Chicago Bears training camp preview: The wide receivers

Chicago Bears - Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
Chicago Bears - Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports /

The wide receiver group is a critical component of any successful football team. For the Chicago Bears heading into the 2023 season, this group shows all signs of being both dynamic and productive. The Bears’ wide receivers, known for their versatility, speed, and good hands, look ready to take the NFL by storm. Here’s what fans can look forward to this upcoming season.

The Bears had the number-one pick after having the worst record in the league in 2022. General manager Ryan Poles then made the biggest trade of the year. He traded that valuable pick to the Carolina Panthers for a treasure trove of picks. In addition, he insisted on one thing — including wide receiver D.J. Moore.

The Chicago Bears overhauled the wide receiver group and now the unit is ready to make an impact in 2023.

Moore has been one of the best wide receivers in the league despite the quarterback troubles in Carolina. He had a streak of three consecutive seasons with at least 1,150 receiving yards. It was snapped last season when the Panthers’ quarterback situation became terrible. Even so, he still finished the season with 888 yards.

Moore established himself as one of the league’s most reliable targets. Known for his precise route-running, remarkable catching radius, and ability to make contested catches, he’s a nightmare for opposing cornerbacks. His ability to consistently move the chains and come up with big plays will be crucial to the success of the Bears’ aerial attack.

Additionally, he is a leader. He has an incredible work ethic that his teammates want to emulate. Young receivers look up to him. They want to become the player he already is.

Alongside him is Darnell Mooney. Mooney has been a fan favorite from the moment he hit the field in 2020. His speed stretches defenses vertically, creating space for other receivers and the running game. He has shown significant improvement in his route running and hands, and his continued development will be a key storyline for the Bears‘ offense in 2023.

Mooney and quarterback Justin Fields have great chemistry together. In Fields’ rookie season in 2021, the rookie quarterback received no snaps with the starters during training camp. Fields and Mooney stayed after practices and worked together. That caused them to work well together.

Last season, Mooney was Fields’ favorite target again. Fields could only trust Mooney to make plays. The problem was that while Mooney is a good receiver, he isn’t a WR1. He lacked the ability to do some things a top wide receiver does.

Now, with Moore, that problem is over. Moore is the top dog. Mooney will be able to make plays when the defense keys in on Moore.

The other receiver is Chase Claypool. Poles acquired him right before the trade deadline last season. He gave up a very valuable second-round pick for Claypool’s services.

So far, that investment has not paid off. Claypool struggled in the seven games he played in Chicago. he only had 14 catches for 140 yards. To be fair, however, it is difficult in the NFL for players to move in the middle of a season and pick up a new system. Fields and Mooney spent the entire offseason learning Luke Getsy’s offense and even they struggled once the season began.

Now Claypool has had the entire offseason to get a better hold of the offense. He has the tools to be a very good receiver. In his first two seasons, he recorded 860+ receiving yards each year. He is another one who has great hands, runs crisp routes, and can make contested catches. If he can get back on track, the Chicago Bears have themselves a very talented trio of receivers.

The Chicago Bears wide receiver corps now has depth

The Bears have depth at the wide receiver position, with several players capable of stepping up when called upon.

Poles prioritized speed and athleticism for his wide receiver unit. The speed that the group now has puts pressure on opposing defenses.

Scott is a big play waiting to happen. At the University of Cincinnati, he averaged 44.6 yards per touchdown grab. With a number of options available, Scott will have plenty of opportunities to make big plays at the next level.

Some people were surprised when the Bears re-signed Equanimeous St. Brown. He did not have much of a season in 2022, finishing with 21 catches for 323 yards and a touchdown. He averaged a very good 15.4 yards per reception. He is a big-body, athletic receiver who also has speed. Additionally, he is a great blocker. His blocking will be a huge asset in the running game.

The Chicago Bears likely go with six wide receivers. That leaves Velus Jones and Dante Pettis likely fighting for that final spot. Both players had disappointing seasons in 2022. Jones was Poles’ third-round draft pick. He had high hopes for him. Again, he is another receiver who possesses a lot of speed. However, he ran a limited route tree. Basically, he either ran a fly route and blow past the defense or he caught it short and used his elusiveness to avoid tackles and then run away from the defense. Additionally, he could run the jet sweep effectively.

Jones was also supposed to be a great returner. He had two muffed punts that cost the Bears opportunities at winning. He did do a good job on kickoff returns, ranking fourth.

Pettis was a real disappointment. The Bears gave him every opportunity to show that Fields could depend on him. On too many occasions, though, he had key drops, especially on third downs. He also contributes on special teams. He took over when Jones struggled on punt returns.

Jones has the advantage in this battle. He is a third-round pick who is only in his second year. Pettis is in his sixth season and has a trail of three disappointed teams.

While not regular starters, these wide receivers have a mixture of speed, size, and route-running ability that provides valuable options for the Bears’ quarterback. Their contributions on special teams, both in coverage and as returners, should not be overlooked.

Coaching also plays a significant role in the success of this group. The Bears’ wide receiver coach, Tye Tolbert, is well-regarded for his ability to develop talent, and his work with this group will be essential to their success.

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The Chicago Bears wide receivers look set for a successful 2023 season. They possess the talent, depth, and coaching to compete against the league’s best defenses. As the season approaches, fans will be eagerly watching this group’s progress. Can they make the leap and become one of the league’s best receiving corps? Only time will tell, but all signs point to an exciting season ahead for Chicago’s wide receivers.