The Alshon Jeffery era is over in Chicago.
The star wideout left the Bears in free agency this year, leaving them with a huge hole at wide receiver. To make up for this loss, the team added Markus Wheaton and Kendall Wright to the roster. These are both solid moves, but it seems like they’re still missing one more guy.
Thankfully for the Bears, they have early picks in six out of seven rounds in this year’s NFL Draft. That puts them at a good position to add a solid offensive weapon. Here are five players who Chicago could realistically go after in the draft.
Cooper Kupp has been a small-school favorite among many analysts, including myself. Although his 40-yard dash time of 4.62 isn’t eye-popping, it was expected. I believed that Kupp would run a 4.6 time back in October, so it wasn’t surprising to me. Nonetheless, it has caused his stock to drop a bit, especially with the emergences of players like Chris Godwin, Zay Jones and the soon-to-be-mentioned Carlos Henderson. The Bears could take advantage of that.
Kupp was a stat machine this past year at Eastern Washington; he put up 117 receptions, 1,700 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns as a senior. This is largely in part due to his strong hands. He’s also dangerous in the open field, as he fights for every yard and can make tacklers miss with his elusiveness. These traits made him an incredibly valuable asset for the Eagles in all of his four years on the team.
Although he’s a small-school prospect, he has a great track record against top talent. Against Washington State this year, he had 12 receptions, 206 yards and three touchdowns. The year before, he put up 15 receptions, 246 yards and three touchdowns against Oregon. A year before that, he managed to get eight receptions, 145 yards and three touchdowns against a Washington team who had players like Marcus Peters, Sidney Jones and Kevin King as cornerbacks. These numbers all prove that Kupp is capable of taking on elite talent, despite his small-school status.
Kupp is mostly projected to be a Day 2 pick. If the Bears are lucky, he might be available in the third round.
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Perhaps no wide receiver in college football had a more impressive breakout season this past year than Carlos Henderson. Just one year after only having 36 receptions, Henderson more than doubled his total in 2016. He racked up 82 receptions, 1535 receiving yards and 19 touchdowns. His touchdown total put him in a first-place tie among all players in college football, and his yardage total was fifth in the nation. Henderson broke out in a major way this past year.
His size (5’11”, 200 pounds) isn’t anything to call home about, but he makes up for it in many other ways. For starters, his speed and elusiveness is impressive. He ran a 4.46 40-yard dash, which is apparent in his game film. Henderson proves to be a dangerous runner in the open field as a receiver and as a kick returner. His special teams value has boosted his stock slightly in the draft process.
Henderson’s hands are impressive, and he’s a pretty good route runner, as well. He’s also a scrappy, competitive receiver who fights for every yard. That, combined with his elusiveness, makes him incredibly hard to tackle.
He currently ranks as a second-round pick on my big board, so he might not be available when the Bears pick in the third round. If they want to add him early in Day 2 though, I wouldn’t be opposed to it.
Some receivers specialize in redzone situations. Some specialize in deep-ball, air-it-out types of situations. Others find their niche in catching short passes and relying on their speed to gain extra yardage. Isaiah Ford does a little bit of all of these.
Ford has decent size at 6’1″ and 194 pounds, so the fact that he’s good at tracking in contested passes isn’t too surprising. His impressive body control has helped him bail out Virginia Tech quarterback (and fellow draft prospect) Jerod Evans on several occasions. He has good hands and is a solid route runner. Although he only ran a mediocre 4.61 40-yard dash, Ford appears to be much faster on tape.
Another impressive aspect of his game is statistical consistency. Ford topped at least 50 yards in all but two of his games; one of those two games was played in hurricane-like conditions and resulted in his getting injured in the third quarter. His 2016 performance was very similar to his 2015 season, give or take a few touchdowns. He looked like a true No. 1 receiver for the Hokies this past year.
Ford’s ceiling isn’t as high as some other receivers on this list, but he would be a very good and very safe pick for the Bears in the third round.
With the departure of Jeffery, the Bears could use another tall receiver on their team. Texas A&M’s Josh Reynolds could be a solid mid-round selection.
One of the most attractive aspects to Reynolds’ game is his ability to score touchdowns. He is a redzone matchup nightmare, as well as a threat to break free for a huge gain. His height, 6’4″, along with his 4.5 40-yard speed, makes him a scary player to have to cover on deep routes. He’s also a pretty solid route runner, to boot.
Reynolds’ biggest issue is his lack of upper-body strength. He weighs about 195 pounds, which is pretty skinny for someone with his height. Cornerbacks can shut him down in press coverage if they’re physical enough at the point of attack. He’s already a solid receiver, but he can be even more dangerous if he packs on some extra muscle.
Reynolds is a rare case of a long receiver with dangerous speed. Draft Wire’s Luke Easterling has the Bears taking him in the fourth round in his latest mock draft. If this pick were to come true, then Reynolds could develop into a dangerous weapon alongside Cameron Meredith on the outside.
As mentioned earlier, the Bears could stand to add another big-bodied wideout. If they’re not willing to draft one early, then Jalen Robinette could be their best bet in a later round.
Robinette has the raw talent to be a threat in the NFL. The key word in that sentence is raw. He doesn’t have a lot of experience running diverse routes due to Air Force’s offense. He’s not a speed demon, as he only ran a 4.62 40-yard dash. He also shows inconsistent physicality, which should be worked on, considering his size.
However, there is a lot to like in Robinette’s game. As mentioned earlier, his size is a huge plus in his game: he stands in at 6’3″ and weighs 220 pounds. This, along with this great hands and body control, makes him a threat on jump-ball catches. While his reception totals don’t jump out at you like other players on this list, his yards-per-reception numbers do: he led all qualified players with 27.4 yards per reception.
By picking Robinette, the Bears could also spend early picks on other needs. He could be a great bench-and-stash pick who has potential to develop into a starter.
– Jacob Infante is a National Editor for cover32 and also covers the Chicago Bears. He can be followed on Twitter @jacobinfante24.