So far this preseason Bears rookie receiver Alshon Jeffery has given me hope about a great. many. things. He's currently got 7 receptions for 97 yards in his first two games, which, added onto the many excellent reviews he's drawn throughout training camp, give us all a reason to think that maybe, for once, the Bears have drafted a good wide receiver.
Now it's no surprise to anyone that the Bears have had about as many good wide receivers in the last 50 years as they have quarterbacks (yes, I understand that's reciprocal), but even more upsetting is the fact that even the few relatively decent guys they've thrown out there were often free agent pickups or castoffs. The Bears draft history with wide receivers the last 20 years (we'll pick that arbitrary number because why the hell not) is replete with failure. So why not look back at all of them?
1992: John Brown, WR, Houston, 7th rd, 192nd Pick: John Brown, one of the many wide receivers to benefit from the wide open Run N Shoot offense that got Andre Ware and David Klingler drafted, was the Bears seventh round draft choice in 1992. He never made the team, and dolefully predicted Ditka's firing that year by stating that he "saw now that the crimes of this coaching staff cannot be purged away but with blood."
1993: Curtis Conway, WR, USC, 1st Rd, 7th Pick: Curtis Conway is kind of a polarizing figure among Bears fans I know. Lots of people my age (grew up post Ditka-era) latched onto him as one of the few exciting players the 90s Bears had. Others saw him as an underachiever. I'm kind of in both camps. On one hand, when Kramer-to-Curtis was working it was as ballstastic of a connection as any this franchise has had until, well, this year. On the other hand, THEY SHOULD HAVE TAKEN JEROME BETTIS. C-Way suffered from inconsistency and troubles at QB, as he only had two 1,000 yd seasons which were also the only two years where he played all 16 games. Still, he finished with the #5th most receiving yards in Bears history (two of the guys ahead of him are a TE and an RB. Jesus this team sucks at throwing and catching footballs) and must be considered one of the few successes on this list. He's also a cool dude to talk to on Twitter.
1994: Lloyd Hill, WR, Texas Tech, 6th Rd, 170th Pick: Like John Brown, Lloyd never made the team. He did capture Harper's Ferry, though.
1995: Jack Jackson, WR, Florida, 4th Rd, 116th Pick: A highly productive player at Florida (where he caught passes from Danny Wuerffel and Shane Matthews), Jackson made 4 catches for 39 yds in 12 games as a Bear. He also sounds like a character from a Stan Lee comic, where everyone had to have alliterative names.
1996: Bobby Engram, WR, Penn State, 2nd Rd, 52nd Pick: Bobby Engram had a 14 year career as an incredibly successful poster boy for the sure-handed slot receiver. He's easily the most productive receiver the Bears have drafted during the last two decades, so he naturally spent just five of those years in Chicago. Had to make room on the roster for David Terrell, I guess. At least we now have his spiritual descendant, Earl Bennett, the BBE.
1997: Marcus Robinson, WR, South Carolina, 4th Rd, 108th Pick: You want to learn a fun trick? Mention Marcus Robinson around Iggins! and laugh as he bursts into tears, yanks out his own hair, curses Cade McNown's name, and cuts his own wrists. Marcus was the one explosive, big receiver the Bears have had in my lifetime. In 1999 he was unstoppable, going up high to haul in wobbly ducks from Matthews, Miller, and McNown for a franchise record 1400 yds and 9 TDs. Unfortunately, all of the leaping he did to catch McNown's flutterballs left his back exposed to vicious hits from defenders, and he never again started more than 11 games in a season or managed more than 738 yds receiving. He finished his career with 4,699 receiving yards, meaning 30% of his career production came in just 1 of his 9 years in the NFL. Such a waste. But at least there's some precedent for a receiver from South Carolina having a 1400 yard season for the Bears?
1999: D'Wayne Bates, WR, Northwestern, 3rd Rd, 71st Pick: The first of three receivers the Bears took in the 1999 NFL draft (they needed to load up on talent for Gary Crowton's wide open offense. Ha), Bates had 80 catches for 1,061 yds and 6 TDs. Those would be fine totals for a single season. D'Wayne managed those jaw-dropping numbers in four years. Woof.
1999: Marty Booker, WR, Louisiana-Monroe, 3rd Rd, 78th Pick: Man, the Bears really tried hard for a long time to convince us that Marty Booker was an elite receiver, didn't they? He's certainly the most productive receiver on this list, and, like Conway, is one of the few players in Bears history to record back to back 1000 yd seasons. We know better, however. Do you ever think a defense Feared Marty Booker? For chrissake, when he had his first 1,000 yd season in 2001 he averaged 10.7 yards per catch. You can blame John Shoop's conservatism, but Marty was merely the guy most capable of catching 100 eight yard hitches a year. Let's not even discuss his 211 yard comeback tour in 2008. However, by the standards of this list, Marty, the #6 receiver in Bears history, is a huge success.
1999: Sulecio Sanford, WR, Middle Tennesse State, 7th Rd, 221st Pick: Never made the team, despite his awesome name.
2000: Dez White, WR, Georgia Tech, 3rd Rd, 69th Pick: Jesus, did Dez White really start 31 games for this team? And he managed 1667 yards and a whopping 11.3 yards per catch while doing so? Guh. John Shoop.
2000: Frank Murphy, WR, Kansas State, 6th Rd, 170th Pick: No, I don't remember Frank Murphy, but he apparently played five seasons in the NFL had a total of eight catches. He sure sounds like a Bears receiver.
2001: David Terrell, WR, Michigan, 1st Rd, 8th Pick: God damn David Terrell. Never mind that he bitched incessantly about not getting any opportunities when he dropped every single one of the 10 deep balls that found their way to him in his career. Never mind his constant trash talk despite never gaining more than 650 yards in a single season. Never mind that Braylon Edwards was scared to wear #1 at Michigan because it was tainted by David Terrell. The only thing you need to know about David Terrell is that Santana Moss, Reggie Wayne, and Chad Johnson were available in that draft and the Bears took David Terrell. Fuck, TJ Houshmanzadeh was in that draft and He was fucking better than David Terrell. Godddammit.
2002: Jamin Elliott, WR, Delaware, 6th Rd, 203rd Pick: Played in 2 games, had zero career receptions, but was unstoppable in Madden 2003 if you went 5 wide and had him run a slant to the sideline.
2003: Bobby Wade, WR, Arizona, 5th Rd, 139th Pick; & Justin Gage 5th Rd, WR, Missouri, 5th Rd, 143rd Pick: There was a time when some Bears fans tried to argue that Jerry Angelo was great at finding hidden gems late in drafts because he found both Bobby Wade and Justin Gage in the 5th round. Guh. If you don't remember, Justin Gage was the big, tall, slow one and Bobby was the short, quick one who dropped everything, got cut the day after muffing multiple punts in one game, and later stirred up shit as a Viking by claiming that Brian Urlacher called Jay Cutler a pussy. The two of them combined for 5,816 yards in 211 career games. Awesome.
2004: Bernard Berrian, WR, Fresno State, 3rd Rd, 78th Pick: There was totally a time when Bernard Berrian was one of Jerry's hidden gems as well. After averaging a whopping 236 yds a season in his first two injury-plagued years, Berrian seemed to emerge as a great deep threat in 2006 before finishing just shy of 1,000 yds in 2007 while ranking among the league leaders in drops. Berrian demanded an annual salary of 8 million dollars despite no 1,000 yard seasons in his career and fortunately convinced the fucking Vikings to pay that before the Bears lost their minds and did it themselves. He's now out of the NFL after doing literally nothing since 2008.
2005: Mark Bradley, WR, Oklahoma, 2nd Rd, 39th Pick: Has there ever been a better receiver to never gain more than 380 yards receiving in a season? Mark Bradley was always perpetually on the verge of breaking out, or so we thought, but was actually just shitty. He looked great in exactly one career game against the Lions in 2005 where he caught a couple of skinny posts before shredding his knee. He was never the same and ended up in Lovie's doghouse frequently. Despite tons of supposed potential, he managed just 1283 yards in 5 NFL seasons.
2005: Airese Currie, WR, Clemson, 5th Rd, 140th Pick: Despite the God Of War's awesome name, he never caught a single pass in the NFL. He had a 167 yards for the Hamilton Tiger Cats of the CFL in 2009, though.
2008: Earl Bennett, WR, Vanderbilt, 3rd Rd, 70th Pick: Okay, we all know how much I love the BBE. Statistically, however, he's not been very impressive. In 2008 he sat out all year as he learned the playbook. In 2009 he put up respectable numbers (54 receptions, 717 yds) in his first year as a starter. The last two years he's emerged as an excellent 3rd down option and slot receiver, but has been injured often and disappeared following Jay Cutler's injury last year. Hopefully this season will be Earl's most productive yet, with a full year of him and Cutler together and no pressure on him to be anything more than what he is.
2008: Marcus Monk, WR, Arkansas, 7th Rd, 248th Pick: Never made an NFL roster.
2009: Juaquin Iglesias, WR, Oklahoma, 3rd Rd, 99th Pick: the first of three receivers taken by the Bears in the 2009 draft, Juaquin Iglesias was apparently the Spanish translation of Mark Bradley, as he never recorded a single catch for the team.
2009: Johnny Knox, WR, Abilene Christian, 5th Rd, 140th Pick: Now that Marshall and Jeffery are here to make Knox superfluous even if he heals in time to make a contribution to the Bears this year, it's time to breathe easy and admit that Johnny Knox is probably not that good at football. He's definitely a certifiable deep threat (19.2 yards per catch the last two years), but he's also a terrible route runner with bad hands who shirks from big hits and has no ability to go up for a contested ball. I feel terrible about what happened to him but am okay with the fact that he'll never be more than the #3 receiver if he ever takes the field in a Bears uniform again (which I doubt).
2009: Derek Kinder, WR, Pittsburgh, 7th Rd, 251st Pick: The latest in the fine tradition of meaningless 7th round picks wasted on wide receivers, Kinder never took an NFL snap.
So there you have it. In 20 years the Bears have spent 25 draft picks on wide receivers. Of the 24 before Alshon Jeffery, 10 never started a game or even made the roster. 1 (David Terrell) was a colossal first round bust. Others made utterly forgettable minor contributions (Mark Bradley, Bobby Wade, Justin Gage, D'wayne Bates, Dez White).
Boiled down, the Bears have drafted a grand total of seven "productive" receivers in 20 years, and that's stretching the term a bit. They drafted one legitimate yet inconsistent starter in Curtis Conway, 1 reliable and terribly unexciting starter in Marty Booker, two very good slot receivers in Earl Bennett and Bobby Engram (who had all of his best years AFTER he left), 2 soft, mediocre deep threats (Bernard Berrian and Johnny Knox) and 1 one was Marcus Robinson, who is featured in the dictionary under "one year wonder." So let's hope their 25th attempt at finding one, consistent, dynamic starting wide receiver is much more successful than their previous 24. If not, at least they traded for one. Thank God for Phil Emery.