This is a loaded wide receiver class.
There could be as many as eight drafted before the Bears are even on the clock at pick number 43. There isn’t just great talent at the top, the class is deep throughout. Because of that, if they so choose, the Bears should be able to get a top-quality pass-catcher a round lower than they should have been drafted.
With no first-round pick and limited draft capital, wide receiver gives them a better bet to acquire a top-end talent than any other position in the draft. Yes, it is not an obvious glaring need for the Bears. That being said, the Bears’ biggest need is offensive playmakers. Whether that is a wide receiver or a tight end is irrelevant to me.
Not all wide receivers in this class will be intriguing to the Bears. With Allen Robinson, Anthony Miller, Cordarrelle Patterson and last year’s fourth-round pick Riley Ridley, they have some guys who can excel in the short and intermediate passing game. What they need is a dynamic playmaker who can take the top off the defense and allow those players to work underneath.
2nd Round Targets
As I mentioned above, the Bears should be able to get a first-round talent at wide receiver in the second round. There are three prospects that would be really good fits who currently are all in the same tier. However, a good combine can help separate one of them from the rest of the group.
Jalen Reagor (TCU)
Of all the prospects, regardless of position, that could be available in the second round, Reagor is probably my favorite.
When you read a Reagor scouting report, you are bound to see the word “explosive” throughout. He has speed to blow past corners and will almost certainly force defenses to give safety help to his side when he’s on the field. Acquiring a player who dictates defensive coverage will open up the field so much more for Robinson and Miller.
Reagor is far from a one-trick pony, though. He is a savvy route runner and very creative after the catch. We know Matt Nagy loves to run wide receiver screens, but the problem is they currently do not have anyone who scares defenses in the screen game. Reagor can be that guy as he’s shown to be a true home-run threat.
But what separates Reagor from the next two prospects I will talk about is his contested catch ability. He’s not a big receiver at only 5-foot-11; however, he can win in jump ball situations thanks to his elite athleticism and strong hands to pluck the ball away from defenders. It’s rare when you find a prospect who cannot only create separation but also win on contested catches.
Reagor’s biggest deficiency is his lack of sure hands. He has a tendency to look up field before securing the ball, leading to some concentration drops. He could still improve although even if he doesn’t, you can live with a few drops as long as he continues to make big plays at the NFL level at the rate he did in college.
What to watch for at the combine: Positional drills/Hands
Brandon Aiyuk (Arizona State)
Aiyuk brings a lot of the same strengths to the table as Reagor. He might even be a more dynamic and crafty runner with the ball in his hands. He’s a little bigger at 6-foot and over 200 pounds and might not have the same top-end speed as Reagor, but his change of direction and short-area agility is on par. For his career, he averaged nearly 10 yards per reception after the catch.
He shows easy separation at the top of the route mostly due to his superior athleticism. He has shown the long speed to take the top off the defense and the lateral agility to work underneath. He doesn’t show the ability to consistently win contested catches like Reagor, but he can hold his own in this regard.
Aiyuk has some rawness to his game and needs to develop some nuance and like Reagor can struggle with concentration drops at times. Where he struggles the most is beating press coverage. Despite his larger frame, he does not always get a clean release and could struggle against press corners with more refined technique in the pros. But at this point, he is still a pro-ready receiver ready to make an immediate impact
What to watch for at the combine: Just sit back and enjoy the show.
KJ Hamler (Penn State)
We’ve discussed two explosive athletes that are going to be amongst the most athletic wide receivers in the NFL as soon as they step on the field.
And Hamler might be more athletic than both of them.
Hamler can win in a variety of different ways. He’s a player who you need to get the ball into his hands as much as possible. He has some flaws, as all prospects do, but the only thing you have to worry about as an offensive coordinator is how many different ways you can get the ball into his hands.
He can take the top off the defense, win on underneath routes and provide value in the screen game. Defenses will have to account for him wherever he is lined up on the field although he projects best in the slot in the NFL.
The biggest concern to his game is his size, or lack thereof. He is listed at only 5-foot-9 and 176 pounds. Players usually aren’t bigger than their listed height in college, and Hamler is even smaller than Tyreek Hill, who have similar playing styles. Because of his lack of size, he struggles with physical defensive backs and is easily redirected at the line of scrimmage. That is something that won’t change at the NFL level and also limits his ability in contested catch situations.
So is he an every-down wide receiver like Hill? Or is he a gadget player like Tarik Cohen? That is the question I am hoping to answer at the combine.
What to watch for at the combine: Height, Weight, hand size.
Most to Prove
Quintez Cephus (Wisconsin)
No one has more to prove at the combine than Cephus. And it won’t be in anything we see on the field or in testing. Cephus missed the entire 2018 season due to multiple sexual assault allegations. He was facing up to 40 years in prison before being found not guilty. So while legally he is cleared, he will still be subject to numerous questions about his off-the-field behavior by NFL teams. He will most likely be off many teams draft boards entirely.
On the field, there is a lot to like about Cephus’ game. He has great hands and is a natural hands catcher, rarely letting the ball get too deep on him. He’s not close to the athlete of the guys above, but he does have a second gear when working in the vertical passing game that not a lot of receivers his size possess.
He is a big strong target who can win contested catches. He has some of the strongest hands in the class, which allow him to come down with 50-50 balls and make some truly acrobatic catches. His stats do not show the whole story as Wisconsin’s passing game has been non-existent for, well, their entire existence. #OnWisconsin.
If teams are ok with his off-the-field issues and he impresses in the athletic testing, he could sneak into Day 2 of the draft. However, it’s easily as likely to see him go late on Day 3 or even undrafted altogether.
What to watch for at the combine: Athletic testing. Reports on his interviews.
Tyler Johnson (Minnesota)
Johnson is the most polarizing wide receiver in this draft. Some people see him as a top tier wide receiver due to his ridiculous production for the Golden Gophers. Others see an average athlete who, while he has some impressive traits, has the ceiling of a wide receiver two rather than a go-to guy.
Consider me in the later camp for now.
He doesn’t need to run a 4.4 40-yard dash or blow away the athletic testing. He just needs to show he has enough juice to keep defenses honest, which will allow his route running and contested catch ability to shine.
His production speaks for itself with 164 receptions for 2,487 yards and 25 touchdowns over his final two collegiate seasons. There is a lot to like about his game. And we should know exactly the quality of prospect he is after the combine.
What to watch for at the combine: Athletic testing.
Devin Duvernay (Texas)
It’s difficult for a prospect from possibly the most overhyped school in the nation to be considered a sleeper, but that is exactly how I would qualify Duvernay.
Duvernay was the number two wide receiver at Texas behind Collin Johnson, but he might have the brightest future in the NFL of the two. While Johnson was more of a big-bodied possession receiver, Duvernay was their big-play threat.
He only had moderate production his first few years before exploding onto the scene as a senior with 106 receptions for 1386 yards and nine touchdowns. He was able to put up some impressive numbers in large part due to his physicality and straight-line speed. He has some stiffness to his game, which limits his overall potential, but he can be a deep threat and assist in the screen game due to his ability after the catch.
He reportedly ran a sub 4.4 40-yard dash as a freshman, so I think he’s going to surprise some people.
What to watch for at the combine: Agility drills (3-cone, shuttle)
Jeff Thomas (Miami)
There are a lot of NFL draft prospects who do not put up great numbers in college more due to the scheme and players around them than to any fault of their own. Thomas is one of those players.
Miami’s inconsistent quarterback play never allowed Thomas to put up the numbers his skillset says he should have.
Thomas might be equally as athletic as the guys listed as second-round targets. He’s got tremendous straight-line speed and change of direction. He gets up to top speed extremely quickly and is able to carry that speed in and out of his cuts.
He’s a smaller receiver and did not run a diverse route tree. But for a team like the Bears who really just need a complementary wide receiver, he could be an ideal option late on Day 3 of the draft.
Fastest 40-yard dash: Henry Ruggs (Alabama)
Highest Vertical: CeeDee Lamb (Oklahoma)
Most Bench press reps: Quintez Cephus (Wisconsin)
Farthest Broad Jump: Brandon Aiyuk (Arizona State)
Fastest 3-cone: KJ Hamler (Penn State)
Fastest Shuttle: Jalen Reagor (TCU)