The Chicago Bears didn’t do anything to bolster their receiving corps around second year quarterback Justin Fields, because they didn't sign any big name wide outs or draft any with their first two picks.
Does that sound about right?
This has been the prevalent notion going around NFL circles since general manager Ryan Poles passed on a spending spree in March, allowed Allen Robinson and some veteran wide outs leave in free agency, decided against making any big trades, and went defense with his first two picks.
But a closer look at the current receiver room and philosophy compared to where it was a season ago could surprise some.
The scheme itself from first time play caller Luke Getsy is an unknown. Sure we can project what it could be based on his previous work in Green Bay and the previous success from others around the league running a variation of the Shanahan offense, but it’s still an unknown. Matt Nagy came in with a lot of fanfare, and an impressive resume, before seeing his offensive scheme fizzle out the last few years, so anything we hope to see in 2022 from Getsy is just that; hope.
But as for the receivers that will be running routes and trying to catch Fields’ passes, have the Bears downgraded their room?
Losing a legit number one in Allen Robinson will hurt, but if we’re being honest, the A-Rob the Bears had in 2021 wasn’t the same guy we saw in previous years. There was a bout with COVID, the way he was used within the offense changed, and the franchise tag was hanging over his head for some time, and whether that affected his production on not, he had the worst full season of his career.
I’m going to take a position by position look at the current receiving corps and the roster from 2021 starting with the X spot that Robinson manned.
Last year A-Rob played in 12 games with 11 starts and he caught 38 passes for 410 yards and a touchdown. Right now I have Equanimeous St. Brown winning the starting X job for the Bears, and a year ago he had just 9 receptions for 98 yards with the Packers. St. Brown was signed because he knows the offensive scheme, he has good size (6’5”, 214), decent speed (4.48 forty), and at 25-years old there still could be some upside.
Robinson is clearly the more talented player, but the Bears may not need their starting X to have the same type of impact in 2022. This offense may funnel targets to the Z, the slot, the tight ends, and the running backs all more than the X, so I have St. Brown falling short of the 38 reception mark Robinson hit a year ago.
In 2021 the Bears starting Z receiver was Darnell Mooney and he caught 81 balls for 1,055 yards and 4 touchdowns. All of which led the team, as did his 140 targets, and I’d expect him to lead the 2022 Bears in all those categories again while starting at the Z. He and Fields have a report on the field and a friendship off it which is a good thing to have between the QB1 and the WR1. Mooney may not be the type of number one receiver you want to see in Chicago, but that’s going to be his role this season.
If he’s relatively healthy he should easily move into the top 20 all-time for Bears’ receptions after this year,
Byron Pringle (6’1”, 201) was signed to be a starter in Chicago, and even if he does run out there week one as the X, I think he’ll do most of his work from the slot in 2022. Last year the 28-year old Pringle had a career year with 42 receptions, 568 yards, and 5 touchdowns for the Chiefs in 17 games. He started 5 contests while playing in 49% of K.C.’s offensive snaps. His playing time will increase in Chicago, and his numbers should go up as well if he’s the second most targeted wide out. which I believe he will be.
Last year the Bears’ number three wide out by target share was Marquise Goodwin with 40, and he had 20 catches, 313 yards, and a TD, so Pringle should be an upgrade over that.
In 2021 the Bears fourth most targeted wide out was Demiere Byrd, who racked up 26 receptions, 329 yards, and 1 TD on 38 targets. He played in all 17 games a year ago with 4 starts. Chicago’s number 4 wide out in 2022 seems set to be the explosive rookie Velus Jones Jr., and with how much the Bears have talked him up this offseason I wouldn’t be surprised to see him get a few spot starts at either the X or the slot.
Jones is going to have an impact in the return game, but his impact should be felt on offense as well. Getsy should scheme him up a few touches each week so I see his first year production going over Byrd’s stats from a season ago.
Chicago’s number 5 wide out last year was return specialist Jakeem Grant, and while he flashed some play making ability in his 9 catches, 139 yards, and 2 touchdowns, I feel the Bears are more comfortable in one of their veteran pickups, David Moore, Tajae Sharpe, or Dante Pettis, replacing that production and filling a reserve receiver role in Getsy’s offense.
For comparison's sake, the 27-year old Moore had 35 receptions, 417 yards, and 6 TDs when he last scratched a stat sheet in 2020 with the Seahawks, Sharpe (27-years old) had 25 catches and 230 yards last year in Atlanta, and Pettis (26) had 10 grabs for 87 yards and a TD last year with the Giants.
The Bears also have Nsimba Webster, Kevin Shaa (UDFA), Dazz Newsome, Chris Finke, and Isaiah Coulter on the 2022 roster who will be fighting for a spot.
In total last years wide receivers accounted for 289 targets, 167 receptions, 2,130 yards, and 7 touchdowns, which is 55.2% of the team’s targets, 50.3% of the total receptions, 58.6% of the receiving yards, and 43.8% of their receiving TDs.
When looking at Chicago’s 2022 projected starting X and Z, their top slot receiver, and the WR4 and 5, do you think they’ll outproduce the receiving corps from a year ago?