The Bears added some talent at the wide receiver position, bringing in the likes of Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown and third-round pick Velus Jones Jr. to complement Darnell Mooney.
They have some solid depth, but the high-end talent is lacking. Mooney arguably fits better as a WR2, and none of their other receivers have proven themselves as starting-caliber players in the NFL quite yet. There’s hope Jones steps into a big role out of the gate and Pringle thrives in an offense with fewer superstars to battle for touches with, but it seems realistic that the Bears target wide receivers in the 2023 NFL Draft.
So much can change between now and next April, and so much certainly will change in that time. However, it’s smart to get an early understanding of which prospects could be early-round picks. Watching several 2021 games from prospects — along with the eventual 2022 tape that will come in the fall — allows evaluators to get a more in-depth understanding of each player’s development over their collegiate careers.
It doesn’t seem like the 2023 draft class will be as deep at wide receiver as this year’s, but the top-end talent might honestly be better. Let’s take a quick look at some receivers Bears fans should get to know this coming year.
Note: This doesn’t include every wide receiver I’ve watched so far, nor is this a perfect ranking by any means. I’ve watched only baseline film on basically all of these players, so these tiers and the players in them are incredibly fluid.
Tier 1: Likely first-rounders
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State (6-foot, 197 pounds)
Ohio State had two wide receivers — three, if you count Jameson Williams — selected in the first round in 2022. Smith-Njigba might be better than all of them. His athleticism, ball skills, footwork as a route runner and feel for exploiting soft spots in zone coverage saw him dominate with 95 receptions and 1,606 yards last season.
Jordan Addison, Pittsburgh (6-foot, 175 pounds)
Whichever program snags Addison from the transfer portal is getting an instant game-changer for their offense. The 2021 Biletnikoff winner is an impressive athlete with blazing speed, explosive cuts coming out of his breaks and a high route-running IQ. He’s skinny, but he’s able to make up for it with just how good he is at getting open wherever he lines up.
Kayshon Boutte, LSU (6-foot, 190 pounds)
Were it not for a season-ending injury in 2021, chances are Boutte would be my WR1 in this class right now. He has great deep speed, very good ball skills, a refined route-running package and a dominant skill set after the catch. Even if he’s not the largest receiver out there, he plays big enough to project to the boundary.
Tier 2: Strong complementary upside
Marvin Mims, Oklahoma (5-foot-11, 177 pounds)
With 19.1 yards per catch, Mims is one of the best returning deep threats in college football. He complements his speed with his ability to disguise route concepts and make sharp cuts as a route runner as a field-side ‘Z’ receiver.
Josh Downs, North Carolina (5-foot-10, 180 pounds)
Downs exploded with 101 receptions, 1,335 yards and 8 touchdowns as a versatile receiver with a dynamic skill set and an ability to consistently separate inside or outside. He’s also a quality punt returner, giving him some additional immediate production for NFL teams.
A.T. Perry, Wake Forest (6-foot-5, 206 pounds)
Perry isn’t a household name in draft circles yet, but remember his name: he’s a monster. His tape is filled with highlight catches and 50-50 ball wins, and though he’s not a fantastic route runner yet, he still has solid deep speed to stretch the field.
Rakim Jarrett, Maryland (6-foot, 200 pounds)
Maryland has three wide receivers that could get drafted in 2023, and Jarrett might be the best of the bunch. He’s an above-average athlete with impressive ball skills and a high route-running IQ, and his deep threat ability hasn’t been fully unlocked in college due to inconsistent deep accuracy around him.
Zay Flowers, Boston College (5-foot-11, 178 pounds)
Many saw Flowers as a potential Day 2 pick if he declared for the 2022 draft, and he projects as one of the best returning receivers in the nation. His explosiveness off the snap and flexibility in his lower half allows him to beat defenders deep and create separation with his crisp cuts.
Parker Washington, Penn State (5-foot-10, 212 pounds)
For what Washington lacks in height, he makes up for with explosiveness, contact balance and ball skills. He has been productive in his first two collegiate seasons, and now that he gets the chance to be a bonafide WR1, his 2022 season could be All-American level good.
Jayden Reed, Michigan State (6-foot, 185 pounds)
The Naperville Central alumnus is a fluid athlete with loose hips, good speed, great ball-carrier vision and agility after the catch. He has 3 total punt returns for touchdowns to his name, contributing to his value as a solid slot starter.
Tier 3: Possible breakout talents
Quentin Johnston, TCU (6-foot-4, 201 pounds)
Johnston is raw as a route runner, but the physical tools stand out with him. He has fantastic ball skills and enough deep speed needed to take the top off of a defense. His strong hands allow him to come down with grabs in contested coverage.
Jermaine Burton, Alabama (6-foot, 200 pounds)
An effective rotational deep threat at Georgia, Burton transferred to Alabama and figures to have a shot at a starting role this year. His coordination tracking down the deep ball and overall play strength could see him break out in a bigger role.
Jacob Cowing, Arizona (5-foot-11, 170 pounds)
Cowing dominated at UTEP with 1,354 yards and 18.4 yards per catch in 2021. Though his frame is too lanky, his electricity in a straight line and his quickness out of his breaks should see him translate well to a transfer to a Power 5 school like Arizona.
Dontay Demus Jr., Maryland (6-foot-3, 217 pounds)
Though Demus is a bigger wide receiver, he offers better deep speed and value after the catch than one would expect for his size. He has some work to do as a route-running technician, but the physical upside is obvious.
Cedric Tillman, Tennessee (6-foot-3, 215 pounds)
Tillman’s size and physicality stand out whenever you watch Tennessee’s offense from 2021. He’s not the most explosive receiver out there, but his ability to break press coverage and compete at the catch point is certainly commendable.