Considering that the top three wide receivers had never played a snap in the Bears’ new offense or caught a pass from QB Mitch Trubisky or even congregated in the same huddle, this group made important strides in Year 1.
As the 2018 season went along, and as he was further removed from the 2017 ACL injury that ended his season after three snaps, Allen Robinson looked more and more like the go-to guy he was in Jacksonville in 2015 and ‘16.
In the Bears’ postseason loss to the Eagles, Robinson caught a franchise-playoff-record 10 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. He’s big, physical, smart and a precise route-runner. And, even though he’s only 25, the 6-foot-3, 211-pound Robinson has already played five NFL seasons and has the maturity of a player 10 years older. He finished with a team-best 754 yards on 55 receptions (13.7-yard average), although he missed three games with injuries.
Taylor Gabriel, like Robinson, came to the Bears in free agency. Just 5-foot-8 and 165 pounds, he was anxious to shed the label of “part-time” player and become much more than a gimmicky kind of gadget. Mission accomplished. Gabriel finished second on the team in catches with 67 and in receiving yards with 688, and he started 11 games, just two fewer than he had in his first four NFL seasons.
That being said, Gabriel is better suited to be the slot in three-WR alignments than a full-time starter outside. He brings a big-play element despite a pedestrian 10.3-yard average per catch. There were too many passes targeting Gabriel within a yard or two of the line of scrimmage that weren’t blocked well enough to allow him to use his elite quickness to create big gains. Some of his best plays came on deep balls down the field that appeared uncatchable.
Rookie Anthony Miller burst upon training camp with a refreshing mix of brashness, athleticism and toughness that justified G.M. Ryan Pace’s trading back up into the second round (51st overall) to draft him. The 5-foot-11, 190-pound Miller played bigger than his size and brought the term “Memphis Grind,” to the Bears’ lexicon. He derived his attitude from having to work his way up from a walk-on at his hometown school of Memphis, before he earned a scholarship and had two massively productive seasons for the Tigers.
Despite dealing with some inconsistencies, partly as the result of a recurring left shoulder separation that will be addressed surgically in the offseason, Miller led the Bears with seven touchdown catches. He produced 33 catches and 423 receiving yards, even though he caught just four passes for 25 yards in the final five games. However, two of those final four receptions went for touchdowns.
Josh Bellamy, a valued special-teams standout, was a reliable backup, who caught 14 passes for 117 yards. Seventh-round draft pick Javon Wims flashed in the preseason but got buried on the depth chart for most of the season. Until Week 17, when he stepped up with four catches for 32 yards in the season finale when the top three wideouts were all injured. At 6-foot-4 and 215 pounds, Wims has the size and jumpball ability to become a much bigger part of the equation in the future.
Former first-round pick Kevin White is unrestricted and should get a minimum offer from someone, just not the Bears.
Most improved: Gabriel.
Best play: Tough choice here, but I’m still not sure how Gabriel managed to hang on to the ball when he made a laid-out, diving grab down the sideline against the Dolphins despite being tightly covered in Week 6.
Key stat: It’s all about balance in Nagy’s offense. Through the entire season, no receiver led or tied for the team lead in weekly catches more than twice in a row. In the first seven games, four different wide receivers led the team in catches.
Room for improvement: The Bears need more consistency from Miller. After his career-best five catches for 122 yards against the Lions in Week 10, he managed just 91 receiving yards in the final seven weeks.