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2023 NFL Draft: Don’t rule out JSN entirely for Bears

Even after the Bears acquired DJ Moore, don’t totally rule out Jaxon Smith-Njigba in Round 1.

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COLLEGE FOOTBALL: JAN 01 Rose Bowl Game - Ohio State v Utah Photo by Brian Rothmuller/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

DJ Moore gives the Chcago Bears the WR1 they have been searching for these last few years.

The 25-year-old wide receiver, whom Chicago acquired in their trade with the Panthers out of the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft, joins a receiver room that carries the likes of Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool.

Moore gets a change of scenery and the chance to play with — on paper — the best quarterback he’s played with in his NFL career in Justin Fields. Fields gets his bonafide WR1, and both Mooney and Claypool get to serve in complementary roles, while their respective skill sets are best suited.

The Bears made the trade down to the No. 9 pick that many had expected, but the general consensus seemed to be that Ohio State wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba would be the top target should such a trade take place.

Jeff Hughes of DaBearsBlog indicated recently that Smith-Njigba is high on the Bears’ draft board. Granted, this was before the Bears acquired Moore and traded down to the No. 9 pick, but as Hughes’ tweet got posted, Chicago was busy negotiating for a star wide receiver like Moore or the Colts’ Michael Pittman Jr. in the process.

Does that timing indicate that Smith-Njigba is still in the Bears’ minds, even after having traded for Moore?

I should clarify that’s purely speculation on my part without inside information regarding what the situation is now with JSN after the trade. However, of Chicago’s top three wide receivers, Moore is the only one currently under contract beyond the 2023 season.

Will the Bears pay both Mooney and Claypool, whether it be this offseason or next? They did trade an early second-round pick for the latter, and the former has already proven to have a strong bond with Fields. Mooney had the better 2022 and has topped 1,000 yards before, while Claypool joined a new offense halfway through the season but is more of a size-speed mismatch that traditionally gets valued highly in an offensive system similar to that of Luke Getsy.

The debate about which wide receiver to keep is a tough one, and there could be an outside chance they do keep all three of those receivers in the long run. That said, the chances are strong they’ll end up needing one more weapon next offseason anyway, so why not get ahead of the curve and get the guy Fields is pushing for them to draft?

It’s worth mentioning this is being written before free agency, and we have no idea exactly which players at which positions the Bears will sign. Assuming they make some sort of investments along the offensive and defensive line, they could feel less pressured to go strictly with a position of current need and go with the best value on their board.

JSN might not have as much Year 1 impact for the Bears as certain offensive or defensive line prospects, but you’re not just drafting for a player’s rookie year. It’s a long-term investment you’re making, and seeing as though he’s my WR1 in this class, I think it’s one worth considering.

That’s not to say Smith-Njigba is my top choice for Chicago in Round 1 now that Moore is in tow. Just for a hypothetical, though, let’s say the Bears sign a right tackle and center in free agency. By all accounts, they believe in Braxton Jones as a starting left tackle, and he certainly deserves a fair shot at retaining the gig in 2023. You might not take Paris Johnson Jr. from Ohio State or Broderick Jones from Georgia in Round 1 if you’re set at tackle, then. They could move on from Cody Whitehair and draft Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski to kick him inside at left guard, but then the debate becomes whether or not you want to draft a guard in the top 10.

They’ll make some sort of investment along their defensive line, too. There’s certainly strong talent along the defensive line in this class, but what if Will Anderson, Jalen Carter and Tyree Wilson are all gone? You could argue for Clemson edge rusher Myles Murphy, who’s absurdly gifted athletically but has some technical flaws. The same synopsis could describe Iowa’s Lukas Van Ness and Georgia Tech’s Keion White. I’m not sold on Bryan Bresee from Clemson as a top-10 pick, and judging by the lack of buzz around him, the league probably isn’t, either.

There’s the outside chance the Bears take a cornerback at No. 9, or they could even trade out of the pick altogether. With how many “what-ifs” surround Chicago’s draft situation now, it might make sense to just go with the best player available on the board, who might very well be Smith-Njigba when it’s all said and done.

This isn’t a declaration that the Bears should draft JSN, nor is it a firm endorsement of any specific draft pick prior to free agency. But it is a sign that Chicago should not rule Smith-Njigba out entirely when considering their first-round options.