INDIANAPOLIS — On Christmas Eve, two days after the least competitive loss of the Matt Nagy era — Chiefs 26, Bears 3 — we asked the head coach whether his Bears needed more speed for his unimposing offense in 2020.
“Yes,” he quickly responded, “as they all say, speed kills. And that’s a huge part of this at all positions. And then specifically, if you take that to the offensive side of the ball and you say, ‘OK, wide receiver, running back, etc.’ … Whatever position that’s at, I think that anytime you can stretch teams vertically and horizontally, it just makes holes a lot better.”
The Bears have since released perhaps their fastest player, Taylor Gabriel, after finishing their season with a league-low 7 percent rate of explosive plays (runs of 10-plus yards and completions of 15-plus yards), and the NFL campaign concluded with its fastest team, the Chiefs, winning the Super Bowl.
Indeed, speed kills, but a dearth of it quickly can spell death, too.
When we asked Ryan Pace Tuesday at the NFL scouting combine whether the Bears were already equipped to replace Gabriel, he praised his WR depth, specifically mentioning big-bodied ex-Georgia products Javon Wims and Riley Ridley, who ran 4.53- and 4.58-second 40-yard dashes at their respective combines. They both have intriguing potential, but it’s not likely to manifest in consistent chunk plays.
Pace did say the Bears could seek additional reinforcements for their WR corps, where, gadget player Cordarrelle Patterson notwithstanding, speed that "you can feel,” as Nagy is fond of saying, is virtually absent. Allen Robinson is a stud No. 1 in line soon for a big extension — Pace confirmed internal discussions on the subject have occurred — but he ran a 4.6-second 40 at the combine and wins with strength and savvy, not speed. Anthony Miller might eventually be even more dynamic than A-Rob but hasn’t been healthy nor consistently bought in enough to be viewed as a future building block entering his third NFL offseason and second in a row that began with shoulder surgery.
Elsewhere on offense, RB David Montgomery struggled to do damage on the second level in his rookie season, when previously proven big-play threat Tarik Cohen struggled, period, and the Bears’ TE woes are well-documented.
Although team needs this time of year generally always appear on various media sites by position, it’s a bit different for the Bears, who have a sneaky-big need for speed on offense — anywhere they can find it.
But because they don’t sound anxious to spend additional draft capital on a running back after paying a King’s ransom last spring for Montgomery, and there may not be a team in the NFL that wouldn’t jump at the opportunity to add the type of mismatch TE weapon the Bears most certainly covet, it seems we’ve come full circle back to wide receiver.
And there’s good and bad news here, so let’s get the drag part out of the way first: Like their TE room, the Bears’ receivers are among the NFL’s highest-paid group but haven’t provided commensurate production. Another big investment there, then, say pick No. 43 or even 50, might be difficult to rationalize. Remember, it was only two years ago that they spent a pair of second-rounders on Miller, and Robinson is soon poised to break the bank.
But speed comes at a premium. Sure it’s possible in an absolutely loaded WR draft crop that the Bears, if they can’t trade down to gain a third-rounder, might be able to wait and spend their compensatory fourth-rounder on a burner. Liberty’s Antonio Gandy-Golden, who showed out at the Senior Bowl, or prolific former Longhorn Devin Duvernay could make sense early on Day 3. They’d certainly bring top-notch speed, much like UCF’s underrated Gabriel Davis and Miami’s tantalizing Jeff Thomas — both potentially available even later on.
If the Bears are willing to spend another second-rounder, KJ Hamler of Penn State could be the ideal Gabriel replacement. A diminutive firecracker with home run ability on every touch, he’ll be highly sought after, and few receivers carried more momentum into the combine than Baylor’s Denzel Mims, whose underway speed is devastating.
Regardless of where they find it, the Bears' need for speed is real, and it'd be a shame if they solved their myriad other issues on offense but lacked the requisite explosiveness to fully capitalize.