The on-field events at the NFL Combine will start on Thursday, but many players have already arrived in Indianapolis for their medicals and interviews. Veteran free agency is still two weeks away, and once the Chicago Bears bolster their roster, we'll have a better idea of how their board could shape up for the 2023 NFL Draft.
Check out my take on the defensive linemen I'll be keeping a close eye on in yesterday's article, and here are the wide receivers and offensive linemen I'll be watching.
The way I hear it, the Bears are looking to add one more dynamic wide receiver. They have a couple of big guys in Equinimous St. Brown and Chase Claypool, but what they would like to add is another really good route runner who has speed that can consistently get separation. This Draft is loaded with this type of player. While I can't see the Bears taking a receiver in the first round, a good one will come into play in the second or third, especially if they can trade down and add some second-round picks.
Jalin Hyatt – Tennessee: Hyatt is a one-year wonder at Tennessee, having been a backup before this year. When Cedric Tillman got injured, Hyatt answered the call and played extremely well. He could very well be one of the fastest guys at Indy, and as he showed on tape, he can get open versus man or zone coverage. He is a home run threat every time he touches the ball.
Cedric Tillman – Tennessee: Tillman is a big, athletic, and speedy receiver from Tennessee. In 2021 he was the Vol’s #1 receiver and outshined current Bear, Velus Jones. Tillman is also an excellent route runner and is consistently able to gain separation coming out of cuts. His numbers were down this year due to some soft tissue injuries.
Zay Flowers – Boston College: Flowers may be the best slot receiver in this Draft. He is extremely quick to go along with having very good speed. His route running is excellent, as are his hands and receiving radius. The negative is that he is like 5094 – 180.
Josh Downs – North Carolina: Downs is similar to Flowers in that he is on the smaller side and may be strictly a slot receiver. Still, he has excellent speed and catches everything thrown his way.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba – Ohio State: Smith-Njigba was Ohio State's leading receiver in 2021 with over 90 receptions. Many had him as the top receiver in the country going into the 2022 season. In the opening game, he pulled a hamstring and only played in one other game for the rest of the season. There are reports that he was ready to play but was saving himself for the NFL. That won't sit well with evaluators, even though he is a fan favorite. There is also suspicion that he will not run very fast. Coming out of high school, he supposedly ran in the low 4.6s. So the Combine is very important for this player for several reasons.
Rashee Rice – SMU: Rice has all the tools. He's big, fast, athletic, and quick. He can play inside or outside, and with his quickness and body control, he consistently can get separation coming out of cuts. He is a certain Day-2 selection.
Jayden Reed – Michigan State: Reed is a local Chicago area kid and is a perfect fit for what the Bears want. Like Rice, he can play inside or out, is a very good route runner, and has tremendous speed. He can also return punts, and that helps his cause—another probable Day-2 pick.
Ronnie Bell – Michigan: Going into 2021, Bell looked like a certain premium round pick, but then he tore an ACL in the opening game. He returned strong this season with 62 receptions for 889 yards and four touchdowns. Before the injury, he was a dynamic punt returner. His medical will be important because of his injury history, but this is another player who fits what the Bears are looking for.
Kayshon Boutte – LSU: Boutte is an early entrant who did not have the season he hoped to have. Last spring, there was talk that he would transfer, but he decided to stay. Regardless of what his production was in '22, Boutte is very talented. He has nice size, very good speed, solid hands, and is a good route runner. It's been said that he has some diva to him, but if that is accurate, most clubs will have that information and decide accordingly.
Yes, Chicago's offensive line struggled much of last year and mainly because of youth and injuries. Lucas Patrick was signed away from Green Bay to play center and, because of injuries, only played one quarter at center all season. Young guys like Teven Jenkins and Braxton Joes will be future stars. The way I hear it, right tackle is the biggest need the Bears have along the offensive line at this, and they will try and fill that need in free agency. If they strike out, there are options in the Draft.
Paris Johnson – Ohio State: Paris played left tackle at Ohio State this past season and had an excellent season. In 2021, he was Ohio State's right tackle and showed he could be outstanding there too. He would be a plug-and-play guy for the Bears if they selected him. He may be the best tackle in this Draft.
Broderick Jones – Georgia: If Johnson isn't the best left tackle in this Draft then Jones is. He is very athletic with long arms. He has shown that he can pull and play well in space. If the Bears drafted Jones, Braxton Jones may be moved to right tackle.
Peter Skoronski – Northwestern: Skoronski is one of the best linemen in this Draft, but he will more than likely play guard in the NFL. How he measures and how long his arms are with determine his future position, and that will happen on Thursday. Right now, there are only two tackles in the League with arms shorter than 33", and both of these players are 6'5". Skoronski may measure shorter than 6'4 with 32 ¼' arms. If that is the case, he will move inside to guard. If he ends up being 6'4 or taller with arms longer than 33", then clubs will start him out at tackle.
Dawand Jones – Ohio State: Jones is a massive human being and will probably be the biggest player at the Combine, but I doubt you will see him as a Chicago Bear. In the Bears' scheme, the tackles have to be athletic and be able to play in space as well as pull and adjust on the move. Those are weak points for Jones. As good as he is, he isn't a scheme fit.
Darrell Wright – Tennessee: Wright has been a multi-year starter for Tennessee and had an excellent season in 2022. He played his best game against Alabama's Will Anderson who will be a top-five selection. The question about Wright is if he is athletic enough to play in space. The drills that are done at Indy will answer those questions.
Matthew Bergeron – Syracuse: Matthew is a French Canadian from Quebec. He has been a multi-year starter at left tackle for Syracuse and is strong, athletic, and nasty. He is a perfect fit for Chicago's offense, and I see no reason why he couldn't play on the right side. He will go in the later part of the first round or somewhere early in the second.
Who are some players you'll be watching in Indianapolis?