Everyone covering and rooting for the Chicago Bears anticipated a significant amount of changes being made to their entire roster heading into the 2023 off-season. In my opinion, upgrading their weaponry around the quarterback is tied with beefing up the pass protection on offense in terms of importance. This matches the recent league-wide trend of paying much more of a premium for receivers and tight ends than in recent years.
There was no conceivable way to overlook the importance of having actual and dependable targets available to the quarterback within any modern concept on offense.
The Bears could not protect Justin Fields — nor did they supply him with enough ammunition — to make any passing game work in 2022. It was like fielding a howitzer without having the proper artillery crew or any large caliber shells available. The skilled position groups around Justin Fields were a complete mess, with the minor exception of running back.
Bets were made on small investments to suddenly pop once introduced into larger roles — looking right at Byron Pringle on this one. As with any cheap investment, you'll usually get cheap results in return. That type of nonsense could not continue.
Basically, I've broken enough tables over this topic to warrant consideration for admittance into Bills' Mafia. Early on during the 2023 free agency period, GM Ryan Poles has changed the landscape considerably between tight end, running back, and especially at wide receiver. There's also plenty of time left for even more improvements to arrive.
While the offensive line is still... offensive on paper, the amount of viable upgrades for the remaining positions are worthy of recognition. This is a monumental step forward for a team that is betting on Justin Fields to become the quarterback many feel he's capable of developing into — a quarterback who wasn't provided with a respectable inventory of weapons up until now.
The good times will keep on rolling here. When looking at some of the data, and statistics, my positive feelings are firmly reinforced. The potential return on investment is astronomical if everything pans out as planned.
You'll see why — starting with their biggest arrival in DJ Moore.
One young star receiver's arrival shall open up opportunities for everyone else to feast
I won't stop talking about this move for quite a while. And, yes, I do plan on getting a jersey once they're available and I'm done with all my training. So, of course, this will be the most in-depth portion of this article.
The Bears haven't seen a talented young receiver who possesses as much untapped potential as DJ Moore has in quite some time. One will say Allen Robinson's signing in 2018 is comparable, yet he was also coming off from a torn ACL. There are no yellow or red flags with the acquisition of DJ Moore.
It is incredibly easy to see the level of immediate impact this trade will present to the Bears on offense. Brad Spielberger of Pro Football Focus (PFF) brings up the following statistics to consider.
D.J. Moore helps Justin Fields attack the intermediate area of the field, an area he did well targeting in 2022:— Brad Spielberger, Esq. (@PFF_Brad) March 10, 2023
- Fields led NFL with a 66.7% completion percentage on throws 10-19 yards downfield
- D.J. Moore's 172 targets 10-19 yards downfield from 2019-22 is 2nd-most in NFL
Granted, during the 2022 regular season, the actual sample size for Justin Fields was pretty small. He never had much of an opportunity to attack the intermediate routes consistently from week to week. That was due to two crippling factors on offense.
- Lack of adequate pass protection
- Lack of separation from his targets
Factor number two was the result of not having a player who can routinely settle in and attack the soft spots in coverage.
Darnell Mooney is a fantastic deep threat who can get vertical in a hurry. Chase Claypool is the freakishly big and athletic target who can compete for any layup. On paper, they complement each other rather well. It was unfortunate we got to see only a handful of games when Chase Claypool, Darnell Mooney, and Justin Fields were together on the field at the same time. Chemistry is key for any growth to be realized.
The options aside from Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool were... well, non-existent. That's the nicest way for me to write that statement.
Mooney and Claypool were the only two wide receivers for the Bears who proved to be any semblance of a threat. To compound the issue, neither player has shown the capability of navigating through traffic in the intermediate range between 10 to 20 yards downfield. The corps as a unit ranked dead last in every statistical category for the 2022 season. A difference maker had to be found. The free agency market had no real options available.
Enter DJ Moore, stage right. In a trade that was brilliantly executed by Ryan Poles.
DJ Moore is that guy who can win their routes immediately from the snap of the ball. He's not simply fast in terms of straight-line speed (4.42 forty in the 2018 combine). His short-area quickness, intelligence, and explosiveness in his route running allows him to easily find himself and sit in the pockets within zone coverage. And you can forget about lining up in man coverage against him.
This is the kind of receiver Ryan Poles has been searching for quite a while now. A playmaker who can win his routes, gain separation, and bust brackets in coverage naturally with a combination of length, speed, and explosiveness. Since 2019 we've seen DJ Moore rack up over 4,413 receiving yards, which ranks 7th in the NFL amongst all receivers. He is also ranked 17th out of 84 receivers in yards per route run. All while dealing with a revolving door of quarterbacks and a lack of credible support within the receiving room in Charlotte.
It's not like this trade won't help DJ Moore out, either. Far from it.
Being paired with a young, strong-armed franchise quarterback in Justin Fields, who excels at attacking the intermediate range — when possible — will be a major boon for DJ Moore's career. This whole transaction reminds me a great deal of when Stefon Diggs was acquired by the Buffalo Bills from the Minnesota Vikings after his fifth year as a pro in 2020. Diggs finally got himself a chance to team up with a young, strong-armed franchise quarterback in Josh Allen. The results have spoken for themselves.
Here are the career numbers between DJ Moore and Stefon Diggs per Pro Football Reference.
(The * annotates a Pro Bowl Appearance and the + for First-Team All-Pros)
"Oh, but DJ Moore didn't have any All-Pros or Pro Bowls in his first five years. So he's not even a number one receiver." Okay, Genius, neither did Stefon Diggs. Look at how that move has turned out for him three years later. Stefon Diggs is one of the most dangerous receivers in the entire league when he has a real answer at quarterback launching him rockets downfield.
Did I mention how bad the quarterback situation in Carolina was for DJ Moore to begin with? It was severe enough to warrant the Panthers firing Matt Rhule into a black hole during the earliest stretch of the 2022 regular season. It made all the sense in the world for them to turn the dual-authentication launch keys with Chicago on this historic trade before free agency even began.
The timing between each trade for Moore and Diggs is close to being identical. That realization gives me goosebumps thinking about how much more dominant DJ Moore can still become while young and healthy. It's absurd the kind of damage he is capable of creating in the receiving game. In every aspect of offensive play design and schematics.
The best part about this trade is, unlike the aforementioned deal for Stefon Diggs, the Bears actually have a net gain of draft picks instead of the usual net loss in any deal featuring a young star receiver. For only their first overall pick — the ultimate lottery ticket for any team seeking their next franchise quarterback — the Bears gained DJ Moore, first-round picks, and second-round picks between 2023 and 2025. The inclusion of the star receiver was a mandate for any deal to be completed between Chicago and Carolina.
There was also no need to negotiate a new contract for DJ Moore. His current deal was done and dusted during the 2021 off-season, which saw the monetary value in contracts for receivers inflate to unreal levels. He's set to be with the Chicago Bears for at least the next three seasons on a relatively team-friendly deal.
In comparison, the Buffalo Bills surrendered their first, fifth, and sixth-round picks for 2020, along with a 2021 fourth-round pick for Stefon Diggs. That trade has resulted in a win/win for both the Minnesota Vikings and the Buffalo Bills. I suspect the same can eventually happen for the Chicago Bears and Carolina Panthers.
His all-around ability as a top receiving option allows for Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool to be featured in more comfortable roles and concepts. Those of which highlight their strengths much better than what Chicago Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy was forced to attempt in 2022. And then some.
Darnell Mooney had his best season when some attention was drawn away by Allen Robinson in 2021 while shifting between the slot and the perimeter as a "Z" type of receiver. Chase Claypool is at his best on the perimeter as a true "X" from what we've seen with the Pittsburgh Steelers and his brief time with the Chicago Bears. Claypool hasn't really been a productive option from the slot.
Moving into 2023, I fully expect DJ Moore to be the "F" or "flanker" to pair with Chase Claypool on the perimeter. From there, Darnell Mooney slides inside as the "Z" from the slot. We'll likely see some rotation between Mooney and Claypool, depending on matchups and personnel on defense. However, Moore is also relatively unstoppable when lining up from the slot. I can foresee plenty of looks where Mooney and Moore are stacked on the weak side of the formation.
With the pressure to be the primary threat off both Claypool and Mooney, they'll be able to win their one-on-one matchups more efficiently. And both those players have proven capable of being solid complimentary options to a featured receiver like DJ Moore. They will be able to move freely against coverage along with the weaponry at tight end — more on that later.
Luke Getsy really wanted to attack the intermediate routes more often during the passing game. Ditto for his quarterback in Justin Fields. They simply didn't have the right combination of players to properly layer the routes within the spacing concepts of any Shanahan-influenced offense. Between the primary trio of Moore, Claypool, and Mooney, they finally have the ability to create layers within the passing game. With more options likely on the way shortly.
Robert Tonyan is a serious red zone threat who complements Cole Kmet perfectly at tight end
Fielding weaponry on offense should never be exclusive to upgrading the wide receiving corps. Tight ends play more of a role within the receiving game than ever before. The Bears have a decent and ascending player in Cole Kmet. He was also the only player they really had at the position.
Yet, he's more of a balanced in-line "Y" tight end as opposed to being a high-end threat in the receiving game. Landing a receiving specialist to compliment Cole Kmet, particularly when entering the red zone, was important. A most significant issue for Luke Getsy when he wanted to lineup in "12" personnel more often than not.
Robert Tonyan, the former Green Bay Packers tight end, solves this problem exceptionally well. He also knows the offense, so his transition will be seamless. All while being on such a small contract for a player of his talent level.
Few will forget the impressive year Robert had in 2020 as the latest receiver-turned-tight end to make a big jump in the pros. That season featured him scoring 11 touchdowns and generating 33 first downs per NFL.com's official resource center. Unfortunately, he suffered a torn ACL in 2021, which brought forth questions about his long-term outlook in Green Bay. He bounced back the following season in 2022 with a very solid performance as a featured option in the receiving game. Especially when targeted in the red zone.
Meanwhile, we've seen Cole Kmet slowly develop into one of the better young tight ends who can be featured on all three downs. A prominent theme in his career has been his viability as a threat in between the 20s on the field from north to south. Up until 2022 he never saw much of an opportunity, nor a lot of success, as a target in the red zone. I would attribute this both to the player and Matt Nagy's negligence prior to Luke Getsy's arrival as a play-caller.
The numbers for both players show almost a complete contrast between how each was used within their respective teams. It also paints the ideal picture for how both players will be used together in Chicago. Cole Kmet looks to be the featured player at tight end for all three downs. Robert Tonyan stands to be the red zone target and the “Joker” when paired with Cole Kmet on the field.
Remember when I mentioned how much damage Cole Kmet does when targeted between the 20s? Check out this capture below of his situational stats from 2022 on the NFL's official site.
Out of Cole's total of 544 yards, we see that 371 were generated between the Bears' own 21-yard line to the 50-yard mark. An additional 99 yards came from between the opponent's 49-yard line to just outside of the red zone. That leaves a remainder of 74 yards for everywhere else. He generated similar numbers during his 2021 campaign.
Now here is a screenshot for Robert Tonyan's situational stats for 2022.
What jumps out is the relative balance of his stats on both sides of the 50-yard line. In his best season (2020), he hauled in 27 out of his 52 total receptions on the opponent's side of the field. When looking at NFLSavant, he was the 2nd most targeted player in the red zone for Green Bay in both 2020 and 2022. Robert has usually feasted when given his chances to hit paydirt. For his career, he's averaged over 88% completion percentage on his targets.
That is a stark contrast to what we've seen in Chicago.
While Cole Kmet has technically been the most targeted player for the Bears during each of their past two seasons, the actual completion percentage has been at 65.57%. Per NFLsavant.com, Cole Kmet went 10-for-10 (100%) and scored 5 out of his 7 total touchdowns in the red zone for the 2022 season. His best mark prior to that was 7-for-13 (53.8%) in 2021 without a single touchdown. Hopefully, 2022 is a sign for things to come, as his first two seasons were less than optimal.
Where Cole Kmet holds the advantage is his ability to be a lead blocker in the wide-zone concepts on offense. It's not that Robert Tonyan can't do that himself; rather, he's that more valuable as a receiving threat. When the dirty work was needed, the Packers usually rotated Mercedes Lewis into the lineup. In comparison, Cole Kmet ranked as the 9th best run blocker among tight ends per PFF.
Luke Getsy comes with his own unique blend of experiences with various schemes on offense. The principles observed include influences from Joe Moorhead, Mike McCarthy, and of course, Matt LaFleur. All of them featured a healthy dose of "12" personnel in their respective play-calling strategies. The Bears finally have a pair of tight ends who make "12" personnel viable to use.
We will see a completely re-tooled running back rotation with more new faces expected soon
If things go well in 2023, we will not see the Bears approach anywhere near the top of the league with their running game. Not because they will be bad; instead, it won't be as necessary. There was absolutely no balance whatsoever last year.
Losing David Montgomery to the Detroit Lions is a sizeable loss for the Bears when considering his value as a true all-purpose back. Instead of opting for a one-for-one replacement in free agency, Ryan Poles has opted to initiate a committee between capable veterans in Khalil Herbert, D'Onta Foreman, and Travis Homer. There's also a very likely chance another back will be drafted in a few weeks.
This is the one skill position group that doesn't have a real upgrade in comparison to 2022. Not yet anyway.
On one hand, the Bears' decision with David Montgomery was forecasted by Khalil Herbert's emergence as a big threat in the running game. Herbert's 5.7 YPC average ranked him squarely as #1 in the league. Newly signed Bear D'Onta Foreman averaged 4.5 YPC, ranked 17th overall, and had an incredible year once Carolina finally leaned on him from week six onward. David Montgomery averaged 4.0 YPC and ranked considerably lower.
On the other hand... none of the backs in the Bears' stable stand to make any meaningful contribution to the receiving game. Travis Homer has flashed a little potential on occasion during his time with the Seattle Seahawks. His value in pass protection, though, far exceeds that of either Khalil Herbert — who really struggles in that department — or D'Onta Foreman. Travis Homer stands to be the primary guy — and a very good one at that — as their third down specialist. Yet another player in a specialized role, nonetheless.
David Montgomery was able to do everything as a dependable featured back for Chicago. That cannot be overstated. That is the one glaring weakness when considering the Bears' situation at running back. Having such specialized roles in any committee of backs makes any offense far too predictable in the long term. It also reduces the playbook options on the field depending on who's been sent out.
You can make the argument that D'Onta Foreman is a better fit in this offense as a runner than David Montgomery was last season. Foreman is larger, stronger, and much faster than Montgomery. Foreman's powerful and explosive one-cut style and ability to convert short yardage or any "to-go" situation into a successful play is crucial for this Bears offense.
#Bears fans are going to like new RB D'Onta Foreman -- he's a one-cut RB w/ speed to stretch defenses outside the tackles and size to batter ILBs on inside-hitters.— Robert Schmitz (@robertkschmitz) March 21, 2023
He reads his blocks well and has the burst to get away from tacklers in the backfield. Awesome value signing pic.twitter.com/7yTqZZIAwp
When paired with Khalil Herbert, the tandem of Foreman and Herbert will be incredibly hard to stop. It's basically a knight in Justin Fields' dual-wielding maces of pain with the idea to physically beat defenses into submission. Oh, and Chicago's biggest running threat is also... Justin Fields. The quarterback run game will make a strong appearance in 2023, as we saw in 2022. It'll likely just be more carefully selected depending on in-game situations.
Again, none of the current options on their depth chart present much versatility. I'm beginning to doubt that Trestan Ebner — a 2022 Bears draft pick himself — is being seen by his own coaching staff as a viable option in their immediate or long-term plans. I also don't expect Ryan Poles to get into any real spending with running backs for the rest of the year. D'Onta Foreman is set to earn $3M and some change for the 2023 season.
Having a strong running game will be important for 2023, as their passing game will go through play-action and RPO concepts more often than not. They cannot afford to go overly one-dimensional again. Luckily, there are feasible options to be had in the near future, at least for completing their rebuild at running back.
The 2023 draft is incredibly deep when looking at potential three-down players at running back to build with for the long term. I'm sure some on here will be pissed if the Bears select such a back in the 2nd round. Depending on how the rest of free agency shapes up and what the board looks like on draft day, I won't be surprised or remotely upset. I do feel a day three pick is more likely, though. A player like Eric Gray in, say, the 4th round would make complete sense. Only time will tell what happens the rest of the way.
Finding that one complete three-down back to round out the stable in the backfield is an underrated need.
There's still plenty of work to be done — yet the Chicago Bears are definitively better with building Justin Fields' supporting cast
It is worth mentioning that the next Annual League Owner's Meeting in Phoenix, Arizona is set to kick off shortly. A lot of times, additional free agent signings and even trade acquisitions get finalized during these meetings. Ryan Poles has repeatedly said he's not only aware of how much cash he has left to spend, he's been less than subtle about admitting he's waiting for the "right player" to become available. There might be big news coming down the pipeline shortly.
Even so, with all the focus within the trenches lately, the sheer amount of improvement in the skilled positional groups on offense is outstanding. Justin Fields needed weapons in the worst way possible. Through the combination of a major trade — DJ Moore — and a scattering of smaller deals throughout the roster, the Bears have achieved real success so far. This is also just the beginning of what will continue to be a busy off-season at 1920 Football Drive.