It’s no secret that the Bears need some help on the offensive side of the ball.
Although they are coming off of an impressive win against the Texans at home, the team’s offense has generally struggled with moving the ball down the field and putting points on the board.
While it may not be as big of a need as quarterback or offensive line, the wide receiver position could see a new face or two join Chicago’s roster this offseason. With Allen Robinson’s future with the organization up in the air and Anthony Miller still suffering from inconsistency issues, they would be wise to look to add some more weapons to their offense.
The Bears found a promising young piece in the draft this past offseason with Darnell Mooney, and they could end up following a similar path in improving their arsenal in the passing game by the time the regular season comes to a close.
The 2020 draft was dubbed as an incredibly deep class for wide receivers, and the group has already seen incredible returns from the likes of Justin Jefferson, Chase Claypool, Tee Higgins and CeeDee Lamb. That’s not even including early-round picks Jerry Jeudy, Henry Ruggs III and Denzel Mims, all of whom having shown promise in their rookie campaigns.
All of that said, though, this upcoming class of 2021 wide receivers could potentially be just as good as this year’s crop of rookie wideouts. From an enticing class of Day 1 talents to several mid-round sleepers, there are plenty of talented collegiate athletes who could make an impact for NFL teams on Sundays for years to come.
To get a preview of a position the Bears will presumably take a look at this year, I’ve broken this class up into four tiers. Tier 1 is made up of players I see as first-round locks, Tier 2 are players on the edge of the first round. but could also go off the board early on Day 2. Tier 3 consists solely on Day 2 receivers, and Tier 4 contains prospects who probably won’t go any earlier than Day 3, but all of the players listed could outplay their eventual draft positioning.
With all of that out of the way, let’s break down the current top 20 wide receivers on my board for the 2021 NFL Draft.
1. Ja’Marr Chase, LSU (6-foot-1, 200 pounds)
Despite not playing in 2020, Chase is my WR1 by a narrow margin after a phenomenal 2019 campaign which saw him win the Biletnikoff Award as a true sophomore. He has tremendous ball skills, fluidity across the middle of the field, a high football IQ, and value after the catch. He could serve as a key weapon in an NFL offense from Day 1.
2. Jaylen Waddle, Alabama (5-foot-10, 182 pounds)
Were it not for an ankle injury that has seen him miss most of the 2020 season, Waddle would have likely taken over the top spot with how dominant he was to kick off the year. Not only is he an elite athlete with stellar deep speed and insane agility after the catch, but he’s also an intelligent route runner who has very good physicality for his size.
3. Rashod Bateman, Minnesota (6-foot-2, 210 pounds)
If Allen Robinson ends up on another team this offseason, the Bears could add a player with a similar skillset in Bateman. The Minnesota star is a big and physical receiver with a high route-running IQ and precise footwork to consistently create separation against man coverage.
4. DeVonta Smith, Alabama (6-foot-1, 175 pounds)
His skinny frame is slightly concerning, but Smith has topped at least 1,200 yards in each of the last two seasons on a stacked Alabama offense. He may just be the smartest and sharpest route runner in the 2021 class, and he brings very nice fluidity and acceleration to the table as a ‘Z’ receiver at the next level.
5. Rondale Moore, Purdue (5-foot-9, 180 pounds)
Though Moore’s battles with injuries could hurt his stock, he has been an electric playmaker when he’s been on the field. He is a quick-twitched athlete with plenty of deep speed, explosiveness coming out of his breaks, and elite vision, agility and contact balance in the open field.
6. Terrace Marshall Jr., LSU (6-foot-3, 200 pounds)
Marshall finished the 2019 season as the No. 3 receiver for LSU’s offense, but he closes out the 2020 season as one of the best receivers in college football. His combination of length, ball skills, deep speed and fluidity could see him sneak into the first round.
7. Amon-Ra St. Brown, USC (6-foot-1, 195 pounds)
The brother of Packers wide receiver Equanimeous St. Brown, the younger St. Brown is an early Day 2 prospect whose lateral quickness, ball skills and body control have seen him excel at USC despite fighting for targets with a talented group of offensive weapons.
8. Chris Olave, Ohio State (6-foot-1, 185 pounds)
Olave is a productive weapon who has had 1,368 yards and 17 touchdowns in the past 18 games he has played. He isn’t necessarily elite in a particular area, but he’s athletic, coordinated, crisp as a route runner and can make defenders miss after the catch.
9. Sage Surratt, Wake Forest (6-foot-3, 215 pounds)
Another season of top-notch play could have carried Surratt into the first round, but with quarterback Jamie Newman transferring, it made plenty of sense for him to stick with his 2019 tape. Last year was an incredible season, as he showcased top-notch physicality, jump-ball ability and ball skills to add onto his large frame.
10. Tylan Wallace, Oklahoma State (6-foot-0, 185 pounds)
With 3,266 yards, 192 receptions and 26 touchdowns over the past three years as of this writing, Wallace has been an insanely productive weapon for Oklahoma State over the course of his career. He has great body control and ball skills, and he does a solid job of stretching the field vertically.
11. Kadarius Toney, Florida (5-foot-11, 190 pounds)
Toney has always been a playmaker at the collegiate level, but he has truly come into his own as a pure receiver in 2020. He may be the best YAC receiver in the draft class, having elite agility and vision past the second level that make him a threat to break free on any play. He has improved his technique as a route runner, too.
12. Jaelon Darden, North Texas (5-foot-9, 174 pounds)
I was high on Darden heading into the 2020, but he has surpassed even my expectations for him this year. Through 9 games, he has scored 19 touchdowns on 74 receptions and 1,190 yards. He lacks in size, but he makes up for it with his blazing deep speed and his technique as a route runner—I’ve been on record saying he reminds me of Darnell Mooney for those exact reasons.
13. Seth Williams, Auburn (6-foot-3, 224 pounds)
If you’re looking for a powerful ‘X’ receiver outside of the first round, Williams is your guy. He’s not necessarily a burner, but he’s well-built, physical, has a good feel for exposing zone coverage and brings stellar contact balance after the catch.
14. Austin Watkins, UAB (6-foot-3, 205 pounds)
His production hasn’t been up to par to his 2019 season, but Watkins is still a talented ‘X’ receiver with great size, physicality, ball skills and a high route-running IQ who could outdo his eventual draft status.
15. Marlon Williams, UCF (6-foot-0, 215 pounds)
Williams is an intriguing prospect who brings a thick frame, agility in the open field and reliable hands. Before opting out of the rest of the 2020 season, he had 71 receptions, 1,039 yards and 10 touchdowns in just 8 games.
16. Tre Walker, San Jose State (5-foot-11, 180 pounds)
Walker is an athletic weapon who not only has stellar deep speed and impressive crispness as a route runner, but he showcases subtle nuances in his footwork and release at the line of scrimmage. He can struggle against press and doesn’t have tremendous value in tight windows, but with how often he gets open, he doesn’t face many of those.
17. Justyn Ross, Clemson (6-foot-4, 205 pounds)
There isn’t even clarity about whether Ross will be able to play football again, given the congenial fusion on his spine that has caused him to miss the 2020 season. If he is able to play and get back to full strength, then teams will be getting a physical ‘X’ receiver with great physicality, ball-tracking skills and a diverse set of releases against press coverage.
18. D’Wayne Eskridge, Western Michigan (5-foot-9, 190 pounds)
Eskridge was timed as having a 4.33 40-yard dash in 2018, and that speed is reflective on tape. He has impressive acceleration off the snap and can stretch the field vertically, and he has great lateral quickness as both a ball-carrier and as a route runner. Durability and a lack of physicality could hurt his draft stock, but he has some really nice tools.
19. Tutu Atwell, Louisville (5-foot-9, 165 pounds)
As his measurements indicate, Atwell’s size is a big concern—no pun intended. Still, given his dynamic skillset consisting of dynamic straight-line speed and burst off the snap, he should be a tough receiver to stop at the next level when put out in space.
20. Tamorrion Terry, Florida State (6-foot-4, 210 pounds)
Terry may very well stay in school for another year, seeing as though he left the Florida State program midway through the 2020 season. That concern looms large, but with his size, physicality, agility after the catch and footwork as a route runner, he should still be on the radars of many NFL teams.