Here is a confession you probably didn’t see coming: I like this group of Bears receivers more than most.
Let me clarify: I like it way more than I should. I don’t love it, but it intrigues me. My feelings for this collection of pass-catching talent has less to do with the players individually and is actually more about the group as a whole. An honest to goodness competition is set to break out between Bears receivers this summer. And I’m here for it.
Let’s examine the tiers of the Bears’ receivers room, which are layered from top to bottom.
The Established Guy
Here is how highly we think of Mooney’s floor (and upside):
— Bleacher Nation Bears (@BN_Bears) April 1, 2022
Says it all, doesn’t it?
A Prospect With Upside
Velus Jones Jr.
Look … I get it. Jones is a 25-year-old rookie (it doesn’t bother me!) whose best accolades have come as a return specialist. His limitations as a receiver a prevalant and relevant to our conversation. And yet, Jones has some sauce. The Tennessee product (by way of USC) ran the 40-yard dash in 4.31 and 4.34 seconds. And his game tape suggests those timed speeds are a reflection of in-game speed. Jones will start his NFL career as a gadget player, but has the potential to shed that label if he makes the most of his opportunities.
Veterans Who Can Be Useful Depth
Byron Pringle, Tajae Sharpe
It seems Yogi Berra-ish, but it’s true — if you’re going to run a four-receiver set, you need at least four receivers. And for what it’s worth, Pringle and Sharpe have ample experience in the WR3/WR4 roles at their respective previous stops.
The Post-Hype Sleeper
Pettis was a draft crush of mine in 2018 when he was coming out of Washington. He earned first-team All-Pac-12 honors and was a consensus All-American after receiving first-team recognition from the AFCA, FWAA, Walter Camp Football Foundation, and Sporting News. He put up 63 catches, 761 yards, and 7 touchdown receptions to go along with 428 punt return yards and 4 touchdowns. He was a dynamic player who just never found himself while with the 49ers despite going in the second round.
Pettis put up a solid rookie season (45 catches, 467 yards, 5 TD) in 12 games, but has amassed just 25 catches, 272 yards, and 4 scores in 21 games three seasons since. Even still, a healthy and active Pettis is a marvel who clearly has some upside:
— NFL (@NFL) February 25, 2019
He Knows the Coach/System
Equanimeous St. Brown
Every first-year coach needs to bring a player with him who knows the system. Bonus points if that player is young, athletic, has upside, and played for your arch rivals. It sure is fun typing Equaimeous St. Brown’s name. I sure hope his play is good enough to allow me to type it over and over again throughout the season. If not, the least he can do is help ease the transition from the old system to the new one run by Luke Getsy, who was also with the Packers last year.
A Specialist With Something to Prove
I had high hopes for Dazz coming out of North Carolina…
This is one of the most ridiculous catches I’ve seen. Glad Dazz Newsome is a Bear. Gonna be fun to watch. pic.twitter.com/Z0kAybl8Zu
— Bleacher Nation Bears (@BN_Bears) May 22, 2021
Dazz Newsome is FAST!
— Bleacher Nation Bears (@BN_Bears) May 1, 2021
… but he didn’t make the team out of training camp and was sparsely used when he was on the active game-day roster late in the year. Newsome should be a special teams standout because of the electric nature of his kick and punt returns. But after watching the Bears draft Jones and Trestan Ebner, I think Newsome is on thin ice. This isn’t to say he can’t skate his way into a bigger role, but he has work to do.
Despite having six viable receiver options, I still feel something is missing.
This is where I’d bang the drum reminding folks that Amari Cooper — who could’ve been a perfect short-term, high-floor veteran fit — was had for just a Day 3 pick. However, I have minimal interest in beating a dead horse today. Instead, I’ll leave it at a simple “good job by the Browns for successfully reading and jumping the market” and move on to players who are actually available.
• Will Fuller V — A litany of injuries (and a PED suspension in 2020) have kept him from reaching his full potential. But a one-year deal that could help him re-establish his market in next year’s free agent class and aid in Justin Fields’ development would be a win-win.
• T.Y. Hilton — Hilton isn’t who he was from 2014-17, when he made four Pro Bowls while averaging 81 catches, 1,318 receiving yards, and 6 touchdowns. But if he could be that 2020 version of Hilton, it could be helpful.
• Emmanuel Sanders — He’ll play 2022 in his age 35 season, which is notable. But Sanders brings a high floor, veteran leadership, and someone who a rookie like Velus Jones Jr. can aspire to be as he starts his NFL journey.
• Julio Jones — Remember when the Bears signed running back Darrynton Evans, who immediately went to Twitter to recruit his former Titans teammate? Fun times.
Jarvis Landry has a strong résumé, but was reportedly seeking a contract I think is too rich for the Bears right now. Odell Beckham Jr. has skills that could allow Fields to flourish. But a knee injury likely puts him off Chicago’s radar. Despite his superb talent, Antonio Brown is a no-go for me (for very obvious reasons).
In the End
We already know Fields and Mooney have a connection. But the rest of the room features a bunch of players vying for targets. As it stands, it looks like the Bears will field a competitive wide receivers room. Competition being the key element here. Even still … there is room for growth.
Four receivers (Pringle, Sharpe, Pettis, St. Brown) are on one-year deals. Much like how the Bears taking four swings on project offensive linemen on Day 3 of the 2022 NFL Draft was done in hopes of developing one who pans out, taking four cracks at receivers on one-year “prove it” deals does the same thing. It wouldn’t surprise me if (1) at least one player had an unexpected breakout campaign that (2) led to them getting a second contract with the Bears. And if the cookie doesn’t crumble that way, at least we know it wasn’t for a lack of trying.
Again, this group is far from complete. But it has the potential. Maybe all that means is training camp is more fun to watch. Perhaps that summertime competition leaks into the preseason and regular season. What if it leads to someone having a breakthrough season? I wouldn’t say the odds are favorable. After all, each of these players’ track records being what they are is how they end up landing in Chicago on one-year deals in the first place. But it isn’t something I’d dismiss out of hand.