There was no doubt that the Chicago Bears were looking to upgrade at wide receiver to help surround second-year quarterback Mitchell Trubisky with a better supporting cast than the one he had in his rookie year. So news that they secured former Jaguars receiver Allen Robinson isn’t much of a surprise, but it is a terrific acquisition.
They followed the Robinson move by agreeing to terms with Eagles tight end Trey Burton, giving the offense a significant upgrade with two important weapons for Trubisky.
Robinson looked well on his way to becoming one of the top receivers in the NFL after his first three seasons, but this past year was cut short during the first game after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament. While an ACL injury is always a concern, he was the best free agent receiver available. He has become a well-rounded threat with the potential to go deep or turn short passes into big gains with his run-after-the-catch ability.
On this play from 2016, Robinson runs a deep in-breaking route against off-coverage.
Robinson angles his routes outside initially to sell a vertical route to the cornerback. As he reaches the top of his route, he manages to get the defender to open his hips to the sideline, creating lots of separation as Robinson cuts inside. Robinson makes the grab and then shows his ability to create after the catch, eluding defenders on his way to a nearly 40-yard gain.
One of Robinson’s best traits is his body control when adjusting to the flight of the ball. He makes a number of spectacular catches to pull in back-shoulder throws or correct inaccurate passes.
Here, Robinson is isolated to the left of the formation. He runs a simple go route, but Blake Bortles throws to his back shoulder. Robinson does an excellent job of not only getting his head around and locating the throw, but turning his body completely around to make an incredible, one-handed grab.
Having that type of weapon for Trubisky will be huge for his development. There were times last season when Trubisky didn’t have receivers who could create separation, forcing him to scramble.
As Trubisky drops back here, he works to his right with a corner-flat combination. The flat is covered while the receiver running the deeper route gets caught in traffic and then stumbles out of his break. Trubisky then works back to his left, where he has a receiver running a basic cross, but that receiver gets heavily jammed at the line of scrimmage and fails to gain any separation out of his cut. With no receivers available to him, Trubisky is forced to take off scrambling.
Assuming Robinson recovers fully from his ACL, he’ll instantly become the best receiver on the Bears’ roster. He’s such a smooth route runner that he creates separation regularly. Not only should that give Trubisky a receiver he can trust to get open in key situations, but it should open things up for the other receivers on the team.
While new Bears Head Coach Matt Nagy developed an innovative offense involving jet sweeps and run-pass options in Kansas City last season, which he is expected to carry over in Chicago, he still has a long history in Andy Reid’s West coast system. Robinson fits as a prototypical X receiver in a West coast system, isolating him on the back side of formations and allowing him to work one-on-one against corners to allow his route running ability to shine. In turn, that will allow Nagy and the Bears to overload the other side of the field with route combinations to attack various zone coverages Trubisky may see, giving him a split field read where he can work one side against zone and Robinson’s side against man.
Robinson is only one piece of the puzzle for Nagy and the Bears. They’ve also agreed to sign Burton, who flew under-the-radar with the Eagles roster because of the presence of Zach Ertz, but whenever he was called upon, he performed well. He’s athletic and can make people miss after the catch.
The Eagles use a three tight end set here with Burton to the left side of the formation. He runs a simple hook route, sitting down over the ball in the middle of the field about 10 yards deep as part of the Eagles’ mesh concept.
As Burton breaks off his route and sits in the middle of the field, he spots an underneath zone defender close to him while a defensive back is over the top of him. Burton wisely breaks off his route and works slightly back outside to give his quarterback a safety throw. Burton then makes the catch and twists back inside, eluding the defensive back and running away from the underneath linebacker, picking up an extra five yards before being tackled by the safety.
That athleticism also makes him a matchup problem for opposing defenses. He’s perfectly capable of splitting out wide, forcing the defense to decide between leaving a linebacker potentially exposed to a better athlete or a safety exposed to a bigger body.
Here, the Eagles split Burton outside the numbers, forcing the Broncos to have a linebacker cover him in space. He runs a slant-and-go, often referred to as a sluggo.
The linebacker bites on the slant fake, leaving him out of position as Burton breaks back outside. Burton angles outside toward the pylon of the end zone, giving his quarterback as much possible space to work with. The ball is on target and Burton makes the catch for a touchdown before the linebacker can recover.
As an athletic receiving tight end, Burton gives the Bears a chess piece to move around and create matchup problems. One option is to isolate him on one side of the field, like Nagy did with Travis Kelce in Kansas City. That forces the defense to declare its coverage intentions by either walking a linebacker or corner out to him. Burton can also be used as a pre-snap motion piece to give Trubisky an easier read of the defense. Nagy could line up Burton on the same side as Robinson before motioning him across to the other side, leaving Robinson isolated on the back side of the formation. If a defender follows Burton, Trubisky will likely know it’s man coverage and can work to Robinson’s side of the field. If no defender follows him, then the defense is likely in zone coverage and Trubisky can work to Burton’s side of the field with a zone coverage-beating route combination.
It was clear the Bears needed to add more weapons for Trubisky this offseason. In Robinson, they’ve landed a wideout with the ability to be a true No. 1 receiver, so long as he’s able to stay healthy and on the field. That alone should be a big boost to Trubisky’s development going forward. Adding a receiving tight end in Burton will go a long way, too. Chicago still has cap room and also owns the eighth overall pick, which could all go toward rebuilding the offense with weapons for Trubisky. With these new pieces and the creativity of Nagy, the Bears’ offense should take a step forward in Trubisky’s second season.
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