It's no secret the Bears will be looking to upgrade its wide receiving corps this offseason. Yet just how much priority they are giving the position is still undetermined. The coaching staff has long professed confidence in its current group, made up of relatively short, quick players.
Johnny Knox is a speed receiver who has all the ability to make a great No. 2. Earl Bennett is a possession guy who can be useful on third downs. And Devin Hester's role in the offense looks to be diminishing as the team finally remembered how dominant he is in the return game. The only player with any size, Devin Aromashodu, has been released.
Whichever receiver the front office adds to the roster, he will need to be a big-bodied player who can go up for jump balls, especially in the end zone. In Jay Cutler's two years throwing to Brandon Marshall (6-4, 230-pounds) the two hooked up 206 times for 2,590 yards and 13 TDs. Cutler needs a big guy who can get after the deep ball. Many feel that if he gets that player in Chicago, he can become one of the league's elite.
WR Jonathan Baldwin
One player that fits the bill is 6-4, 228-pound receiver Jonathan Baldwin out of Pittsburgh. My most recent memory of Baldwin came last season as he torched Notre Dame to the tune of 9 catches for 111 yards, which included an amazing diving grab for a 56-yard TD. I remember thinking to myself, this kid can play.
Coming into the Scouting Combine, many scouts agreed. He was a borderline first rounder in the eyes of most pundits and many felt he'd overwhelm NFL representatives with a performance that showed off his immense physical talents. Instead, he ran a 4.50 40-yard dash (well slower than the 4.30 many expected), ran horrendous routes, had a hard time catching the ball and fell in a receiving drill.
In a matter of just a few hours, all of Baldwin's flaws were thrust into the spotlight. No longer is he considered by the masses to be a first round pick. Many are wondering how far he'll fall into the second. Yet while his combine performance underwhelmed, he still is one of the most talented receivers coming into the NFL.
While his combine 40 time was slow, Baldwin has game speed. With his long strides, he's deceivingly fast and never had a problem burning cornerbacks at the college level. He also has very large hands and a 3.5-foot vertical jump. His height is his greatest advantage though. The average NFL cornerback is roughly 5-11, six inches shorter than Baldwin. Factor in a 3.5-foot vertical jump, and cornerbacks will be forced to make up four feet on any jump ball. That type of size and jumping ability cannot be discounted.
On the other hand, the sloppy route running will really hurt him at the pro level. He's also not as aggressive going after jump balls as he should be. In addition, he's been cited for lack of effort on occasion and had a disorderly conduct charge in 2009.
Yet, the legal issue aside, all of Baldwin's flaws are coachable. Many receivers run sloppy routes coming out of college. It's not something that can't be fixed. And he can be taught how to be more aggressive on lob passes and deep balls. NFL coaches do it every season.
If Baldwin were to fall to Chicago in the second round, he is far too talented to pass up. He would fill a need on offense, although not immediately, and has the potential to be a bona fide No. 1 receiver. Yet it doesn't look like he'll fall that far. It would be surprising to see him fall past Seattle with the 45th pick. That means Chicago would be forced to reach for him in round one.
Players of his size and ability come around only so often. Yet he has too many questions accompanying him, and the Bears have too many other pressing needs, that Chicago will most likely have to take a pass.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.