Cornerback-turned-receiver Devin Hester deserves a lot of credit for making himself into a legitimate pass catcher, but he'll likely never become the primary target this offense needs so desperately.
Activity from the Bears at the Scouting Combine in Indianapolis suggests they now know Hester's limitations, as team officials set up formal interviews with the two top wide receiver prospects available in the NFL Draft: Michael Crabtree of Texas Tech and Jeremy Maclin of Missouri. However, Crabtree is still likely to go in the first five picks even if he's having surgery soon to repair that stress fracture in his foot, and Maclin's ability to make an impact as both a wideout and a return man means he's a lock for a spot in the top 10. Darrius Heyward-Bey of Maryland and Hakeem Nicks of North Carolina could both be on the board at No. 18, but neither is rated nearly as high as Crabtree or Maclin.
It may be time to search for a diamond in the rough at receiver, and Aaron Kelly of Clemson, who also met with the club in Indy, could be an undervalued gem.
It would make more sense for Chicago to select a premier offensive tackle than a second-rung receiver in Round 1 – perhaps Michael Oher of Ole Miss if he's still on the board. As much as offensive coordinator Ron Turner needs another weapon in the passing game, his ground attack will continue to be subpar unless the blocking up front improves in a hurry. The tackle position has shot up the team's list of priorities this offseason dramatically, with John Tait unexpectedly retiring and John St. Clair still unsigned as an unrestricted free agent.
Kelly caught 88 passes for 1,081 yards and 11 touchdowns as a junior but saw his numbers take a major hit his senior season, so Clemson expert Roy Philpott tries to give us a better idea what to expect from the 6-4, 204 pounder at the next level.
Philpott Says: Excellent at positioning his body to grab the ball at its highest point against smaller corners and taller safeties. Great hands. Will catch the ball in traffic with multiple defenders draped on him. Makes tough catches look easy and not afraid to go across the middle. Lacks elite-level speed to create some separation from faster defenders. Must also improve run blocking and become more physical. Intriguing prospect that could be a viable No. 2 or No. 3 wide receiver in the right system at the next level. A legitimate deep threat that can contort his body to bring in anything thrown his direction. Lacks breakaway speed desired by most scouts.
JC's Take: Scout.com NFL Draft analyst Chris Steuber had Kelly as his No. 1 senior wide receiver heading into 2008, but his stock has taken a tumble based on a season full of turmoil experienced by everyone at Clemson.
Chicago will not be bringing back either Marty Booker or Brandon Lloyd next year, and the fact that receiver has not been addressed thus far in free agency has the team dangerously thin at the position. Minicamp opens in just two weeks, with Hester and second-year pro Earl Bennett – he of the zero-catch rookie season – currently atop the depth chart. Even if the Bears do land a player like Heyward-Bey or Nicks in the first round, it's not unreasonable to suggest they still target someone like Kelly in Round 4 or 5 because they need bodies right now.
What remains to be seen is if Kelly contributed more to Clemson's poor 2008, or if Clemson contributed more to Kelly's poor 2008.
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Insider Analysis: WR Aaron Kelly
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