September 22, 2021

Hub Arkush: The Bears have enough speed at wide receiver, but do they have enough talent?

The need for speed is a common thread that runs through every move the Chicago Bears made this past offseason on offense.

Justin Fields is now the third fastest QB in the league by his 40-yard dash time, trailing only Kyler Murray and Lamar Jackson, and running back Damien Williams, while he will back him up, is a full two-tenths of a second faster than David Montgomery.

At wideout, free agent Marquise Goodwin owns the fourth fastest 40-time in the history of the combine (4.27). Damiere Byrd ran a 4.25 at his pro day. And along with Darnell Mooney and Tarik Cohen, the Bears now have four pass catchers that have run 4.38 or faster.

But while fast, are they good enough?

Allen Robinson is a legit No. 1 receiver. Playing on the franchise tag, he will be motivated to chase his best season ever.

That shifts the spotlight onto Mooney, the surprise breakout star of last year’s draft after lasting until the fifth round and then grabbing 61 catches for 631 yards and four scores.

Bears coach Matt Nagy loves what he’s seen and is seeing in Mooney.

“He’s following a guy like A-Rob as his mentor. They are attached to the hip. It’s a really neat deal,” Nagy said. “It’s cool to see those two grow together and these other guys come up and learn how they do it. And Mooney, I think he’s in store for a good year.”

To hear Mooney tell it though, simply being good doesn’t really interest him.

“This year I just want to be an explosive player, I want to be dominant,” Mooney said following Friday’s practice at Halas Hall. “I want to be a known factor, a known name.”

And his definition of dominant?

“For sure I want 1,000 yards. That’s the top tier for every receiver,” Mooney said. “I just want all top of the charts of anything, it can be touchdowns, yards, catches, it doesn’t matter. I want the top.”

But even with two top receivers no NFL team has enough, and the arrival of Goodwin and Byrd becomes pivotal.

“It’s huge because you have a guy like A-Rob, who has been in this league for a long time but is still young and does it his way,” Nagy said.“Then you have a guy like Marquise that comes in, and Marquise was, I don’t know if you all saw it, but he was the first guy out yesterday catching balls out of the jugs, very first guy out at practice yesterday.

“Byrd’s easy, he does what he’s supposed to do. “He’s fast, he’s a smooth runner, he doesn’t look like . . . Marquise, you can really see and feel that speed. But Damiere, when he’s out there catching the ball and he goes, he glides. I’m proud of him right now.”

The issue is: sure they’re burners, but are they good enough receivers?

Goodwin had a very nice 2017 season in San Francisco, the only time he’s played 16 games. He caught 56 balls for 962 yards and two TDs. But in his other six seasons combined – he opted out in 2020 – he’s played just 59 games and caught 84 passes for 1,361 and 11 TDs.

Byrd’s only 16-game season was last year (47-604, 1 TD), while his other four years combined are just 28 games (44-488, 3 TDs).

Byrd’s career 12.0 average per catch is not indicative of his speed, nor was Mooney’s 10.3 average last year, but Byrd thinks it would be hard to find a faster group.

“I think it would be hard to put together speed in our room, collectively,” he said. “It’s hard to cover three or four sub-4.4 guys on the field at the same time.”

Yes, it is, but only if they can all model the route running, hands and contested ball ability of Robinson. Those are traits only Mooney has shown, and that all three of these burners still need to develop.

Throw in what is starting to look like a slower than expected rehab of his torn ACL for Cohen, and the Bears still have as many questions about their pass catchers as they have speed.

This group will definitely scare every defense they see this season. How many they beat will depend on how much more complete these undersized blazers can become.

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush

Hub Arkush is a Bears/NFL Insider for Shaw Media