Top Ten 2018 Wide Receiver Free Agents

This years wide receiver market will be a pretty deep one. There are still enough at the top that can make tremendous franchise changing impact and enough mid-tier to add important reliable targets for Mitch Trubisky to have as his safety valve or even first options to get the ball out quick and confidently with complete and total trust. These are my top 10 and they have been compiled with not only a ranking system of who is the ten best in chronilogical order but also ranked based on how it fits the Bears model going forward.

10.) Jarvis Landry: 5’11” 205 (4.77) With full disclosure, I am not the worlds biggest Jarvis Landry fan. The top reason is the price tag he thinks he’s worth and might actually get. Currently, has his market value at 14.2 Mil. per season. That’s a ton of cap space and he does not solve the Bears biggest need of big play WR that scares defenses and back them off the line of scrimmage. If anything, he brings them closer to the line as his routes are generally very short given his poor 8.8 yards per average. Another reason is lack of big plays. Besides his meager average per reception, he has produced only 6 plays of 20 plus yards all season. This in spite of leading the league in receptions and having more opportunities to get them than most. I was actually contemplating putting guys like Danny Amendola, Ryan Grant, and Jaron and John Brown ahead of him. Just because of the value issue and in the case of both Brown’s from Arizona their added value of big-play ability and speed.

There is just way too much love for him because of his receptions record for a player in their first four seasons in the NFL. However, he is a high volume targets guy so with it comes a lot of catches. Mostly as the safety valve in a Quarterbacks progression or a quick hitter route. Not very fast, but he is tough enough to take hits and hang on to it. Could play into his career later down the line as far as accelerating the abuse his body will have taken to this point.

He isn’t going to make big plays, but he will catch a lot of passes. Has 8 TD’s too which is pretty good for a slot guy. Not saying I don’t like him as a player, I do, but I don’t see paying him top 15 money like he wants for a possession receiver with no threat of him doing damage downfield. The Bears already have a good enough possession slot receiver in Wright who will be a ton cheaper and will bring some continuity for Trubisky and the offense.

9.) Deonte Thompson: 5’11” 200 (4.31) Yes, that Deonte Thompson who started the season with the team and was cut and picked up by the Bills where he produced. It was a huge miscalculation by the Bears who desperately could have used a speedy coverage dictator and deep threat. Thompson is still young (28) and may be ready to peak and will be a bargain. He also brings added value as a returner and having a little familiarity with the Bears franchise Quarterback. He does get big plays downfield. Of his 38 receptions, 8 of them have been for 20 plus yards and 2 over 40 with 14.6 yards per catch average. Exactly the dimension the Bears are looking to add to their passing attack.

8.) Mike Wallace: 6’0″ 200 (4.33) Mike Wallace has had a very nice season in spite of having Joe Flacco miss him routinely downfield. This could have been even a better season for him had he played with a more accurate Quarterback. The biggest negative with Wallace is his age. He is 31 years old but has not lost any of his speed which is what makes him a consideration for the Bears. As mentioned previously, this is the type of player they need at the wide receiver position. He’s a big play machine as evident by his stats. Some notable stats in his 2017 season are impressive. He has eleven 20 plus plays and four 40 plus out of his 58 receptions with a 14.4 yard per average. When targeted, QB’s have a rating of 91.1 which ranks 44th. Ranked 18th in yards per target at 9.0, 37th in yards per route at 1.75, and 49th in catch rate at 59.5 %. He should come cheap considering his age and moderate total production but you look at his efficiency stats and see the production in the areas of need. This tells you if given more targets not to mention a more accurate passer he can produce even better than he did in 2017. He’ll be cheap and probably can be obtainable one a 1-year deal guarantee with club options the other years of a multi-year deal or you can simply go with the 1 year prove it deal if Wallace prefers.

7.) Cody Latimer: 6’2″ 220 (4.39) Former Hoosier Cody Latimer is on this list based almost solely on potential. Only 25 years old. Started out as a basketball player primarily and brings that athleticism to the football field. He’s really just starting to get the NFL game and the hope here with a signing like this is that he starts to gets it with Trubisky and they both help each other to reach their immense potential. He’s strong too. Put up a very impressive 23 reps on the bench press at the combine.

At 6’2″ 220 with 4.39 speed and a 39″ vertical, he’s an extremely hard matchup for top defensive backs yet alone the 3’s and 4’s that will be trying to cover him on a good wide receiving unit which you hope the Bears will be assembling this offseason.  As a 3 or 4, he can be a very dangerous piece to putting together a real live NFL wide receiving corp. Latimer is a low-risk high reward type of signing if you believe in your offensive staff to develop him to his full potential. Won’t be hard on the cap either.

6.) Donte Moncrief: 6’2″ 225 (4.40) Moncrief is yet another low-risk high reward type of free agent much like Latimer. Like Latimer, he played some basketball and was a state champion long jumper in high school. Crushed the long jump at the combine at 11 feet. Just as fast and he jumps as high as Latimer. He has more experience as a football player though and a receiver and should be ahead of Latimer in his development. The word on him coming out was he needed to work on route running and play to his size more as he didn’t win as many 50/50 balls as a guy with his profile would. Looks like he has learned how to use that size and leaping ability of his as he has a 90% contested target rate out of his 10 contested targets in 2017. This is a fast explosive X receiver. He also has a decent catch rate at 55.3% and a catchable target rate at 66% so he may have the other aspect of his game questioned coming out of the draft which is inconsistent hands. He did have 2 drops in 2017 out of only 30  receptions.

His development may have been stunted by Andrew Luck being out the entire season. He hasn’t reached 25 yet so the Bears would be getting him at 25 and possibly ready to ascend as a receiver.  He fills two roles in one. An X receiver who can post up smaller DB’s and a Z receiver who can win downfield on go routes.

5.) Kendall Wright: 5’10” 200 (4.61) Bears fans got a chance to see what Wright brings to the table. Even while paying with an underdeveloped rookie Quarterback who took a bit of time to trust throwing to Wright on those option routes. While watching a lot of all-22 you can see what a smart player he is. Reads the right coverage and makes the right route adjustments almost every time. Once Trubisky learns the reads better this will be an amazing chain moving combination. A lot of people are getting excited about Landry, but Wright is a cheaper and (in my opinion) better option. If he got 140 plus targets his stats would be far superior to that of Landry’s.

Wright has a very high rate on catchable targets at 76% on 63 of them and a very good total catch rate of 65.1%.  By contrast, Landry has a 68.2 total catchable rate and a 79% catch rate on contested targets. Not a whole lot better for about 8 million dollars less per season. The one area Wright really has Landry beat good at is yards per receptions. Landry is at 8.7 yards a catch and Wright at 10.8. Also, yards per target goes to Wright decisively 7.0 yards to 5.9. They both have the same drop rate too at 5% so there’s no argument for the better hands either. What this tells you is that with the same targets Wright would do more with them and if that isn’t enough the athletic metrics heavily favor Wright. He’s just as big, faster, quicker and stronger. Then there’s the familiarity factor. Bears would be wise to resign Mr. Wright.

4.) Marqise Lee: 6’0″ 200 (4.52) Lee is yet another receiver that went down for the Jaguars as did Allen Robinson so there is a risk involved with possible availability issues. Unlike Robinson, the damage was less severe and they are expecting him to be back in time for their first playoff game. He was having an extremely productive season as well. It may be hard to convince him to uproot to the Bears if all things are equal but you figure the Bears are going to have to do some overspending in free agency anyway.

Lee would be a good get. Although they may have to spend over market rate to acquire him, he still would not cost you franchise money. He is still young (26), and appears to be peaking. While not a burner, his speed is good enough to make plays downfield. He is a very explosive player getting to max speed quickly in and out of his breaks. This aids him in yards after the catch and route running. Great vertical to go up and snatch it at 38″ and broad jump showing his explosion. Nice catch rate at 58.3 and even better catchable target rate at 75%. He does have a lot of drops, however. A whopping 12 on the season which is good for 12% of his targets. So that is a concern and another reason why his market value should be lower than it should be from an explosive playmaking wide receiver such as Lee.

3.) Paul Richardson: 6’0″190 (4.40) Richardson is yet another young (25 years old) ascending player in this league. This would be a good signing as the Bears will be paying him for what will likely be his most productive years of his career. His athletic scores are off the charts. His Sparq scores are in the upper percentile in nearly every category in a league with SPARQ score monsters. He holds up with anyone in the league in that regard.

He has issues with drops with 8 over the 2017 season. This might be due in part to his smaller hand size with a man his size but largely makes up for it with big plays. His target rate is well above average 56.4 but is even better on catchable targets with a 76% rate. So anything within his range is generally caught. Wilson also has a 106 plus QB rating when targeting Richardson. He is just now getting the game and the route running concepts and reading of defenses and coverages and should continue to improve his production.

2.) Allen Robinson: 6’2″ 220 (4.60) Robinson may very well be the top wide receiver in this class if not for the question mark of how he will be returning from his ACL tear and subsequent surgery. With injury issues the past two season at epic rates the Bears may be a little gun shy pulling the trigger on offering Robinson a multi-year contract. However, if all goes well as is expected you have yourself a #1 level wideout in your ranks. A coverage dictator and a guy you must devote a great deal of time game planning for.

He is a total X receiver. Someone you throw to when you need a tough grab. Not a speed guy but 4.6 ain’t bad for a bully X receiver who routinely out physicals any DB lining up across from him. He is a great athlete. Explosive with high jump metrics and great combine scores across the board. He would add the much-needed muscle the Bears need at Split End.

1.) Sammy Watkins:  6’1″ 211 (4.43) When Watkins came out of college, he was being billed as the best wide receiver prospect to come out of college since Calvin Johnson. With expectations like that it would be very easy to fall short of the mark which he has. A good deal of that has to do with poor Quarterbacking (this season aside) and foot issues. The latter being a concern for a team that has had availability issues that have been the main contributor to their poor record the last 3 seasons. However, Watkins is a complete game changer. Just a physical freak that requires the attention of the defensive coordinator from the beginning of the week to the end of the game.

His athletic scores are off the charts. Speed, Quickness, strength, explosive jump metric and size. There is nothing stopping him from being one of the best wide receivers in the league and a possible hall of famer.  If you’re the Bears, you’re betting on the latter not being a factor. This could be a franchise-changing signing if it hits. In my opinion, this is a chance the Bears are forced to take.

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