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Chicago Bears 2021 Position Battles: Questions surround the wide receivers

This is the fifth in our 11 part position by position preview series for Chicago Bears training camp.

Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

The Chicago Bears clearly weren’t happy with the group they had a wide receiver a year ago, considering they added two free agents and a draft pick to upgrade the room. Then on Saturday they finally found a taker for former second round draft pick Anthony Miller, who has been on the trade block since the spring. With Miller now in Houston the competition for the third receiver should be a fun one to monitor.

The Bears are certainly set at the starting X and Z, but anything behind that could be up for grabs, and it’s possible the bottom of the depth chart is decided on special teams ability.

Roster Locks

Having a legit WR1 goes a long way into setting up a receiving corps for success, and the Bears will have their top receiver, Allen Robinson II, for at least one more season. He demands extra attention from opposing defenses and is a trustworthy option for his quarterbacks, because they know he’ll be in the exact place he’s supposed to be on every single route. A-Rob doesn’t have elite speed, and at 6’2”, 220 pounds, he’s not going to bully defensive backs, but he’s big enough, he’s athletic enough, and he plays the game with such a high football IQ to warrant number one receiver money. If the Bears don’t give it to him next offseason, someone will.

Darnell Mooney set the Bears rookie wide receiver reception record a year ago, and he’s primed for big things now that the Bears have upgraded their QB room. Mooney is such a student of the game that I wouldn’t be surprised to see him flirting with 1,000 yards this year.

“Sometimes before the play even happens, I can see how it plays out in my head,” Mooney said after an OTA practice, “and then seeing defenders’ body language and understanding the defensive look. It’s an extreme benefit to have that experience under my belt.”

Mooney’s first pro offseason was hampered by the pandemic, but he went above and beyond to make sure he was ready for 2020.

“He came in as a rookie, yet his professionalism and leadership by example has influenced those of more established years in the NFL,” Mooney’s position coach Mike Furrey said a few months ago via the team’s site.

With Miller out, my guess is former Patriot Damiere Byrd will be the third receiver, but former Olympian Marquise Goodwin should be in the mix for some reps as well.

Mooney, Byrd and Goodwin all have the speed to take the top off a defense, so Chicago now has three players they can rotate in to stress a secondary. That’ll help open things up underneath for the tight ends and running backs, not to mention pulling safety help away from A-Rob. It’s going to be interesting to see how head coach Matt Nagy deploys his receivers this season.

A good bet to make it

Rookie 6th round pick Dazz Newsome is a shifty wide out that projects to the slot, but he may have to show some special teams ability to ensure his place on the 53-man roster.

There’s also the possibility the Bears stash him on injured reserve for his rookie year since he’s coming off a broken collar bone that he suffered in June. While he should be ready to go at some point for training camp, I wouldn’t put it past the Bears to be extra cautious with him depending on how the rest of the wide outs look. The trade of Miller certainly makes it more likely they keep Newsome on the roster, and his experience as a punt returner could give him an edge, but on Sunday they announced he would start camp on the PUP list along with Tarik Cohen, so this is a situation worth monitoring.

On the bubble

The Bears have opened each of the last three seasons with six wide receivers, so if the above five guys are all in, then Riley Ridley vs Javon Wims should be a heated battle. Ridley hasn’t been able to regularly crack the lineup since being a 4th round selection in 2019, and this may be his last chance to show he belongs. Wims saw his offensive playing time drop last season while his special teams reps picked up a bit, and his third phase ability may be the only thing that gives him an edge for the 6th spot.

Ridley has more upside as a receiver, so if he can prove to be viable covering kicks and punts he should makes it as the WR6.

Rodney Adams, Jester Weah, Chris Lacy, and Thomas Ives will all be in camp fighting for a roster spot or a job on the practice squad. Ives will be entering his third training camp with the Bears, so that familiarity in the system could give an advantage over the other hopefuls. Also, if the Bears are looking for a bigger wide out to complement their mostly short receiving corps, the 6’4” Ives fits that bill.

EDIT: On July 27, the Bears signed wide outs Justin Hardy and Jon’Vea Johnson, and of the two Hardy (a 5 year vet) may have the best shot at the roster due to his special teams experience, but Johnson brings a 4.4 forty to the field.