Chicago's Hands Team

Numerous free agent receivers have been thrown around as possible additions to Chicago's passing attack. Yet the team would be wise not to de-value the sure-handed players already on the roster.

For a team, the fans, the offense and especially the quarterback, a dropped pass is just brutal. Nothing can derail a drive like a pass that bounces right off a receiver's hands. If they are lucky, the ball falls to the ground. Yet often the ball careens right into the hands of a defender, resulting in a potential game-changing turnover.

A receiver only has a few responsibilities – run decent routes, throw a block every once in a while, serve as a decoy – but the main one is to catch passes thrown his way. That is why he is on the field. Those that can't accomplish this goal are not long for the NFL. It's not the only criteria for success at the position but it's by far the most important.

What many don't realize is the Chicago Bears have two of the most sure-handed pass catchers in the game. Pro Football Focus tallied up the drops of every receiver in the league last season. The sample size includes all receivers that had at least 50 catchable balls thrown his way.

At the very peak of that list is Earl Bennett who did not drop a single pass in 2010. He only had 50 catchable balls slung his direction, the bare minimum for making the list, but he pulled in every single one of them.

In every sense of the word, Bennett is a possession receiver. He excels at underneath routes and timing patterns. He doesn't have blazing speed, jumping ability or a mammoth frame. All he has are his hands and they are two of the best in the business.


WR Earl Bennett
Rick Stewart/Getty

There has been much talk recently of the Bears' need to grab a big-name wide receiver in free agency. Terrell Owens, Chad Ochocinco and Plaxico Burress have been mentioned as possible additions. A big-play pass catcher could be just what the offense needs.

If the organization goes that route, it's good to know that the supplementary pieces are in place. Johnny Knox can spread the field with his blazing speed and Bennett can be relied upon to get those needed yards on third down. If the team brings in a top playmaker, Jay Cutler will have all the tools he needs, from a skill-position standpoint, to take that next step.

Yet, when evaluating Chicago's passing attack, one other factor needs to be taken into consideration: Greg Olsen. The tight end was an integral part of former coordinator Ron Turner's offense yet was inexplicably forgotten about for long stretches last season by current coordinator Mike Martz. We all know his system is wide-receiver heavy and relies on tight ends more for blocking than receiving. Yet Olsen's numbers prove why Martz's strategy needs to be altered.

Olsen had 50 catchable passes thrown his way and he only dropped three, or six percent. That drop percentage was ninth best in the league last season. That may not seem to be all that noteworthy, but when looking at Olsen's production over the last three seasons, we find even more proof of his value to the offense.

When analyzing tight ends from 2008-2010, Olsen's drop percentage is only 4.19 – second best in the league over that span. The only player above him on the list, Houston's Joel Dreesen, had 91 less catchable passes thrown to him. Over that three-year span, Olsen caught 160 of his 167 catchable passes. His drop percentage during that time is better than tight ends Jason Witten, Owen Daniels, Heath Miller, Tony Gonzalez, Kellen Winslow, Jermichael Finley, Chris Cooley and Jeremy Shockey, just to name a few.

Olsen's number of receptions dropped from 60 under Turner to 41 under Martz. Based on his ability to snag nearly every ball thrown in his vicinity, that drop off is absolutely unacceptable. He is a matchup nightmare: too fast for linebackers and too big for safeties. No other receiver on the Bears' roster has the potential to be as dangerous as Olsen. There's no reason he should not be the focal point of the passing attack each and every game.

So while the news of Chicago possibly trading for Carolina's Steve Smith or signing Sidney Rice continues to gain momentum, it is wise for the front office to recognize the sure-handed receivers already on the roster and not overpay for a player that might not be much an overall upgrade.

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