The Chicago Bears in 2015 finished 24th in passing offense and 25th in overall receiving yards.
The Miami Dolphins fell in love with those mediocre numbers and made former Bears offensive coordinator Adam Gase their head coach. Yet to any other observer, those are sub-par totals for a team with good talent at the skill positions.
Yet injuries to the receiving corps held back Chicago's passing attack last season. During the year, Alshon Jeffery missed seven games, Eddie Royal missed seven games and Marquess Wilson missed four games, while first-round draft pick Kevin White missed his entire rookie season.
When your top four wideouts combine to miss 34 contests due to injury, it's nearly impossible for any passing attack to post top-tier numbers week in and week out. Considering the Bears were often forced to put Josh Bellamy and Marc Mariani in the starting lineup on game days, finishing 24th in passing isn't all that bad.
Let's review each individual peformance from Chicago's receivers this season.
Jeffery's injury woes began in training camp with a strained calf suffered in practice, which forced him to miss the preseason. He then suffered hamstring and groing injuries during the regular season, all while practicing, which forced him out of seven contests.
Yet when Jeffery was on the field, he was his usual dominant self. He finished with team highs in targets (93), receptions (54) and receiving yards (807), along with four touchdowns (second most on the team). His 89.7 yards per contest were 8th most in the NFL. Of his 54 catches, 43 resulted in a first down.
Many were concerned about Jeffery's ability to fill the No. 1 role without Brandon Marshall, yet he showed this year he's more than capable of being the top dog in Chicago's passing attack, as he was unstoppable in spite of the extra attention from opposing defenses.
Jeffery will soon hit free agency and it's unclear whether or not he'll return to Chicago, although it appears both sides will try their best to make it happen. If Jeffery returns, and both he and White stay healthy next season, they could emerge as one of the most dominant receiving duos in the league.
Wilson was the one constant throughout the most of the regular season, serving in place of both Jeffery, White and Royal through the first 12 weeks of the season. In four of the first six weeks, Wilson had 50 or more yards receiving. Then in Week 12, with Jeffery and Royal down, Wilson had his best game as a pro, catching 4 passes for 102 yards.
For the year, Wilson finished with career highs in receptions (28) and receiving yards (464), along with 1 TD. He showed very good deep-ball ability and led the club with 16.6 yards per catch. He was also solid with the ball in his hands, leading all Bears wide receivers with 191 yards after the catch.
Wilson never backpacked the team like a true No. 1 receiver can do, yet he showed he can be a weapon as the club's second or third option in the passting attack.
"I just stepped up when they needed me," Wilson said after the season.
Wilson missed the final four contests after being place on IR due to a foot injury, for which he had surgery a month ago.
Royal was paid $5.5 million in 2015, which was the sixth largest contract on the team. To say he was a disappointment, relatively to his contract, is an understatement.
After hurting his knee in Week 4, Royal played in just two of the next eight games, missing five straight contests from Weeks 9-13.
Yet even when he was on the field, Royal was basically invisible. He didn't show the chemistry with Cutler we all assumed would carry over from their days together in Denver and he caught just 37 passes for a paltry 238 yards and 1 TD. Royal had just one game with 50 or more receiving yards (54 in Week 4) and from Weeks 8-17, he caught just 14 passes for 69 yards.
The problem with Royal is that his contract is fully guaranteed next season, meaning the Bears are on the hook for the full amount of his deal in 2016 ($4.5 million, all of which will count as dead money if he's cut).
Royal will be 30 before the start of next season, so his best years are likely behind him. Yet the team must hope he stays healthy next year and provides some kind of value that in some way, even the smallest way, justifies his contract.
While Royal was one of the biggest disappointments this year, Mariani was one of the biggest surprises. He finished third among Bears wide receivers with 300 receiving yards on 22 catches.
"Big Play" Mariani did his best work on 3rd down, with 19 of his 22 receptions resulting in a 1st down. In addition, he didn't drop a single pass all year - the only wideout on the team who played more than 100 snaps to not drop a pass.
Mariani's game is very reminiscent of Tom Waddle's in that he's a very dependable possession receiver who is not afraid to go over the middle. Mariani also has decent value as a punt returner. As a fifth receiving option who can play special teams, Mariani has earned a spot on the roster next season.
Due to injury, Bellamy played 445 snaps in 2015, or about 440 more than the Bears wanted him to play heading into the regular season. He wasn't a complete liability - he only dropped two passes - but, other than his deep TD grab in the meaningless season finale, Bellamy did not make the most of his opportunities.
He finished with 19 catches on 35 targets for 224 yards and 2 TDs. Bellamy doesn't have great size or speed and his hands are sketchy. It's hard to foresee him contributing for the Bears next season unless injuries again wash over the receiving corps for the second year in a row.
Meredith, an undrafted free agent out of Illinois State, has very good size (6-3) and leaping ability. He earned a roster spot coming out of the preseason and was active for 11 games, catching 11 passes on 16 targets for 120 yards and 2 TDs.
His 11/2 catch-to-TD ratio is exceptional, which makes one wonder why the Bears didn't use him more often in the red zone, where the offense was atrocious this season.
Thompson has been a part-time NFL player for five seasons and was signed by the Bears midseason to fill a need at kick returner. He showed great speed on special teams and had a number of important kick returns.
On offense, he only caught two passes, a 36-yarder and a 45-yarder, both on fly patterns in which Thompson got behind the defense.
His speed is impressive and provided an added element to Chicago's offense that had been missing all season. Expect the Bears to bring back Thompson next season as the starting kick returner, while possibly increasing his role on offense.
There is a lot of talent in Chicago's receiving corps but only when they're healthy.
"It's a very dynamic group," said Wilson. "When we were all on the field, we kind of showcased what we were able to do. That's what it's going to look like next year."
Health is a big concern but if they can stay on the field, a group of Jeffery, White, Royal and Wilson, with Mariani helping out on 3rd downs, is a legitimate receiving unit that can compete in the NFC. And if White is as good as advertised, with Jeffery happily under contract and Cutler taking another step forward, Chicago's passing attack in 2016 could be special.null