The Chicago Bears knew they had several holes on the roster, and they addressed them during the offseason via trade, free agency, and the draft, and while there’s still a way to go, this team is in a much better place than a year ago. Any success they have will still hinge on quarterback Justin Fields, but knowing this franchise has a plan to build around him bodes well for the future.
In a recent article from ESPN, Bill Barnwell ranked the wide receivers, tight ends, and running backs from each team, and he has Chicago making a significant jump from the 2022 season. Last year he had the Bears second to last in the NFL, but this season he has them at 17th overall and 9th in the NFC.
The NFL is a passing league, as evidenced by the stats but also the contacts, so Barnwell weighed his rankings more heavily toward the wide outs. He also focused his rankings on each team’s top five supporting cast contributors. Plus he’s a numbers guy, so he crunched plenty of efficiency analytics to guide his list.
Here’s what Barnwell had to say about ranking Chicago 17th, along with some of my thoughts sprinkled in.
Operation “Get Justin Fields a Top Wide Receiver” landed a legitimate No. 1 this offseason in former Carolina star DJ Moore. Moore has stayed healthy and productive, outside of a curious aversion to touchdowns, despite subpar quarterback play. He’s coming off arguably his worst season as a pro, as he played virtually every snap and managed only 888 receiving yards, but he is still just 26. Moore was the best wideout the Bears could have added this offseason, and he’ll be a major help for Fields in 2023.
With Mooney and Claypool sidelined due to injury, that gave the Fields to Moore connection more opportunities during OTAs and minicamps.
The move pushes Darnell Mooney back into the No. 2 role, where he excelled in 2021. The cumulative numbers don’t look great when you consider he dropped from 1,055 receiving yards in 2021 to 493, but that was driven by a late-season injury and the move toward an extremely run-heavy attack. Mooney still averaged 1.89 yards per route run, right in line with what Moore produced for Carolina (1.88). Moore is a better player, but Mooney should be an above-average wideout as the Bears shift toward the pass.
Mooney’s best season (2021) was when they had Allen Robinson playing as the WR1, and while A-Rob struggled through some injuries that year, he was still able to attract some defensive attention away from Mooney. The 2023 version of the passing offense is primed to be the best the Bears have seen in a while.
There’s a major drop-off between the top two and everyone else at receiver. Chase Claypool caught just 14 passes after joining Chicago at the trade deadline, and while you can blame some of that on injuries, he wasn’t exactly blowing people away as the third option in Pittsburgh, either. It already feels like he needs a change of scenery from what was supposed to be his change of scenery. Cole Kmet’s touchdown total spiked last season (seven) from zero in 2021, but I doubt he’ll keep scoring once every seven or so receptions.
Claypool is in a contract year which is usually a big motivation for a player, and while there have been some rumblings about the team not being happy with his offseason injuries, his teammates and coaches have been positive when speaking publically.
Kmet may not get as many targets as last season due to the addition of Moore and fellow tight end Robert Tonyan, but that all could depend on how run-heavy the offense is in 2023. If they open things up a bit more, Kmet’s production may not fall off much.
The Bears beat out the Bucs because of what they offer at running back. Khalil Herbert benefited from Fields’ gravity as a runner, but the second-year back generated 1.3 rushing yards over expected per carry last season, way ahead of then-teammate David Montgomery, who came in at -0.3 RYOE. General manager Ryan Poles upgraded by swapping out Montgomery for D’Onta Foreman, who has ably filled in for the likes of Christian McCaffrey and Derrick Henry over the past couple of seasons. Roschon Johnson’s versatility should earn him a spot in the rotation as a rookie.
I know a lot of fans were upset with Montgomery leaving, but Chicago’s running back room is better in 2023. Herbert is well aware of his issue in the passing game (both as a receiver and blocker), so he’s worked plenty on that during the offseason. Foreman’s running style will provide a nice complement to Herbert, and Johnson has RB1 upside.
Moore might be the only star in the mix, but the Bears are a tier ahead of the teams below them.
The fact that the Bears have a “star” among the supporting cast is something we haven’t seen in some time, and Moore will open things up for the other players on the offense.
Checking in at 17th seems fair (for now), but what are your thoughts on where Barnwell ranked Chicago’s receivers, tight ends, and running backs?