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LAKE FOREST, Ill., — The Chicago Bears will report to training camp in late July at Halas Hall as the team prepares for the 2022 season, the first under head coach Matt Eberflus. Throughout the offseason, turnover was prevalent throughout the roster as wide receiver was a position with several notable additions and subtractions.
The Bears and Pro Bowl wide receiver Allen Robinson parted ways in free agency, leaving third-year pro Darnell Mooney as the team’s longest-tenured wide receiver. First-year general manager Ryan Poles used the NFL Draft and free agency to add new faces to the wide receiver room but there still remains work to be done.
The Bears wide receiver group will have a new identity in 2022 with key factors being new faces and a new offensive scheme. What remains unchanged is the team’s starting quarterback, Justin Fields who will also play a role in helping the wide receiver room develop a newfound identity by developing chemistry with a number of new faces.
On paper, as an overall positional group, the Bears’ wide receiver room may not turn heads across the NFL but there is ample potential that exists. Rookie Velus Jones Jr., a third-round pick in the 2022 NFL Draft will have an opportunity to become a key contributor in an offense that will look to utilize his versatile skillset. Chicago will also look to maximize the potential of veterans Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St.Brown, two free agent signings. Meanwhile, Dazz Newsome, who saw little playing time as a rookie will look to carve out a significant role after spending much of his rookie season on the practice squad after seeing some real game action towards the end of the 2021 season.
As the Bears get ready for training camp, let’s preview what to expect from the wide receiver room, a room that could burst onto the scene in 2022.
Entering year three, Darnell Mooney has had four starting quarterbacks, including three different faces at the position in 2021. As a sophomore, Mooney surpassed expectations with 81 receptions, 1055 receiving yards, and four touchdowns while averaging 13.0 yards per reception. As the year progressed, Mooney also continued to develop chemistry with quarterback Justin Fields, a factor that will play a role for the Bears offense in 2022.
Despite a stellar second season, 2022 could be a true breakout year for Mooney. As a fifth-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft, Mooney can take another step forward with stable and consistent quarterback play. Expectations for Mooney in year three now include being an unprecedented leader while continuing to play at a high level.
Mooney garnered a reputation throughout 2021 for being a big-play threat and providing a spark for the Bears offense. His two biggest assets are his speed and pass catching ability, two traits that will continue to be major parts of his skillset heading into 2022. When it comes to maximizing Mooney’s potential in year three, the Bears would be wise to utilize him as a true wide receiver in the vertical passing game, instead of having him run jet sweeps like the previous regime did.
In what is a quarterback-driven league, Mooney can also be a major reason that the Bears offense takes a step forward in 2022.
2021 stats: 14 starts, 81 receptions, 1055 receiving yards, four touchdowns, and 13.0 yards per reception.
After four seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs, the Bears handed Byron Pringle a one-year deal worth $4.25M with just $1.9M guaranteed. With just one season of significant production under his belt, Pringle now arrives in Chicago, as general manager Ryan Poles hopes that Pringle can quickly develop into a solid option for the offense. After spending the first four seasons of his career as a backup and special teams player, Pringle has a legitimate chance to build on a productive 2021 season.
Pringle’s biggest asset is his size, which he uses to box out defensive backs. Listed at 6-foot-1, the 28-year-old can play both in the slot or on the line of scrimmage, giving the Bears some much-needed versatility. As a veteran who is now entering his fifth NFL season, the Bears hope that Pringle can quickly develop into a leader and guide younger wide receivers on the team.
Ideally for the Bears, Pringle develops into a complement for rookie wide receiver Velus Jones Jr. and Darnell Mooney. This would give the Bears a solid trio of pass catchers that can help develop the Bears ariel attack in a season where the running game is expected to be the strength of the offense.
2021 stats: Five starts, 42 receptions, 568 receiving yards, and five touchdowns.
When the Bears selected Velus Jones Jr. with the 73rd overall pick in the 2022 NFL Draft, the rationale was finding a player who was a versatile chess piece for offensive coordinator Luke Getsy. While playing college football at the University of Southern California and the University of Tennessee, Jones played as both a wide receiver and return specialist, giving him a well-rounded skillset that could translate to the NFL.
Jones two biggest assets are his versatility and speed. Throughout his final two seasons in college, he frequently made big plays lining up in the backfield, in the slot, and on the outside. Considering Jones can line up in three different spots on the field, expect Getsy to employ him as a true mismatch weapon that can take on linebackers and slot cornerbacks.
For the Bears, Jones will have the opportunity to carve out a major role relatively quickly. Throughout the earlier portions of training camp, how the Bears utilize Jones will be a key factor to watch as his versatility could make the rest of the Bears’ skill position players expendable. Should Jones impress early on, it’s more than likely that the Bears coaching staff will continue to increase his role throughout the 2022 regular season.
2021 stats: 62 receptions, 807 receiving yards, seven touchdowns, and 13.0 yards per reception
Poaching Equanimeous St.Brown from the division rival Green Bay Packers, the 25-year-old wide receiver is the perfect low-risk, high-reward player for the Bears to take a chance on. After a stellar rookie season in 2018 that saw St.Brown haul in 21 receptions and 328 receiving yards while averaging 15.6 yards per reception, St.Brown missed the 2019 season due to an ankle injury and failed to make any sort of contribution in 2020 and 2021, mainly providing some value as a practice squad player and on special teams.
When the Bears signed St.Brown to a one-year deal in free agency worth $965,000, his familiarity with offensive coordinator Luke Getsy helped St.Brown land in Chicago. The Bears have made it clear that St.Brown will be playing 2022 on a prove-it deal, something that could prove to be beneficial for both sides when looking ahead to 2023.
Now entering his fifth NFL season and first with the Bears, the 6-foot-5 wide receiver has a prime opportunity to get his career back on track as the Bears provide him with the opportunity to start all over again. While St.Brown may not see significant reps throughout the early portions of training camp, he could be a name to watch as a player who quickly ascends to being the fourth-best wide receiver on the Bears roster.
2021 stats: Nine receptions, 98 receiving yards, zero touchdowns, and 10.9 yards per reception.
One of the few pieces in the wide receiver room that is returning from the 2021 season, Isaiah Coulter enters his third NFL season but has yet to find a true home. Despite spending a majority of the 2021 season on the Bears practice squad, Coulter will enter training camp with a chance to secure a roster spot as a valuable depth piece. With his biggest asset being speed, Coulter will look to make a name for himself in a year where securing a roster sport could go a long way towards seeing some valuable playing time under a new regime.
Coulter is one name to watch that could be on the chopping block during the initial wave of roster cuts in late August. While he does have the ability to take the top off a defense, Coutler failed to make any sort of impact as a special teams player in 2021, bringing into question what his true value might be under new Bears special teams coordinator Richard Hightower.
For Coutler, his best chance at making the roster will be standing out in training camp and preseason games as a true gunner on special teams. This allows Coutler to utilize his best asset, speed, while also securing his future in Chicago for one more season.
2021 stats: Zero receptions, Zero receiving yards, three games played.
A player who showcased toughness when given a chance to suit up for the Bears in 2021, Dazz Newsome new enters his second season with the hope of making the Bears roster, instead of starting off another season on the Bears practice squad.
The 2021 sixth-round pick saw some serious action for the last month of the Bears season and did show flashes that should make him a strong candidate to earn a roster spot under a new regime. In addition to his toughness, Newsome is also a savvy route runner that has the potential to become a good slot receiver while also becoming a valuable contributor on special teams.
Overall, while the film on Newsome is limited, he did enough in critical situations throughout the 2021 season to warrant having a legitimate chance in 2022 to make the Bears roster. The worst-case scenario for Newsome is that he’s sent packing during the final wave of roster cuts in August but the best-case scenario is the exact opposite: He secures a long-term roster spot and then is able to carve out a role throughout the 2022 season, even if it means splitting time between playing limited snaps on offense while having an impact on special teams.
2021 season: Two receptions, 23 receiving yards, zero touchdowns, 11.5 yards per reception.
Another player returning from the previous regime, Webster’s role should remain largely unchanged heading into the 2022 season. He should return once again as a special teams returner. There doesn’t seem to be a serious case for Webster to get any playing time on offense, unless the new coaching staff sees him as a valuable mismatch piece.
After entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2020 but failed to make a name for himself. Set to enter his third NFL season, Finke is on the roster bubble and has an uphill climb to make the Bears roster. However, if he proves that he belongs, he could secure a spot on the team’s practice squad.
Now on his sixth NFL team since entering the NFL in 2017, the former seventh-round pick managed to spend four years with the Seattle Seahawks before bouncing around multiple teams throughout 2021. After signing with the Bears in late April, he brings some starting experience to the table that could separate him from the rest of the pack.
Highly touted coming out of the University of Washington in the 2018 NFL Draft, Pettis’ career has been underwhelming over the last two seasons after a strong start. After a season-ending shoulder injury in 2021, Pettis best chance at making the roster starts by staying healthy and then showing that he’s got more than enough left in the tank to become a solid rotational player for the Bears.
After a promising college career at Liberty University, Shaa signed with the Bears as an undrafted free agent. Due to a lack of size and strength (5-foot-11, 165 pounds), Shaa should only see some reps as a slot receiver in training camp. However, if he’s any time away from Halas Hall to add some muscle to his frame, there could be a case for him to make the roster as a rotational player, especially due to his big-play ability, which he flashed in college, averaging 16.6 yards per reception.
Playing as a rotational player for the Atlanta Falcons in 2021, Sharpe totaled 25 receptions and 230 receiving yards while averaging 9.2 yards per reception. Sharpe’s 2021 season showed that he can be a low-end option in the receiving game for any team but for the Bears, he’ll need to prove that he’s able to become a solid contributor who is able to catch 50 or more passes in a season to have a chance at truly securing a roster spot.
Who will step up outside of Darnell Mooney?
All offseason, there has been a consistent narrative revolving around whether the Bears have truly done enough to help Justin Fields take another step forward in year two. Part of this includes figuring out whether or not the wide receiver room has enough talent to help support Fields. Outside of Mooney, the rest of the Bears wide receiver room remains uncertain.
While Mooney is expected to take another step forward, players like Velus Jones Jr. and Bryon Pringle have a prime opportunity throughout the 2022 season to quickly develop into household names. The best-case scenario for Chicago is that both Jones and Pringle end up becoming solid contributors. This reduces the need to prioritize spending a high draft pick on a wide receiver in the 2023 NFL Draft.
While Chicago is banking on potential playing a major role in the wide receiver room being able to produce at a high level throughout the 2022 season, the Bears should also monitor roster cuts in late August to see whether or not a veteran who’s got enough left in the tank becomes available in order to add some leadership to a position group with a number of new faces
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