosiveness and speed.
Tanner Gentry may be a name lots of non-Bears supporters may soon be getting familiar with after dazzling onlookers during recent OTA practice sessions.
Described as having “sticky hands,” the undrafted rookie presents riveting upside with his 38-inch vertical and an impressive catch radius. Gentry lists Dez Bryant as his favorite pro receiver, but some have already compared him to the once spectacular, but oft-injured ex-Cowboy Miles Austin.