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A look at the Bears’ wide receiver group

This much-criticized group might turn out to be better than people think.

NFL: JUN 14 Chicago Bears Minicamp Photo by Robin Alam/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Going back to the beginning of veteran free agency in March, the Chicago Bears have received much criticism for their so-called “weak” wide receiver group. I am one who does not feel it is weak at all but rather a group that has not had the opportunity to shine. This group is talented but under-publicized. Let’s take a look at the main characters.

Darnell Mooney

Mooney was unfortunate that his draft year was during the beginning of the COVID-19 Pandemic. Yes, there was a Scouting Combine, but after that, there were very few Pro Days or private workouts. Just a few schools in the first week of March were able to hold Pro Days. Mooney’s school (Tulane) was not one of them.

Mooney had an excellent Combine, running a 4.38 40-yard with a 37-inch vertical jump. Had there been Pro Days and private workouts, there is no doubt he would have gone higher in the Draft as his college tape was very good. His size (5-foot-10, 177 pounds) didn’t help.

Through two full NFL seasons, we have seen the results. Mooney is an excellent NFL receiver who will only get better. What Mooney has, is a very strong football character, and he will do whatever it takes to become a very proficient NFL receiver. He may never be a high-ranking No. 1 receiver, but at worst, he’s an excellent No. 2.

Byron Pringle

Going into free agency, Pringle is one player I hoped the Bears would go after. In 2021, he got his best opportunity to play with 586 snaps from scrimmage, and another 135 special teams snaps. He also started 5 games, played as the Chiefs’ No. 3, and had 42 receptions for a 13.5-yard average per catch with five touchdowns. As a player, he is just coming into his own, and I feel he will be a valuable addition to the Bears.

Pringle will most likely play in the slot like he did at Kansas City. More and more teams are starting to put bigger players in the slot because they can create mismatches. Pringle has excellent size at 6-foot-1, 203 pounds, runs a 4.46 40-yard dash, and is very athletic. There is no question that he will improve on last year’s 42 receptions.

Equaninimeous St. Brown

This is a player who I have followed closely going back to his time at Notre Dame. In 2016, his sophomore year, St. Brown had 58 receptions for over 900 yards and nine touchdowns. He looked like he had the potential to become a premium-round player in 2018.

In 2017, his production fell off to 33 receptions for 515 yards and three touchdowns. He looked as if he was playing to protect himself. In fairness, Notre Dame struggled at quarterback that year and their passing game as a whole was horrendous. Still, scouts downgraded him, and St. Brown wasn’t selected until the sixth round.

Watching some practice tape of the Packers while St. Brown was there, I could see that his route running had greatly improved. All he needed was the opportunity. Green Bay has had an excellent receiving corps the last few years, and St. Brown was no better than four or five on the depth chart.

That being said, Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy has worked with St. Brown for the last three years and knows him well. Both Pringle and St. Brown were signed right away in free agency because of what GM Ryan Poles thought of Pringle and Getsy thought of St. Brown. Both of these players have very good upside. Like Pringle, St. Brown has size and athleticism. At the Combine, he was 6-foot-4, 218 pounds, ran a 4.48 40-yard dash, and did an unheard of 20 reps of 225 pounds on the bench press. Very few receivers can put up that kind of weight. In the Bears’ new offense, he is an ideal X receiver.

N’Keal Harry

There is no question that Harry was a bust in New England. Why? None of us know. Having worked with Patriots head coach Bill Belichick for seven years in New York, I know he can be difficult to work for. He is very demanding, and the Patriots’ offense is one of the more difficult in the League.

Harry is a former first-round pick (2019), and he was not over-drafted. Looking at tape from when he was at Arizona State, he was a dominating receiver and an adequate punt returner. The talent is there. It’s the Bears coaches’ job to get it out of him. That said, there are some who question Harry’s football character, and that may have been the reason he failed in New England. To date in camp, he has looked good, but there is still a long way to go. He can easily be a fourth or fifth receiver in the rotation as well as a good special teams player if he sets his mind to it. Like St. Brown, Harry is a big receiver, having measured 6-foot-4, 228 pounds, and he ran a 4.53 40-yard dash at his Combine.

Velus Jones Jr.

I did a lot of work on Jones Jr. prior to April’s Draft. I felt he was a legitimate third-round pick which is where the Bears selected him. He had a strong year at Tennessee in 2021 and was the second fastest receiver at the Combine (4.31). Yes, he is a bit over-aged at 25, but that doesn’t concern me. Devin Hester turned 24 during his rookie year.

The way I look at it is talent is talent, speed is speed, and Jones has a ton of both talent and speed. With the rookie contracts structured the way they are, a rookie has four years to prove himself. If Jones plays well, he would be getting his second contract at 29, and that still gives him a few good years left in the League.

What does Jones bring to the table? Big play ability! With his running and return skills, he is a big play waiting to happen. Get him in the open field, and he’s gone. Yes, he will go through rookie growing pains, but he still should be a valuable commodity for the Bears this season.

Who will be the sixth receiver?

Unless one of the above five falters during camp and the preseason, they will be the five top receivers on the Bears roster. It gives the Bears an excellent combination of both size and speed. Last year the Bears had one of the smallest receiver groups in the NFL when you look at the height and weight of each player in the group. This year it’s the opposite in that the only really small guy is Mooney at 5-foot-11, 182 pounds

Most clubs keep six receivers on the 53-man roster. That means there is room for one more. When coaches and the front office construct the wide receiver group for a roster, at least two and preferably three of those players must be contributors on special teams. Looking at their history: Pringle, St. Brown, and Harry have played the third phase in the past, with Pringle and St. Brown logging the most snaps on specials.

Jones has excellent special teams potential because of his return skills and has shown the toughness needed to be a cover guy on teams. The sixth player on this year's Bears wide receiver roster should be able to provide special teams production.

Looking at others’ history, Tajae Sharpe has played on specials throughout his career and has done well. Except for return work, Dante Pettis has done little. Dazz Newsone has the potential, but he did little a year ago and looked slow. He will have to vastly improve over the next few weeks to have a chance. David Moore has a good history in special teams but doesn’t give the team much as a receiver. If the team was to cut down today, I would say that Sharpe is the leader in the clubhouse. The next five weeks will be very important for that group to see who can nail down that sixth receiver spot.

If none jump to the top, the sixth receiver isn’t presently on the Bears’ roster.