April 12, 2024


Bears Analysis

Shaw Local’s 2022 Bears report card: Wide receiver

No Bears WR had 100-yard receiving game this season

Chicago Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney tries to get free from Miami Dolphins safety Eric Rowe and cornerback Noah Igbinoghene during their game Sunday, Nov. 6, 2022, at Soldier Field in Chicago.

The biggest criticism lodged toward Bears general manager Ryan Poles before the 2022 season was that he didn’t provide quarterback Justin Fields with enough weapons at the receiver position.

Once the season started, that criticism only amplified. The Bears didn’t have much of a receiving unit outside of Darnell Mooney. That was painfully apparent on the field. Poles more or less admitted as much when he traded for receiver Chase Claypool at the trade deadline.

The early returns on Claypool were underwhelming, considering the Bears gave up the 32nd overall draft pick to acquire him (Miami must forfeit its first-round pick, so the first pick of the second round is No. 32 overall this year).

Here’s what went well and what didn’t at the receiver position this season.

Positives

The Bears’ passing game started off slowly and finished as the worst in the NFL. The Bears averaged 130.5 passing yards per game. They were the first NFL team to average fewer than 140 passing yards per game since the 2011 Jacksonville Jaguars (136.2). The Bears did not have a single 100-yard performance from a pass catcher.

As they say, it’s only up from here.

After a slow start, Mooney did heat up in the middle of the season before a Nov. 27 ankle injury sidelined him for the rest of the season. He had a season-high 94 yards on four catches in Week 4 against the Giants and twice caught seven passes in a game. Mooney’s season ended with him sitting at 40 receptions for 493 yards and two touchdowns.

Equanimeous St. Brown was a solid blocker and finished only 5 yards shy of his career high with 323 receiving yards and a touchdown on 21 catches.

Negatives

Byron Pringle battled injuries and proved to be somewhat unreliable after signing a one-year, $4 million contract in March. He caught 10 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns.

The Bears drafted rookie Velus Jones Jr. with a third-round pick (71st overall), but he was nearly a nonfactor for the offense. Jones caught seven passes for 107 yards and a touchdown. He also rushed for 103 yards and a touchdown on nine attempts. He unquestionably has speed, but he needs to improve as a pass catcher.

With Claypool, it’s hard to know what to make of his seven games with the Bears. He never caught more than five passes in a game and never totaled more than 51 receiving yards. The last several weeks of the season were a wash because Claypool missed time with a knee injury, then Fields missed time with a hip injury. A full offseason in the offense should be a huge boost for Claypool.

Defining moments

1. In what might have been the most symbolic play of the season Oct. 13 against Washington, Mooney caught what could’ve been a game-winning touchdown at the goal line, bobbled the ball, regained possession, but in the process of all that his momentum carried him inches shy of the goal line.

For a Bears team that lost seven one-possession contests, the play was a microcosm of the season. Close, but not close enough.

2. Unfortunately, Mooney’s ankle injury has to be a defining moment for this bunch. He had his ankle rolled up on during a Nov. 27 loss to the Jets. Fields wasn’t even playing that day because of a left shoulder injury. Mooney was blocking on the play when he got hurt.

The receiving unit was never the same. When Claypool suffered a knee injury a week later, one that kept him out for three weeks, this receiving group was reduced to an afterthought.

Contract status

Mooney and Claypool each have one year remaining on their rookie contracts. Mooney could be in line for an extension before the season. Claypool probably has more to prove in a Bears uniform before the team commits to him. St. Brown signed a one-year extension. Jones is under contract for three more seasons. Pringle, N’Keal Harry and Dante Pettis are set to become unrestricted free agents.

Grade: F

Again, the worst NFL passing offense in more than a decade. Enough said.

Plan

Continued offseason work between Fields, Claypool and Mooney (once healthy) will be big this spring and summer. It’s far too early to give up on Jones. If nothing else, he’s an elite kick returner who finished fourth in the league in yards per return. But he has to improve as a pass catcher if he wants to play on offense.

This year’s wide receiver free-agent class lacks superstars at the top. Names such as JuJu Smith-Schuster, Jakobi Meyers and Allen Lazard top the list. All are fine players in supporting roles but probably aren’t worth big-time investments. Instead, Poles should look to use one of his nine draft picks on a receiver, preferably a first-, second- or third-round pick.

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for the Shaw Local News Network. He has covered the Bears since 2020. Prior to writing about the Bears, he covered high school sports for the Northwest Herald and contributed to Friday Night Drive. Sean joined Shaw Media in 2016.