The wide receiver room of the Chicago Bears has been a hot topic for discussion all offseason amongst fans, the local media, and national analysts too. It seems everyone has an opinion on how general manager Ryan Poles has constructed his receiving corps, but with training camp less than two weeks away the current group seems set.
Poles has added to the room quite a bit, but time will tell if it was enough. Banking on the running game and improved quarterback play may be in the cards for the 2022 offense, but they’ll need a playmaker or two to emerge from their wide outs.
If Darnell Mooney didn’t put up a thousand yard season in 2021 I’d have him pegged as a break out candidate this year, but with his receptions jumping from 61 as a rookie to 81 a season ago I’d argue that he already broke out. I don’t think another 20 catch improvement is coming, but he figures to be Chicago’s top target again, and this time in an offense that will take advantage of his skills.
The Bears are expecting him to continue his ascension and to be their number one this year, and if he does that he’ll be in line for a contract extension next offseason. His rapport with Justin Fields should be evident once the season kicks off, because he and Fields have bene putting in serious work all offseason.
Byron Pringle was brought in from the Chiefs, where he appeared in 46 games with 8 starts the last three years, but he’ll be expected to play a much bigger role in Chicago. He’s coming off a career best 42 receptions, 568 yards, and 5 touchdowns, while playing in 49% of K.C.’s offensive snaps. He flashed some playmaking ability in his limited role last season as 11 of his 60 targets were considered “big plays,” and that 18.3 big play percetnage ranked 9th in the NFL. Even if Pringle is spending most of his time working from the slot, which is where I think he’ll be, he should see more than 60 targets.
The other early free agent pick up, Equanimeous St. Brown, was in line to be the starting X receiver, but if he is beat out for that role then his special teams experience makes him a no-brainer to keep around. His time in the scheme from his previous three years working with Bears O.C. Luke Getsy gives him a leg up in the meeting rooms, but the 25-year old will need to bring it on the field in training camp, especially with the recent trade the Bears made.
Third round pick Velus Jones Jr. probably doesn’t win a starting spot, but the Bears have a specific role for him in mind. He’ll be a boost in the return game, but on offense they’ll scheme him some touches to take advantage of his 4.31 speed and run after catch ability.
The Bears recently traded for N’Keal Harry, and even though it was just for a future 7th rounder, his experience and upside makes him a lock to make the 53-man roster. He has the size and physicality to play on the third phase if that’s needed to add some value, and those attributes also make him a solid blocker, which is something else the team will factor in. A change of scenery was needed for the 24-year old, former first round pick, but it’s on him to take advantage of his fresh start.
A good bet to make it
Every other receiver on the roster will need to impress in camp and show up in the preseason games to prove worthy of a roster spot.
On the bubble
If the Bears only carry five wide outs, then those five above are all that make it. Trading for Harry had to hurt the chances for the other three veteran receivers the Bears added, Tajae Sharpe, Dante Pettis, and David Moore, although Moore’s recent arrest was a red flag on his chances. Other veterans in the mix for a practice squad spot are the returning Isaiah Coulter and Nsimba Webster.
The practice squad is up to 16-players this season, so the odds are decent that the Bears will want an experienced receiver or two to stick around. If they also want a vet receiver that can play special teams then Moore and Webster have an advantage there.
Other receivers in camp are second year pro Dazz Newsome, former Golden Domer Chris Finke, and undrafted free agent Kevin Shaa.
Finke (5’9”, 186) was briefly with both the 49ers and Chiefs since originally being a UDFA in 2020, and he impressed a few of the reporters at Halas Hall during OTAs. Shaa (5’10”, 166) ripped off a 4.31 forty at his Liberty pro day, and that could get him some extra looks this offseason.
How many wide outs do you see the Bears carrying on the 53-man roster this season?