Holmes Could be A Big Upgrade

| August 19th, 2014

If Santonio Holmes is able to regain his prime form, the Chicago Bears will have the best trio of receivers in the league, but he won’t need to be that good to be an upgrade over last season.

Yesterday we learned that former third receiver Marquess Wilson could miss most of the season after breaking his collarbone. We still don’t know how the Bears are going to do with Wilson, but they might need Holmes to play a lot this season.

A quick look at Holmes’ statistics would lead one to believe he’s done and just trying to extend his career any way he can. After some further evaluation, I think he’s going to be better than Earl Bennett was, as long as he’s in shape and able to pick up the playbook.

Say what you will about Holmes catch total, but big things happened when he caught the ball. He averaged 19.8 yards per reception in 2013 with a long of 69 yards. ESPN credited him with nine catches of over 20 yards. Bennett’s longest catch of the season was 17 yards. Allow me to repeat that, Holmes average was significantly longer than Bennett’s longest catch.

Bennett didn’t have a lot of chances (15 fewer targets than Holmes) but the fact of the matter is he didn’t make things happen last year. Despite catching nine fewer passes with a terrible quarterback, Holmes had 213 more yards.

Holmes made his mark in the league as a deep threat for Ben Roethlisberger and he still showed some of that ability last season. According to Pro Football Focus, eight of his 23 receptions came over 20 yards down the field. That’s by far the highest rate of any receiver on the Bears team, as Jeffery had 14 of his 89 catches that far down the field and Marshall had 13 of his 100.

The one thing New York Jets quarterback Geno Smith seemed to be adequate at last year was throwing down the field, but that had a lot to do with Holmes. According to PFF, Smith was seventh in the league, completing 46.7 percent of his passes 20 or more yards down the field. However, if you take Holmes production, Smith’s accuracy percentage drops below 40 percent and would put him tied for 28th.

The concerning is the fact that Holmes only caught 23 of his 59 targets (by ESPN’s count), an incredibly low number. Upon looking at the film, it was clear that Smith’s lack of accuracy was a large part of the reason why. I went through a number of games from last season and Smith just flat out missed Holmes in the majority of their incompletions.

In the below screen shot from NFL Game Rewind, you see what could’ve been a long touchdown catch, but Smith’s throw was well short. This happened regularly, especially on shorter passes and timing routes. For whatever reason, Smith and Holmes did not click.

Screen shot 2014-08-18 at 12.19.58 PM

Holmes did drop seven passes, a number that must be lower for the Bears, but Smith’s inability to consistently deliver accurate passes was their biggest problem. Holmes also had a ton of diving catches to help offset the drops.

As we enter the supposedly important third preseason game, we don’t know what Holmes’ status with the Bears is. We don’t know if he’ll be able to learn the playbook in time or what kind of shape he’s in. We don’t know if he will play yet this week, but it would be interesting to see how quickly he gets on the field and if he and Jay Cutler can develop chemistry quickly.

Holmes also has to beat out Josh Morgan, who has looked solid in the team’s first two preseason games. There are a lot of factors that come into play. There are questions that we won’t have answers to until Holmes gets on the field.

There are also the off-the-field issues and some have said he’s difficult to get along with. It’s important to mention the leadership in the Bears locker room. If he’s out of line, the Bears have the leadership on the field and in the coaching staff to handle him. The Bears don’t need him to be a productive offense, it’s something both he and the team know. The Bears don’t seem to be worried about.

Of course, there’s also the chance that Holmes used up whatever gas he had left in his tank last season. If he isn’t able to beat Morgan out, I wouldn’t expect the Bears to keep him. He probably won’t play special teams and certainly won’t cover kicks, so it would be hard for them to keep four receivers — five when Wilson returns — who don’t contribute in the third phase.

The Bears would like for Holmes to be the weapon he was with the Steelers, however, if they can just get the Jets version, they’ll have a third receiver who can at least occasionally make big plays.

With their other weapons, that’s all they need.