The Bears actually had the best receiver in football for a stretch last season

The Bears actually had the best receiver in football for a stretch last season

This may surprise you, but the 3-13 Chicago Bears actually had the best wide receiver in the NFL for a stretch in 2016.

And no, it was not 2013 Pro Bowler Alshon Jeffery, who is considered one of the top receivers in the game when healthy. In part, because he was only on the field for 12 games last season and when he was playing, only produced 52 catches for 821 yards and two scores.

It was actually Cam Meredith, Chicagoland native and Illinois State University product:

In the final five games of 2016 — with Matt Barkley throwing to him — Meredith caught 31 balls on 43 targets for 439 yards and two touchdowns. That's a 72.1 catch percentage.

As a special bonus, he also threw a two-yard touchdown pass.

If you extrapolate those few weeks over a 16-game season, Meredith would be on pace for 99 catches, 1,405 yards and six TDs. AKA: Jeffery's aforementioned 2013 Pro Bowl season (89 catches, 1,421 yards, 7 TDs).

On the 2016 season, Meredith had 66 catches on 97 targets for 888 yards and four scores in only his second season in the NFL as an undrafted free agent.

Beyond Jeffery's health issues, Meredith's emergence looms as a possible huge reason why Ryan Pace's front office let Jeffery walk this offseason.

Bears to use tutor approach for Mitch Trubisky's NFL orientation

Bears to use tutor approach for Mitch Trubisky's NFL orientation

Coming into this year’s draft with just 13 starts at North Carolina, Mitch Trubisky projects to have a slightly steeper learning curve if only because of experience. The Bears have a plan to address that with a slight staff tweak to intensify and accelerate the rookie quarterback’s development beyond this weekend’s rookie minicamp.

Quarterbacks coach Dave Ragone will devote additional coaching time to Trubisky, while offensive coordinator — and former quarterbacks coach — Dowell Loggains works with the offense and vets Mike Glennon and Mark Sanchez in addition to Connor Shaw, who is coming off a broken leg last preseason and worked with Loggains with the Cleveland Browns in 2014.

NFL teams occasionally hire an additional assistant position coach for rookie quarterbacks, particularly when the head coach is not himself a former quarterbacks coach. Because of Loggains’ background, which included coaching Jay Cutler to his best NFL season (2015), working with Brian Hoyer and getting something out of Matt Barkley last year, the Bears did not expect to add staff for the care and feeding of the No. 2-overall pick (Trubisky).

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Trubisky will be tasked with learning NFL defenses, his own offense and technique modifications. He worked primarily out of the shotgun at North Carolina but has been working on taking direct snaps since January.

“It's been a seamless transition,” Trubisky said after his selection by the Bears. “I feel like working under center has helped me become even more consistent with my footwork and I felt like they were impressed and saw everything they needed to see, so I feel like being athletic is going to help that transition and continue to improve my feet, so it was good.”

The Bears ran 63 percent of their snaps out of a shotgun last season, albeit in part because of being routinely in catch-up, passing situations through their 3-13 season.

Bears NFL Draft Preview: Franchise-QB search expected to continue sooner rather than later

Bears NFL Draft Preview: Franchise-QB search expected to continue sooner rather than later

CSNChicago.com Bears Insider John "Moon" Mullin goes position-by-position as the Bears approach the 2017 Draft, taking a look at what the Bears have, what they might need and what draft day could have in store. Sixth in a series.

Bears pre-draft situation

Jay Cutler lasted through two years under the John Fox coaching staff while his 2014 contract still contained some guaranteed money. The new regime under GM Ryan Pace was given the option by Chairman George McCaskey of cutting ties earlier regardless of financial commitment but Adam Gase and Dowell Loggains as coordinators made a go of it before Cutler's injuries (shoulder and thumb last season) and mediocre play regardless of supporting cast made the organization's decision for it.

Resolving a now-decades-old problem position has been goal No. 1 of Pace, with all indications that the process will be ongoing, vs. the Cutler's-fine approach of the past eight years. Step one was signing Tampa Bay Buccaneers backup Mike Glennon to a three-year deal but with $16 million of the $18.5 million guaranteed coming in 2017. The situation establishes Glennon as the starter, with a chance to put a hold on the job beyond this season with a breakout year.

"It's a leap of faith to some degree," Fox acknowledged during the NFL owners meetings. "But I think you do that in a lot of different positions and evaluations of personnel and people. The big thing with him is that he has been in NFL football games. He has been in a lot of systems and around different players and personalities and, I think, handled it well."

The decision was made to move on from Brian Hoyer and Matt Barkley as backups, signing Mark Sanchez, 30, to a one-year pact worth $1 million guaranteed plus a per-game bonus that allows the deal to top out at $2 million. Connor Shaw showed promise before going down for the year with a broken leg suffered in preseason.

Pre-draft depth chart
 
Starter: Mike Glennon
Reserves: Mark Sanchez, Connor Shaw

Bears draft priority: High

The Glennon and Sanchez signings were modest financial and time commitments by NFL standards. Their depth chart has no "elite" in place and does not need another mid-range quarterback; they had that for eight years in Cutler and know what limitations a limited quarterback brings to a franchise.

Using Drew Brees and the New Orleans Saints experience as the template, Pace has been clear that he is seeking a quarterback with the intangibles to do more than post statistics, going further to lift the collective team mojo, something too often painfully lacking during the Cutler tenure.

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All of which makes the quarterback draft options a level more interesting than the basic talent/traits assessments and evaluations that have circulated. The Bears have done extensive research on the quarterback prospects, and few envision scenarios where the Bears do not strike for one within the first several rounds.

The overarching No. 1 question: Will the Bears disregard draft slot (No. 3) and land a quarterback perhaps not graded that highly but with the intangibles the organization craves?

Question No. 2: Could quarterbacks go a surprising 1-2 with the Cleveland Browns tapping Mitchell Trubisky and San Francisco 49ers snatching Deshaun Watson?

As far as this year's class, "I'm not banging the table for any of them," said NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock, who tapped Clemson's Deshaun Watson as the No. 1 prospect in the 2017 draft class.

Keep an eye on:

DeShone Kizer, Notre Dame — The Bears sent a task force to South Bend for Kizer's Pro Day, in addition to a Combine interview and private meeting. Athletic but INT rate (2.7 percent), accuracy (60.7 completion percentage) and W-L record (14-11) nothing special.
 
Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech — Has been likened to both Cutler and Brett Favre for big-play predispositions, mobility and arm abilities. May have widest hit-miss potential, with major upside but also weaknesses in decision-making that concern some. "I just think his fundamentals break down too many times," Mayock said.
 
Nathan Peterman, Pittsburgh — Bears coaches worked with him at Senior Bowl. Not as highly touted as others in the class but among most pro-ready and rates as possible nugget in mid-rounds — if left on the board that long.
 
Mitchell Trubisky, North Carolina — Bears were scouting him intently early last college season and invested a Combine interview and private workout in additional time with what some rate as the best-available at his position in a class short on "elite" talents. But opinions vary widely, with Trubisky being mentioned for Cleveland at No. 1 or for No. 12, for example.
 
Deshaun Watson, Clemson — Unquestioned intangibles leader with curious "negatives:" accuracy (67.4 career completion percentage) and turnovers (2.7 INT percentage). Two full years as starter, two appearances in national championship game.