Changing the Face of Receiver Race – Sports Illustrated

USA Today
If K'Neal Harry comes to Halas Hall expecting the treatment normally accorded first-round draft picks, he could be in for a rude awakening.
If Harry comes hoping to compete on an even playing field with a crowded group of receivers looking desperately for second or third chances at jobs in the league, he'll have a chance at making third or fourth receiver for the Bears.
Much depends on how far third-round pick Velus Jones Jr. develops as a rookie. It is Jones who the Bears project to use as a No. 3 behind Darnell Mooney and Byron Pringle.
The Bears traded a seventh-round pick in 2024 for Harry and on Wednesday announced they had cut backup long snapper Antonio Ortiz to make room on the roster. 
This means there are currently 13 wide receivers on the roster and of them only Mooney, Pringle and Jones could probably be considered roster locks based on past accomplishment or perceived future value.
During the Matt Nagy/Ryan Pace era, the Bears kept six wide receivers for the active roster on final cutdowns each season, although they made a few moves later within a few weeks that altered the number:
They did have Patterson in 2020 but his classification was changed from receiver to running back then and he had 64 rushing attempts to only 25 targets in the passing game. In 2019, they still classified Tarik Cohen as a running back even though he had more pass targets, and joked once that he was a receiver and no longer a back.
So basing Bears roster tendencies on the old regime, six is a number to expect at the position. This would mean there would be 10 receivers now vying for three spots on the roster besides Mooney, Pringle and Jones. Here is how it shakes down with the bottom 10 receivers and what they've done:
The Patriots' 2019 first-round pick made 57 receptions, averaging 10.5 yards a catch (598 yards) in 103 targets (55.3 catch percentage). He had 12 catches in 2019, 33 in 2020 and 12 last season while playing in 33 of a possible 49 games. Pro Football Focus called him the second-best run blocker among receivers last year behind Pringle. At 225 pounds, the 6-foot-4 receiver is 5 pounds heavier than Rysen John, the new 6-7 Bears tight end. He also has a 38.5-inch vertical leap. At the combine, Harry did 27 reps on the bench press at 225 pounds to rank in the top 2% of all receivers in his class, according to Mockdraftable.com. So, the ability to block shouldn't be a surprise. Harry is due a $1.87 million salary for this year. Of that, $673,937 is guaranteed. By the way, although the Patriots had Harry listed at 6-4, but his measurement at the combine was actually 6-2 3/8.
Considering the Bears were willing to cough up a seventh-round draft pick in 2024 in return and pay almost $1 million more for Harry, it seems St. Brown no longer can be called a favorite for a roster spot. A sixth-round pick from Notre Dame, St. Brown had to be considered a favorite earlier because of familiarity with the Luke Getsy offense from his first three years in Green Bay while Getsy was quarterbacks coach. Brown, who is 6-5, 214, made only 37 receptions in 66 targets for 14.7 yards per catch (543 yards) while with the Packers for the same number of seasons played as Harry. He missed the 2019 season due to a sprained ankle first, and then a sprained knee. He made only seven catches (117 yards) in 2020 and nine (98 yards) in 2021 and has one TD catch. Still, that connection to Getsy and the Packers counts for something.
A slot receiver and not the X-type who would be competing with Harry directly. According to PFF stats, he had only seven drops out of 204 that were catchable during college but he hasn't been quite so sure-handed in the NFL. He had only 49.4% and 55.3% catch rates in his first two Titans seasons before getting 71.4% in 2019. A fifth-round pick of the Titans in 2016, has 117 catches for 1,397 yards. Sharpe never made more than 26 receptions after his rookie year. He had a foot injury that cost him the entire 2017 season. He does have eight career TD passes in 66 games played, including 36 starts, and is rather tall for a slot receiver at 6-2, 194.
As more of a speed receiver, he might actually be competing for the Z-receiver than the X-position but the Bears are moving these receivers to all positions in their new approach. Versatility is the name of the game in Getsy's offense. A 49ers second-round receiver in 2018, Pettis had a few injury issues and just didn't live up to what he showed while at Washington. His career high is 27 catches with the 49ers as a rookie in 2018, when he did make five TD receptions. Since then he had four TD catches the last three seasons and 25 total catches for 52 in his career. He has 739 yards (14.2 a catch) and his catch percentage is 57.1%. Pettis showed some signs of life in New York the last two seasons when he was healthy. He caught a respectable 14 passes for 163 yards in only five games and had two TDs after he began working with current Bears receivers coach Tyke Tolbert.
It didn't help the cause of the 6-foot, 215-pound former Seahawks receiver to be arrested on guns and a minor cannabis charge last week. He might be the most accomplished of all the veteran receivers they signed in the offseason because from 2018-20 he caught 13 TD passes with Seattle. He hadn't been a dependable target in his first two years at 49.1% and 50% completions but turned it around in 2019 for an excellent 74.5% with a career-high 35 catches on 47 targets. A seventh-round, 2017 pick, he wasn't brought back by Seattle in 2021, and played briefly without receptions for the Packers and Broncos.
The 2021 sixth-round pick from North Carolina was cut last year, put on the practice squad, then got on the roster for three games and a start with six catches for 75 yards and six punt returns for a 12.5-yard average. The special teams attraction could be his ticket to the roster because he hadn't shown much as a 5-11, 190-pound slot receiver last year, but he was only a rookie then. He's not particularly fast with a 4.59-second 40 but is rather slippery and shifty in the open field.
Houston's fifth-round pick from 2020, he was signed by the Bears after the Texans waived him last training camp and got into three Bears games and one Texans game without a catch. He had one target with the Bears last year. At 6-2, 198, with a 4.45-second 40 and a 36-inch vertical leap, he might have the tools to surprise. He didn't get a chance last camp because the signing came too late, so he'll have his first real chance to impress someone at training camp following a strong career for rhode Island.
A slot receiver without a career catch and a return man, he averaged 6.3 yards on 32 punt returns for the Rams in 2019-20 and 3.3 on four returns for the Bears in 2021. He also returned kicks for the Rams and averaged 22.4 yards on 18 tries. At a generous 5-10 and 180, the undrafted free agent from East Washington seems more suited to last year's passing game than this regime's.
Owner of the nickname "Slippery Fox" while at Notre Dame, Finke is a 5-10, 184-pound slot who was cut by the Chiefs after suffering an injury during OTAs. He had been on the 49ers practice squad in 2020 after coming in as an undrafted free agent, and hasn't been in a regular-season game yet. Very quick in a confined field, but lacking straight-line speed, he ran 4.5 in the 40 but had an extremely good 1.49-second split for the first 10 yards at the combine. For Notre Dame, he had 106 receptions and 1,251 yards with eight TDs. He averaged 8.2 yards on 73 punt returns.
An undrafted receiver from Liberty who is a Z-type or slot at 5-10, 166. He was a little-used deep threat but effective for Tennessee Titans rookie Malik Willis, as he never went over 28 receptions, but averaged 16.6 yards a catch and had 82 total receptions in four seasons. He had 12 TD catches. He wasn't a return man, either, so it's going to be difficult for him to make a roster.
Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven

BearDigest.com publisher Gene Chamberlain has covered the Bears full time for various publications, news services and websites over 30 years, including several years collaborating on weekly NFL/Bears columns with Mike Ditka and Walter Payton for the Copley Newspaper Chain.

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Christopher Jones
Christopher Jones
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