Bears 2023 NFL Draft Preview: Jaxon Smith-Njigba and the Wide Receivers
The 2023 NFL Draft is around the corner. And unlike last year when Ryan Poles didn’t have a first-round pick, the second-year Chicago Bears GM has a top 10 selection to work with. He’ll get to work with Assistant GM Ian Cunningham, Head Coach Matt Eberflus, and others as they put their heads together to come up with a winning draft plan. We’re looking at some of the best prospects at various positions leading up to the Draft in search of fits for the Bears’ needs.
Previous: Quarterbacks, Running backs
Today: Wide receivers
Currently on the Roster (2022 PFF Grade)
DJ Moore (73.9), Darnell Mooney (69.2), Chase Claypool (61.8), Velus Jones Jr. (64.2), Equanimeous St. Brown (64.2), Dante Pettis (53.3), Nsimba Webster (46.6), Maurice Fountain, Joe Reed
BN’s Composite Ranking
Ranking prospects is difficult, in part, because no one publication has the same set of fundamentals or preferences. In an attempt to work through that noise, we’re using a composite ranking based on opinions from PFF, ESPN, CBS Sports, and The Athletic, and adapting them to a points scale. The best of the top-10 prospects gets 10 points, the 10th-ranked prospect gets 1, and prospects outside the top 10 get 0. From there, the prospects are ranked by total points.
Here’s how the top prospects stack up (points in parenthesis):
- Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State (38)
- Quentin Johnston, TCU (33)
- Zay Flowers, Boston College (32)
- Jordan Addison, USC (31)
- Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee (18)
- Josh Downs, North Carolina (17)
- Tyler Scott, Cincinnati (9)
- Jayden Reed, Michigan State (9)
- Michael Wilson, Stanford (6)
- Jonathan Mingo, Ole Miss (6)
Also receiving Top-10 consideration: Cedric Tillman (Tennessee), Nathaniel Dell (Houston), Rashee Rice (SMU), Marvin Mims (Oklahoma), A.T. Perry (Wake Forest)
Team Fit and Need
This is far less of a need now than it was when the season came to an end and the receiving corps was banged up as all get out. It’s not even as much of a need as it was at this time last year. In fact, the Bears have made real upgrades at the position over the last 365 days or so. Think about where this group was last year opening camp with Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown, and Dante Pettis as the top receiver options behind Darnell Mooney. Nearly a year later, Pringle is gone, while St. Brown and Pettis are battling for a spot as WR5. Trading for DJ Moore to solidify the top spot vastly improves the unit. And the hope is that last autumn’s Claypool trade pays off after he gets a full offseason with the playbook and some better luck I’m the health department.
Nevertheless, there is a sneaky need here. Mooney and Claypool are projected starters who are on the cusp of free agency. Pettis and St. Brown are back on one-year deals. And while Velus Jones Jr. still has room to grow, he might not be more than a gadget option. In other words, the Bears could use some long-term stability next to Moore. Perhaps this is a position where the GM Ryan Poles adds a playmaker who can contribute while developing.
Even with the Bears’ acquisitions of Moore and Claypool (and retention of Pettis and St Brown), Chicago’s football team has kept tabs on top receiver prospects. They even used top 30 visits on Virginia’s Dontayvion Wicks (via Tom Pelissero) and Michigan State’s Jayden Reed (per Justin Melo). And let’s not forget Justin Fields making a public nudge toward the front office that he would be OK if the Bears took his old Ohio State running buddy:
It all points me toward the thought that Chicago probably isn’t done adding at the receiver position this offseason. Bringing on another receiver could happen at next week’s draft.
If I Had to Pick One:
Had things gone differently earlier in the offseason, I’d probably be trying to make a strong case for the Bears drafting Ohio State’s Jaxon Smith-Njigba with the No. 9 pick. Smith-Njigba is a smooth operator out of the slot and already has a rapport with Justin Fields. And because Mooney and Claypool could both hit free agency, part of me wants to add a skill-position player at that position who can grow with this offense without giving him too much too soon.
ESPN’s Chris Bleck and Adam Abdalla lay out a strong case as to why Smith-Njigba should be in consideration to go when the Bears have to make a pick:
And if it isn’t Smith-Njigba in Round 1, maybe it should be someone like Josh Downs (North Carolina) or Jayden Reed (Michigan State) on Day 2. Perhaps there is a Day 3 developmental type on the Bears’ radar. The number of useful wide receivers who end up as Day 2 and Day 3 picks continues to grow. I’d like for the Bears to take advantage of this trend and add more receiver help for Fields and this offense.
If all else fails, there’s always Marvin Harrison Jr. next year.