After transforming their receiver position from a weakness into a strength last year, the Bears are excited to see what their pass-catchers do for an encore in 2019.
In their first seasons with the team last year, Allen Robinson II, Taylor Gabriel and rookie Anthony Miller helped lead the Bears to a 12-4 record and the NFC North title by combining for 155 receptions, 1,865 yards and 13 touchdowns.
Robinson caught 55 passes for a team-high 754 yards and four TDs after missing virtually all of the 2017 season with a torn ACL he sustained while playing for the Jaguars. The veteran receiver capped his first year with the Bears with an impressive performance in a playoff loss to the Eagles. Robinson established a franchise postseason receiving record with 143 yards and tied Matt Forte’s team mark set in the 2010 NFC Championship Game with 10 receptions.
“First of all, you’ve got A-Rob, who last year at this time wasn’t practicing because of the ACL deal,” coach Matt Nagy said recently. “Now he’s got a full year. He feels good. I think everybody saw what you’re about to see with him in that Eagles game. It was special. I felt it, he felt it, our quarterback felt it, so that’s what I think you’re going to see here as we go on out with A-Rob. He’s going to feel a lot better just in everything. We’re going to be able to play faster.”
A role player in four previous NFL seasons with the Browns and Falcons, Gabriel made the most of expanded playing time. He started a career-high 11 games and produced two 100-yard outings, catching seven passes for 104 yards and his only two touchdowns of the season in a Week 4 win over the Buccaneers and five passes for 110 yards—including gains of 54 and 47 yards—in a Week 6 loss to the Dolphins.
Nagy praised Gabriel for doing a great job of “learning who we are as a culture” and “understanding the details of what his role is.”
“He played 77 percent of the offensive snaps last year whereas previous years he was in the 40s and 50s and even 30s,” Nagy said. “Playing three out of four snaps was new to him.”
Miller led the Bears with seven touchdown receptions, the second most by an NFL rookie behind only the Falcons’ Calvin Ridley, who had 10. The seven TDs were the most by a Bears rookie since Willie Gault had eight in 1983.
Miller, a 2018 second-round draft pick from Memphis, is currently recovering from offseason shoulder surgery.
“There will be some time until he jumps back in, but he needs to now take the next step mentally within the offense,” Nagy said. “Physically, he’s got all the tools in the world to be a great wide receiver. We’ve got to make sure that we can put him in the position to where he can excel because he’s extremely talented.”
The Bears further bolstered their receiver position again this offseason by signing free agents Cordarrelle Patterson and speedster Marvin Hall.
In six NFL seasons with the Vikings (2013-16), Raiders (2017) and Patriots (2018), Patterson has averaged 30.0 yards and scored six touchdowns on 176 kickoff returns, caught 184 passes for 1,872 yards and 10 TDs and rushed for 687 yards and seven touchdowns on 184 carries.
Hall spent the past two seasons with the Falcons, appearing in 24 games, all as a reserve, catching 12 passes for 209 yards and two touchdowns. The 5-10, 190-pounder served as Atlanta’s primary kickoff returner last season, playing in all 16 contests and averaging 23.7 yards on 26 returns with a long of 53 yards.
The Bears are also high on Javon Wims, a 2018 seventh-round pick who caught four passes for 32 yards—all in the season finale against the Vikings.