INDIANAPOLIS – As the Chicago Bears begin the process of rebuilding themselves into a contender, they must answer a number of key questions before deciding which players to draft and acquire to get the job done.
Priority No. 1 is learning whether they have a future franchise quarterback in Justin Fields. There is no doubt he is one of the best running QBs in the league, but there also is no question he is one of the least productive passers.
It is going to take at least one more season to find out if Fields can be a franchise passer, but what the Bears have to decide right now – before free agency and the draft begin – is whether they have enough talent at wide receiver and tight end for Fields to succeed.
It appears highly unlikely they do, and that makes wide receiver priority No. 2 after defensive line in the draft. They also can shop free agency, but it appears to be a pretty weak pass-catcher market this year.
Cole Kmet is a good tight end, and if he can stay healthy and get more help, he may be very good, but the Bears have no depth at that position.
Also, did general manager Ryan Poles badly overpay for wide receiver Chase Claypool with that price turning out to be the 32nd pick in the coming draft? We’ve seen very little in three seasons to assume his best case is a solid No. 2, and we’ve seen nothing yet to guarantee he can be even that.
Like Fields, Claypool needs one more season to establish who and what he really is, but hoping at this point he is worth what he cost or that his maximum upside is any more than a No. 2 feels like little more than wishful thinking, and him being a solid No. 2 is shaky off what we’ve seen so far.
The good news for the Bears is the wideout class in this draft, while not deep in the first round, is strong in the middle and later rounds, and there are some exciting prospects to consider.
None are good enough to be taken first overall, and it feels more and more every day like the Bears will end up trading that pick and will end up with additional first- and second-round choices.
The most intriguing player for Bears fans to watch is TCU’s Quentin Johnston. He’s 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, runs a 4.4-second 40-yard dash and should go somewhere between 10th and 14th. In three seasons at TCU, he tallied 115 catches, 2,190 yards and 14 touchdowns and is an explosive play waiting to happen.
Next up is Jordan Addison, who had a huge 2021 season with 100 catches, 1,593 yards, 15.9 yards per catch and 17 TDs at Pittsburgh, but he dropped off significantly in 2022 after transferring to USC.
Jaxon Smith-Njigba out of Ohio State may be this year’s fastest pass catcher, logging a 4.3 40-yard-dash time, and at 6-1 will be a nightmare for cornerbacks to cover. Smith-Njigba should fit somewhere between the 12th and 20th picks and could even go before Johnston because of his unique speed.
Boston College’s Zay Flowers is a bit undersized at 5-10, 172, but he runs a 4.4 40 and is a talented and dependable slot receiver. He’s not exactly what the Bears will be looking for early, but Flowers should go late in the first round or early in the second.
Nathaniel “Tank” Dell out of Houston and Josh Downs from North Carolina are pass catchers for the Bears to consider in the second round.
Oregon State’s Luke Musgrave, Georgia’s Darnell Washington and South Dakota State’s Tucker Kraft are all potential second-round tight ends that could pair well with Kmet.
These pass catchers won’t meet the media until Friday, but several could very well become Bears before the draft is over.
• Hub Arkush is the senior Bears analyst for Shaw Media and ShawLocal.com.