This past Tuesday, just hours before the NFL trade deadline, the Chicago Bears traded a second-round pick in the 2023 NFL Draft for Former Pittsburgh Steeler Wide receiver Chase Claypool. This is a trade that surprised many because it was felt that Bears GM Ryan Poles wouldn’t give up just a high asset for a wide receiver at this time of the year.
Many thought the Bears would use a high draft pick in next April’s Draft to acquire another wide receiver. Now that they used one of their high picks on a wide receiver, are the Bears pretty much done filling out the wide receiver room? My guess, strictly based on past experience is yes, but there are some circumstances that go into my thinking.
Since shortly after training camp opened, the Bears have not had a totally healthy receiver corps. There is almost always been one or two guys out with injury for short periods of time. Without being able to practice daily, these injured receivers cannot create comfort and timing within the pass game. Why? It’s a new offense with several new players as part of a key component, and without practice, we just can’t expect a reliable passing offense. It’s not like the day the team acquires a new face; he’s ready to go. It takes time and practice so that all (QB and receivers) are on the same page.
Right now, the wide receiver corps is as healthy as it’s been since training camp opened in late July. With nine games left on the schedule, there is plenty of time for the group to develop cohesiveness. No decisions on next year will be made until the decision-makers know exactly what they currently have.
On paper, the wide receiver group is as strong as it’s been in years here in Chicago. In fact, I’d argue that it’s the strongest group in years. Let’s look at the pieces:
Darnell Mooney: He’s a third-year player with marginal size and great speed (4.37). Despite his small frame, he has been a very durable performer. He only gets better as a route runner and can take the top off a defense. With his skill set, he can be used outside or in the slot and be very productive. He is just 25 years old, and being that this is only his third year in the League, he can be extended after this season if the Bears so desire.
Chase Claypool: The newly acquired player is a huge wide receiver with rare physical traits. He stands 6’4 and weighs 238 pounds. He also runs a 4.42 and can jump out of the building (40.5″ Vertical jump). Like Mooney, Claypool is only in his third year, and his best football is in front of him.
When he came into the League as a rookie in 2020, he was excellent, with 62 receptions for 873 yards and 8 TDs. His production fell off some in ’21 and ’22, but there were circumstances. Last year, Ben Roethlisberger was the quarterback, and his arm strength and movement skills dropped off tremendously. This year, the Steelers have been playing revolving quarterbacks, and the Steeler coaching staff moved Claypool inside to the slot. Why? I have no idea, but he is a natural X wide receiver who, because of his size, can be used in special situations as a move tight end, which would create some major matchup problems for a defense.
N’Keal Harry: Harry is a former first-round pick of the New England Patriots who never lived up to expectations. The Bears traded for Harry shortly before camp opened, but he has missed a lot of time with an ankle injury. It’s just in the last game that we have begun to see what he can do.
Like Claypool, Harry is a big wide receiver at 6’3 – 225. While he doesn’t have Claypool’s 4.42 speed, he is fast for a big man (4.52). He’s also just 24 years old. Like Claypool, he can also play the role of a move tight end in designated situations. Harry’s contract is up at the end of this season, so the Bears have the remaining nine games to determine if they want to bring him back. Based on practice and early returns, the arrow is going up on Harry.
Equanimeous St. Brown: Brown was signed as a UFA last March. He played in Green Bay his previous years, and because of that, he is the receiver who is most familiar with the offense Offensive Coordinator Luke Getsy runs.
St. Brown is more of a complimentary receiver and an outstanding blocker. He is also another big, strong, and fast receiver at 6’4 – 218 with 4.48 speed. It’s just in the last few weeks that his game has started to take off, and he seems to be well-liked by the coaching staff. At this time, I believe he has a future in Chicago.
Byron Pringle: Like St. Brown, Pringle was signed as a free agent last March. In the second half of 2021, he was the Kansas City Chiefs‘ third receiver and a valuable part of their passing attack. He has proven to be a solid player both outside and in the slot.
Since signing with the Bears, he has had a couple of nagging injuries that have cost him plenty of practice time as well as games. Right now, he is an unknown commodity to the Bears staff, but the talent is there. At 28, he is the oldest of the group and on just a one-year contract, so he could be expendable at the end of the season if the Bears decide not to re-sign him.
Dante Pettis: Pettis is the surprise of the group. He is a former second-round pick by San Francisco who didn’t pan out for whatever reason. He knows that this year is his last chance, and he has made the most of his opportunity coming up with some big plays. Dante has adequate size at 6’1 – 195, and he’s another speedster, having been timed in the low 4.4’s. His return skills give him extra value.
Velus Jones Jr.: The rookie third-round pick with better than adequate size at 6’0 – 203 and rare speed (4.31). Like many of the others, he has missed practice time with injuries, and because of that, when he has been given the opportunity to play, he has been inconsistent. Still, he has a chance to become a big play type, either as a receiver or a runner, so he will be given every opportunity to succeed.
That’s seven players in the group that possesses size and speed. There is only one player under 6 feet, and that’s Mooney, and only one player who is slower than 4.50, and that is Harry, who timed 4.52. Four of the group have been timed in under 4.40 at different times (Mooney, Pettis, Jones, Claypool). As a group, the Bears’ wide receivers may be the biggest in the League.
The talent is obviously there; the group just has to gel and learn to play together, which takes time. For all except St. Brown, they are new to this scheme. Because of that, as the season goes on, the passing game will continue to get better.
The group may not have a legitimate number-one receiver, but that is not unusual in the NFL. There are 32 clubs in the League, and there aren’t close to 32 legitimate number ones. There are several who are capable of being terrific number twos, and that is a good thing.
Depending on how many of this group the Bears’ front office decides to bring back, I can’t see them spending a high draft pick on another wide receiver. If they see a bargain on Day 3, it’s a different story, as it would be foolish to pass up talent at that point of the Draft. But all told, I feel this group is now solid, with several players who can be big-time playmakers. Just be patient; it will happen.