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Bears
NFL

3 Draft-Eligible WRs Bears Fans Should Pay Attention To

  • Carmen Vitali
  • June 22, 2022
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The Chicago Bears are laying a foundation (hopefully a sustainable one) and with a quarterback brimming with potential secured under center, one of the next orders of business should be getting Justin Fields more playmakers around him – namely, wide receivers.

The Bears had limited draft stock in 2022, though General Manager Ryan Poles flipped multiple picks for more capital on days two and three. Chicago didn’t have a first-round pick, which has been an alarming trend as of late, but they’ll have one in 2023. Depending on how big the learning curve is this year, that first-round pick could be high, too. And with another crop of talented pass-catchers waiting in the wings, Chicago could end up with their top wide receiver come next April.

First, let’s take stock of what the Bears already have. Their No. 1 receiver from 2021 has jumped ship in Allen Robinson, leaving Darnell Mooney to take over as the team’s ‘X’ target. Mooney had 81 catches last season, good for 1,055 yards and four touchdowns. The latter stayed stagnant from 2020, which is a bit of a concern given his target share went up between the two seasons. Now, Mooney is going to have to shoulder even more of the load as Fields enters his second year. That should spell good news for both, as they already have some chemistry built up, and are apparently training together this offseason in Atlanta before training camp starts.

Mooney was moved back and forth between wide alignments and the slot last season, as well. He even saw some limited snaps coming out of the backfield. Should he indeed shift to that ‘X’ receiver role, he’ll likely primarily operate from the outside, where he spent 56.3% of his snaps in 2021. Though he was effective in the slot, he might give way to the Bears’ second receiver (as of now), newcomer Byron Pringle.

Pringle comes from the Kansas City Chiefs, where he was used sparingly on an offense that boasted some of the best pass-catchers in the league. When he was on the field, he spent a majority of his time in the slot, lining up inside 51.8% of the time. In all, Pringle caught 42 passes for 568 yards and five touchdowns, surpassing Mooney’s end zone production in his limited role. Given where each spent most of their time last season, they seem to complement each other well, with Mooney being relegated to the outside and Pringle using his physicality inside the numbers.

Add in another complement in rookie Velus Jones Jr., whom the Bears drafted this past April, and Chicago’s top three receivers actually fit together pretty well. At Tennessee, Jones’ role was pretty simple, with the Volunteers asking only a very simple route tree from him. Where Jones can thrive though is in what he can do after he gets the ball in his hands.

“His post-catch production has been notable and it translates to why he’s been so good as a returner,” TDN’s Joe Marino wrote in Jones’ scouting report. “Jones is explosive and he makes timely cuts, which enables him to create for himself. Jones has good contact balance and 2021 saw plenty of defenders falling off their attempts to tackle him.”

That sounds like a lot of physicality from a 5-foot-11 receiver, but he should fit right in with the aforementioned two in 2022 for the Bears.

All that being said, Chicago is still going to need some scarier weapons. And they could find them in this year’s draft. Here are three wide receivers that could slot in quite nicely that should be available in 2023.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State

This is an obvious one, especially considering the tear Ohio State receivers are on as of late. The program continues to produce dominant pass-catchers year-in and year-out – with Smith-Njigba simply being the next in line. 

Smith-Njigba is an excellent route-runner but has mostly worked out of the slot during his time in Columbus. 

“The first component is that 87 of his 95 receptions (92%) in 2021 came from the slot,” wrote Marino in his assessment of Smith-Njigba. “While Ohio State moves him around the formation and frequently puts him in motion, there is no denying that Smith-Njigba has enjoyed and taken advantage of free releases. Therefore, his ability to win out wide is a question.”

That should be answered this season. With both Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave onto the pro level, Smith-Njigba will be tasked with an increased workload and given his route-running ability, likely a bigger variety of alignments. Even if he continues to work primarily in the slot, that kind of asset for Fields would be welcomed in the Windy City. Plus, he’s only a couple of states away. Chicago is already in Big Ten country, so watching Smith-Njigba won’t be too hard for Bears fans this season.

Parker Washington, Penn State

Speaking of Big Ten receivers, let’s take a closer look at another, though this one is out of Penn State. The Nittany Lions have also produced some stellar wide receivers in recent years, most recently, Jahan Dotson. Now that he’s gone, Washington, similarly to Smith-Njigba, will likely see an increased target share.

“With Washington well aligned to absorb the volume in the Penn State passing offense and offering clear flashes of his potential last season en route to a 64-reception, 820-yard (12.8 ypc), and four-touchdown catch season, one of the big questions looming over Happy Valley this upcoming season is how high can Washington climb amid the wide receiver ranks for the 2023 NFL Draft,” wrote Kyle Crabbs in his latest.

Washington is yet another savvy slot receiver that could be an option for the Bears next year. He’s built for it, too, with Crabbs calling him a very ‘dense’ player, likely meaning he can hold up well inside. 

“He’s very savvy running middle-of-the-field routes that sit down versus zone, break vertically on delayed attacks up the field, or work across the face of traffic when running the shallow and rubbing to come clean against man coverage,” wrote Crabbs.

Jordan Addison, USC

Addison is a bit of a different receiver from the previous two. He’s going to be must-see TV either way after transferring from Pittsburgh to now join Lincoln Riley at USC this season. He’s been productive since his freshman year but absolutely exploded for the Panthers in 2021 (with Kenny Pickett as his quarterback), showcasing a versatile skill set that garnered massive attention across the nation.

“Addison has plucky hands and caught several hot throws away from his frame with ease; snatching the ball cleanly away from the body and tucking it to transition into run after catch,” wrote Crabbs in Addison’s scouting report. “The RAC component of Addison’s game is another winning ingredient. Pittsburgh’s offense charged him with plenty of RPO bubbles and quick throws and allowed him to manufacture false steps, poor tackle challenges, and extra yards with the ball in his hands.”

That last part should be music to Bears fans’ ears. With a new offensive system in place under Offensive Coordinator Luke Getsy, who has promised to utilize Fields’ dynamic skill set, Chicago should evolve into a more play-action/RPO-heavy offense. The wheels for getting the most out of Fields’ dual-threat ability have already been set in motion this offseason, and if that does pan out, Addison would be a fantastic addition next season when the Bears could be ready to contend.

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Carmen Vitali