Even before Chicago acquired Jay Cutler via trade, those who follow the Bears have insisted that Chicago must add some quality players at the wide receiver position. Clearly, Chicago lacks in both quality and depth at that position. However, in thinking about the Bears' wide receiver issues, I began to wonder- just how good do these receivers have to be? In other words, can the Bears' offense excel with journeymen at wideout?
In order to find an answer, I looked back a couple of years, at Illinois' western neighbors. If the Bears are looking for a model offense that they can use to develop a scheme around their new signal caller, I think that they would be wise to set their gaze in the same direction.
From 2002-2005, the Kansas City Chiefs' NFL rankings in points scored were 1st, 1st, 2nd, and 6th, respectively. They also ranked 4th, 2nd, 1st, and 1st in yards. In other words, they were the gold standard for NFL offenses over that four-year span.
Who were the Chiefs' starting wide receivers during that era? Primarily, Eddie Kennison and Johnnie Morton (who was replaced as a starter in 2005 by Samie Parker). These guys were not exactly NFL immortals. In fact, during the Chiefs' magnificent run the average Kansas City starting wideout caught 51 passes for 801 yards and 4 touchdowns. By comparison, Devin Hester caught 51 passes for 665 yards and 3 touchdowns just last year.
Of course, the heart and soul of the Chiefs' attack was a Hall of Fame tight end and a record-setting running back. During that same span, Tony Gonzalez averaged 79 receptions for 963 yards and 7 touchdowns- outstanding numbers for a tight end. Priest Holmes (with about a year and a half of Larry Johnson mixed in), averaged 321 carries for 1,564 yards and 24 total touchdowns. The Chiefs' starting running back was also a key contributor in the passing game, averaging 59 receptions for 576 yards in each of those four seasons.
Again, if the Bears are looking for a model offense to follow, Dick Vermeil's Chiefs should be that offense. While Kansas City arguably had more talent at receiver, it was not by a wide margain. Jay Cutler may not yet possess the inteligence and intangibles of the Chiefs' Trent Green, but his physical tools definitely surpass those of the Chiefs' quarterback. The key is to hope that Greg Olson and Matt Forte, who beyond Cutler are the next best prospects in the Bears' attack, can pull off passable Gonzalez/Holmes impersonations. Both players showed signs of that type of ability last year, and both are still in the early stages of their development. It is merely a question of how high they can climb.
Naturally, one key element of that Chiefs' attack has yet to be addressed. The fact that Kansas City had Willie Roaf, Will Shields, and Brian Waters on their offensive line was a huge factor in their success. The Bears don't have a single player on their offensive line that possesses that kind of talent. However, the Bears' offense will not be asked to be the top offense in the league this year. If it emerges as a top 10 offense, I think most would agree that this would be a tremendous accomplishment.
The Bears have already significantly upgraded their offensive line and the quarterback position. They have a running back capable of carrying a heavy workload in both the run and pass attacks. They have a tight end who possesses the kind of size, skill, and athleticism to be a possession target and a threat down the seam. Devin Hester can be a reasonable facsimile of an Eddie Kennison or a Johnnie Morton.
Put another way, the Bears are one solid, journeyman wideout away from being Chiefs Lite. And that wouldn't be a bad thing.