The need for the Chicago Bears to add a wide receiver this offseason is well documented. Johnny Knox, Devin Hester and Earl Bennett are second- and third-tier receivers. Bennett has great hands, while Knox and Hester have great speed, but none have great size. Jay Cutler had his best seasons as a professional while in Denver, throwing to Brandon Marshall (6-4, 230). The team would be wise to add a bigger receiver that can get after those jump balls Cutler is so fond of throwing.
Let's take a look at the top 12 receivers in the upcoming draft, all of which should be available in the first three rounds, to see which player the Bears will most likely end up drafting.
A.J. Green, Georgia & Julio Jones, Alabama
Numbers 1A and 1B at the position will be taken within the first 15 picks in the draft, yet they are the only receivers widely regarded as first-round talent. As such, it would behoove the Bears to wait until after the first round to grab a pass catcher. Any other receiver would be a reach in the first.
WR Torrey Smith
Jonathan Baldwin, Pittsburgh
Baldwin (6-4, 228) has the ideal size the Bears are looking for. He is also fast, running a 4.49 40-yard dash at the combine. He runs sloppy routes though and will need a lot of polish. He's expected to come off the board in the early second, which means Chicago's only real hope of grabbing him would be to trade out of the first round and into the top part of the second.
Torrey Smith, Maryland
Smith (6-1, 204) does not have the ideal size Chicago would like out of its No. 1, yet his 41-inch vertical jump should be able to make up for it. He has great speed as well, clocking a 4.41 40 at the combine. He's a high-character player who also excelled as a kick returner. He'll be off the board in the early second, so the same scenario applies as it did with Baldwin if the Bears are to land him.
Leonard Hankerson, Miami (FL)
Hankerson (6-1, 209) has a similar build to Smith with slightly better speed (4.40 40) and a shorter vertical (36 inches). He's a fluid runner who has improved his route running considerably but tends to drop too many passes. He did not perform well at the Senior Bowl. He may still be on the board for Chicago in the second round but looks to be slightly overrated.
Randall Cobb, Kentucky
Cobb (5-10, 191) is a smaller receiver with decent speed (4.46 40) and average strength. Yet he is probably the most versatile player in the draft, having finished first or second for the Wildcats in rushing, receiving and passing his junior season – the only player in the nation to do so. He also returned punts and kickoffs. He doesn't fit the Bears' need for a No. 1 receiver but his jack-of-all-trades game makes him very intriguing and would give Mike Martz a rare toy to work with.
Jerrel Jernigan, Troy
Jernigan (5-9, 185) has good speed (4.46 40) but lacks the size Chicago needs. His 11 bench-press reps at the combine shows a lack of strength as well. Like Cobb though, he saw time at WR, RB and QB, and also returned punts and kickoffs. He would be very valuable in a role similar to that of Minnesota's Percy Harvin, although it's doubtful the Bears would give up a second rounder for him.
Titus Young, Boise State
Young (5-11, 174) is a burner who can really stretch the field. Some compare him to the Eagles' DeSean Jackson. He comes with some baggage, having been suspended for nine games his sophomore year for breaking unspecified team rules. The Bears already have two burners, so there most likely won't be a need to grab a third with off-the-field issues.
Edmond Gates, Abilene Christian
Gates (5-11, 192) was the fastest receiver at the combine (4.37 40) and also posted a 40-inch vertical jump. He comes from the same school as Knox but is a little slower – Knox ran a 4.34 40. He has only played football for a few years and is far too raw to contribute right away. In addition, he was kicked out of a junior college before transferring to ACU. He turns 25 in June. Odds are highly likely the Bears will pass.
WR Greg Little
Greg Little, North Carolina
Little (6-3, 231) was one of three UNC players suspended for the entire season last year. He was not that impressive in interviews at the combine as well, with many teams commenting on his lack of maturity. That said, he was very good in the drills, demonstrating outstanding strength (his 27 bench reps were the most for his position), decent speed (4.51 40), and good quickness and agility. He played RB his first two years at Chapel Hill and is dynamic in the open field. His size and athleticism could force Chicago to look past his off-the-field issues.
Niles Paul, Nebraska
Paul (6-1, 224) is a big receiver with very good speed (4.45 40) and strength (24 bench-press reps). He's a solid kick and punt returner as well. Yet he was very inconsistent throughout his collegiate career and does not have great hands. He was arrested on two separate alcohol-related incidents the past two years. He has plenty of size and natural talent but the drops and the baggage may be too much to overlook.
Greg Salas, Hawaii
Salas (6-1, 210) has decent size and speed (4.53 40). He's not the quickest receiver but has arguably the best hands of any WR prospect in the draft. He would fit best as a possession receiver out of the slot. His game is very similar to Earl Bennett's, which is why it's hard to imagine Chicago grabbing him in the third round.
Little's lack of maturity is scary but his potential on the field is even scarier. He has the size, speed and game-breaking ability Chicago's offense is lacking. He should be available in the third round, which would allow the Bears to shore up the offensive and defensive lines in the first two rounds. He could be the steal of the draft.
Jeremy Stoltz is Publisher of BearReport.com. To read him every day, visit BearReport.com and become a Chicago Bears insider.