Taylor Gabriel Taking Advantage Of Opportunity

October 16, 2018 - 2:25 pm

LAKE FOREST, Ill. (670 The Score) -- The ball was lofted deep down the left sidelines by Bears quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, and receiver Taylor Gabriel had his eyes set on it. He put on a burst of speed, but Dolphins cornerback Torry McTyer stayed in stride.

So Gabriel did what a playmaking receiver does, adjusting his body with the ball in the air. He turned and fell backward, allowing him just enough space to separate make the catch. That play this past Sunday at Hard Rock Stadium went for 47 yards and offered more evidence to Gabriel's case as a dangerous weapon in the Bears offense.

Once viewed as just a slot target, Gabriel is showing his game is more than speed and route running. He can haul in the football like a top receiver.

"It's just what you do with those opportunities," Gabriel said. "And I feel like I've taken advantage of it."

Gabriel has taken advantage of most opportunities, recording team-best marks of 27 catches for 303 yards in five games. He had zero 100-yard receiving games entering this season and now has accomplished that feat in consecutive weeks, combining to post 12 receptions for 224 yards and two touchdowns in that span, catching every pass thrown his way.

Gabriel has hauled in 79.4 percent of his targets, which is the NFL's second-best mark, trailing only Saints receiver Michael Thomas (minimum 20 targets). Gabriel's previously set a career-high of 35 catches with the NFC champion Falcons of 2016. He could conceivably top that mark as soon as this Sunday at Soldier Field.

The Bears signed the 27-year-old Gabriel to a four-year deal worth up to $26 million last spring, doing so with a belief that he could be more than just a gadget for coach Matt Nagy's offense. The Falcons never quite used Gabriel the way the Bears have through five games, as Chicago has exclusively lined Gabriel up out wide and trusted him like a top target.

Trubisky will try to get Gabriel the football any time he sees the safety isn't cheating over, he said Sunday. If there's a one-on-one matchup, Gabriel has shown he can win it, despite his 5-foot-8 frame.

"He's definitely an all-around good receiver," cornerback Kyle Fuller said of Gabriel. "It starts with him being able to beat you deep."

Cornerbacks have to play off the line of scrimmage to respect Gabriel's threat of beating them deep. That allows Gabriel the chance to create space underneath and for Trubisky to find him. And even when a defender like McTyer manages to stay with Gabriel, he can still find a way to make the catch.

After signing Gabriel in March, general manager Ryan Pace noted that Nagy would enjoy drawing up plays for him. That seems to be the case, with Gabriel second in targets to top receiver Allen Robinson. The objective is to find the mismatch with Gabriel and put his speed to use in the open field.

"It's valuable to the offense just in a sense of the schemes, the downfield throws and keeping the defense honest," Gabriel said of his speed. "But at the same time, it's not always about speed. It's how you draw it up, and I feel like Nagy has been drawing it up very good this season."

As Trubisky has displayed a greater comfort in this offense, he has trusted Gabriel more. If defenses adjust by sliding the safety down to help in coverage, that means more openings for Robinson, Anthony Miller, Trey Burton or Tarik Cohen. 

The Bears paid Gabriel like they believed in him, with his $14 million guaranteed marking even more than what the Packers gave to Randall Cobb in his current contract that he signed four years ago. Early on, Gabriel has rewarded their faith, showing he can produce as an every-down receiver.

"I feel like every wide receiver and every player in general wants more opportunities," Gabriel said. "It's just what you do with those opportunities."

Chris Emma covers the Bears, Chicago’s sports scene and more for 670TheScore.com. Follow him on Twitter @CEmma670.​​