With Darnell Mooney Out, It's Time For Chase Claypool to Break Out

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With Darnell Mooney Out, It’s Time For Chase Claypool to Break Out

Chicago Bears

Chase Claypool’s targets are on the rise.

In Week 10, he saw two passes thrown his way against the Lions. A week later, Claypool was given three targets against the Falcons. And last week, against the Jets, Claypool received five targets. One of those targets came early and resulted in a gorgeous catch against Jets’ cornerback Sauce Gardner. In case you’re not up on AFC rookie corners, Gardner leads the AFC Pro Bowl vote at that position and has had a rookie campaign nothing short of remarkable. Doing this against that guy is impressive:

Claypool turned those five targets against the Jets into just two catches. But they were both for chunk plays (31 and 20) and netted him 51 receiving yards on the afternoon. So, we’re seeing his usage climb steadily over recent weeks. That’s encouraging. As is the general increase in playing time.

Since seeing a season-low 19 snaps against the Lions, Claypool has seen his usage steadily increase each of the past two weeks. Claypool was on the field for 29 snaps (42 percent) in Week 11 against the Falcons and was on the field for 38 (67 percent) of the Bears’ offensive snaps on Sunday in the Meadowlands. This all jives with the answers that Claypool, Justin Fields, and the coaching staff served up after everyone was left scratching their heads following the Detroit game. Remember, Claypool was admitting that the Bears route tree was more complicated than the one he was running in Pittsburgh. But he was still insisting that he was getting comfortable. The coaching staff agreed, saying their new receiver was coming along fine. Maybe the increase in total snaps, snap share, and targets last week is truly proof that Claypool is coming along in the offense.

It’s been about a month since the Bears acquired Claypool ahead of the NFL trade deadline. Yet his usage, to this point, has left plenty to be desired. Especially since the Bears rising draft stock has the cost of the acquisition being the 33rd overall pick in the 2023 NFL Draft. Thankfully, Claypool’s usage is — slowly, but surely — trending in the right direction. And just in time to take on a larger chunk of targets. Because with Darnell Mooney potentially being sidelined for the rest of the season with an ankle injury suffered last week, Claypool ideally becomes the Bears’ No. 1 receiver for the season’s final five games.

But for whom? And does it matter?

Justin Fields said today that he’s feeling better than last Wednesday, but will still be limited in practice. And there is no guarantee that he will play this week against Green Bay. ESPN’s Courtney Cronin said this morning on the AM radio waves that her personal feeling is that Fields doesn’t play — and that’s my personal hope.

There’s no reason Fields shouldn’t sit out this week. And then, he can get the bye week before the Bears evaluate whether or not he’s healthy enough to play the season’s final four games. Sitting this week gives Fields another 20 days before the Bears have to decide whether or not to play him in a game, which seems like the intelligent long-term move here. But I digress.

Regardless, I don’t think it matters who throws Claypool the football. Siemian nearly doubled Claypool’s looks from the previous two games. But when you look at the week-over-week results, that was probably the plan no matter what. And it will continue to be, especially with Mooney out. Fields and Claypool getting comfortable serves the bigger picture more than Siemian throwing to Claypool does. But only as long as it’s not at the cost of worsening Fields’ injury.

If current trends hold, whoever gets the nod under center on Sunday will have Claypool on their radar more often. Obviously, with the increased usage rate needs to come more success on Claypool’s end. But getting him volume down the stretch feels important. You have to imagine that the Bears would like to keep Claypool around for a while (performance-warranting) after sending a premium pick to the Steelers to acquire him. Should Claypool’s performance merit the discussion, I can see extension talks occurring as early as this offseason. But the Bears will want to see more out of Claypool over the next five games. Especially with an increased role in the offense.

Author: Patrick K. Flowers

Patrick is the Lead NFL Writer at Bleacher Nation. You can follow him on Twitter @PatrickKFlowers.