Combine Wide Receiver Group Has Ryan Pace's Eye

Gene Chamberlain

Bears general manager Ryan Pace generally agrees with the assessment of Colorado wide receiver Laviska Shenault at the NFL combine.

Hardly an objective source, Shenault told everyone at the combine this year's wide receiver draft class is the best since the 2014 class featuring Odell Beckham Jr., Sammy Watkins, Kelvin Benjamin, Brandin Cooks and Mike Evans.

"It's definitely going to be a legendary class," Shenault said.

Pace didn't necessarily get into such hyperbole, but couldn't disagree about the talent considering it's a field with receivers like Alabama's Jerry Jeudy and Henry Ruggs III, LSU's Justin Jefferson, Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb and Clemson's Tee Higgins.

"It's strong," Pace said. "And they're all so different. We interviewed a handful of them (Monday) night and you talk about, there's this explosive speed guy, then there's the big targets and possession guys.

"Thats a strength of this draft for sure."

What can happen with a top end of the talent pool so strong is excellent prospects can fall into the second round. The Bears need to be ready to select one, especially one with speed to make up for the loss of receiver Taylor Gabriel due to salary cap restraints.

The Bears will visit with numerous receivers during remaining pro days and the combine. So far they've talked at the combine with receivers Gabriel Davis from Central Florida and Van Jefferson from Florida and earlier had spoken at the Senior Bowl with Jauan Jennings from Tennessee.

After a slow start at picking wide receivers, Pace picked it up drafting Anthony Miller (85 catches, 1,079 yards, 9 TDs, two seasons), Riley Ridley (6 catches, 69 yards, 1 season) and Javon Wims (22 catches, 218 yards 1 TD 2 seasons). That's better than when his first pick was Kevin White and his second wide receiver chose was Daniel Braverman.

With Wims, Miller and Ridley on the team, the Bears aren't desperate for help but a speed receiver would be extremely helpful.

"There's some depth there that we like, but we'll explore other avenues to increase competition there as well," Pace said.

Ruggs thinks he's going to break the 4.22-second record for the 40-yard dash at the combine held by John Ross, but there's several people every year who say this type of thing. Past runs he's made show he could have a chance but he's hardly the only speed in this group of receivers.

TCU'S Jalen Reagor, Arizona State's Brandon Aikyuk, Penn State's K.J. Hamler and Texas receiver Devin Duvernay all can fly and could be in the second wave of receivers at the end of Round 1 or on into the second day of the draft.

Aiyuk hasn't received the overwhelming publicity players like Jeudy, Ruggs and Jefferson have, but in terms of speed translating to the field there are not many players who proved more valuable in college. He broke more than his share of short passes into 50- or 60-yarders. 

What was surprising about Aiyuk in the pre-workout measurements was his wingspan. He had the greatest wingspan of all the receivers at 80 inches.

Michael Pittman Jr. of USC is another one like Aiyuk with great wingspan and athletic ability, and scouts will want to see him prove the speed goes with his 6-3, 219-pound frame.

Of course, running isn't all there is for receivers at the combine. They do have to actually prove they can catch passes. This year receiving drills will add the end zone fade route to the list of patterns to run. It's one of 16 new drills in this combine.

Considering how often these are run in the NFL each game, it's amazing this wasn't already a part of the combine.

While adding this drill, they've removed the toe-tap drill for receivers to prove they can get that second foot down on catches at the boundary. It's one of 10 drills removed from the combine.

Considering how often that situation comes up in NFL games, it's amazing this wasn't retained as a part of the combine.

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