The Chicago Bears wide receiver room has been a sore spot all offseason. On Tuesday, another name entered the room when Ryan Poles traded for WR N’Keal Harry from the New England Patriots. While this was not the awe-inspiring move we had (foolishly) hoped for, it is a change, nonetheless. And with that change, I think it is a good idea to do a run-through of the Bears’ options at wide receiver for 2022.
To better understand where the Bears’ current wide receivers might rank leaguewide, I decided to find the 2021 averages for every WR1, WR2, WR3, WR4, and additional depth around the league. Then, I compared each veteran Bears receiver to the averages to determine how they should be viewed relative to their peers.
I should note that I am not discussing Velus Jones Jr. or Dazz Newsom in this article because they do not have enough NFL statistics to compare against NFL averages. In the past, I have completed an in-depth analysis of Velus Jones’ draft profile and NFL projections. Additionally, in 2021 I wrote an in-depth analysis of Dazz Newsome’s draft profile.
Wide Receiver 1: Darnell Mooney
As a rookie, Mooney approached most of the threshold of an average WR2, by league standards. But in his second season, his production began to trend toward WR1 territory. While his volume in 2021 is clearly on track with the average WR1 around the NFL, his rate stats and PFF grades still point to high-end WR2 territory.
Most notably, his catch rate, yards per catch, air yards per catch, and contested catch rates are holding him back from meeting true WR1 thresholds. I do think he can improve in most of those areas with better QB play. However, I do not think he will ever be a guy to win many contested situations due to his size limitations.
For now, Mooney should be considered a low-end No. 1 option who might be better suited as a high-end No. 2 option.
Wide Receiver 2: Byron Pringle
The difficult part of evaluating Pringle is trying to decipher why he broke out in 2021. While he saw an increased role, how much of an impact did Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce spacing the field have on his results? I tried to find the middle ground between his best season (2021) and the other two seasons with the Chiefs where his production and playing time were much more modest.
For the most part, Pringle has produced like a WR3. His 2021 production bordered on WR2-level volume in yards, first downs, and touchdowns, but his targets and receptions were still on the WR3 level. How will that change with an increased role in Chicago? Will more attention from defenses drive down his efficiency? There is a breaking point where his volume stats may improve, but his efficiency might suffer.
Pringle ranked near the top among all receivers in catch rate during his time with the Chiefs. I would expect that to take a bit of a hit without Kelce and Hill eating up coverage. The thing that most clearly holds Pringle back from being rated higher is his drops and hands grade from PFF. I consider Pringle to be a serviceable No. 3 wide receiver, with some upside to be a low-end No. 2 in the right circumstances.
Wide Receiver 3: N’Keal Harry
The newly acquired Harry was a highly decorated college player that the Patriots drafted at No. 32 overall back in 2019. He got off to a rough start in New England. While he did show some signs of life in his second season, he fell down the depth chart in 2021. This guy is a big-bodied receiver who wins with size and power rather than speed, agility, or route-running details.
The only high-end trait that Harry has shown in his NFL career is the ability to win contested catches. He has done that on the level of a WR1. Aside from that trait, however, he has generally played closer to the abilities of a WR4. Maybe his lack of snaps has more to do with his poor efficiency than would meet the eye. It has been suggested that New England was a poor fit for Harry as the culture there weighed on him. Maybe a change of scenery will be the difference.
For now, I am marking him as a WR4 caliber player who is leaning closer to a WR5 than a WR3.
Wide Receiver 4: Equanimeous St. Brown
Equanimeous St. Brown has always been a bit of an enigma. The big-bodied wide receiver boasts excellent speed and leaping ability, but has never been able to translate that into much NFL success.
He was selected in the sixth round of the 2018 NFL Draft by the Packers. He finished off his rookie year strong in 2018 but missed the entire 2019 season with an ankle injury. From there, his opportunities were slim over the next two seasons, seeing only 29 targets in that time. Meanwhile, his younger brother, Amon-Ra St. Brown, found instant success in Detroit as a rookie in 2021.
Across his three-year career, St. Brown has only been credited with one drop on 63 targets. Because of that, his drop rate and hands PFF grade reflect the caliber of a WR1. Additionally, his 14.7 yards per catch average puts him in WR3 territory. But aside from those three stats, he is looking mostly at WR4 and WR 5 designation.
There is a chance that the young WR quickly fell out of favor in Green Bay with meticulous QB Aaron Rodgers leading the offense. If that is the case, I think St. Brown might be able to jump into WR3 territory under good circumstances. But the more likely scenario is that he remains a depth piece that plays situationally. The main reason I have him ranked ahead of Pettis and Sharpe is because of his relationship with new the Bears’ offensive coordinator, Luke Getsy.
Wide Receiver 5: Dante Pettis
Pettis has a very similar career arc to that of Tajae Sharpe. After being selected by the 49ers in the second round of the 2018 NFL Draft, Pettis exploded onto the scene.
In his first two NFL games, he registered three catches for 96 yards and a touchdown. However, in his third game, his snap count was cut in half. Then, he spent a few weeks inactive, followed by a few weeks without any meaningful offensive snaps. From Weeks 10-15, he found himself playing meaningful offensive snaps again. Over the six-game stretch, he recorded 24 receptions for 371 yards and four touchdowns. However, he was buried on the depth chart in his second season before being waived by the 49ers during the 2020 season.
Finishing out the 2020 season with the Giants, Pettis played sparingly. Although, he did make a homerun impact in his marginal play time with four catches, 76 yards, and a touchdown. He entered the 2021 season on the Giants’ practice squad before being promoted. After a few games on the active roster, Pettis landed on IR with a shoulder injury.
Generally, Pettis’ stats reflect those of a WR3 or WR5. There is untapped potential within him, but being on his third team in five years, it is questionable whether that potential will ever be realized. I would consider Pettis to be a player who is worth taking a flier on. But expecting anything more than WR4 production could be fool’s gold.
Wide Receiver 6: Tajae Sharpe
Sharpe entered the NFL in 2016 when he was selected in the fifth round by the Tennessee Titans. In his rookie year, he hit the ground running by earning a starting role. That rookie season was his best NFL campaign to date.
The following year, he was derailed by a foot injury and placed on IR. While he returned in 2018, his volume and efficiency did not return to the standard he set as a rookie. In 2019, he improved his efficiency metrics on more limited opportunities. But he was not able to make an NFL roster in 2020. Last season, he played 15 games for the Falcons, ranking fourth on the team in targets per game.
The career arc of Tajae Sharpe has not been ideal. His volume stats have declined each year he has been in the NFL. He retains multiple WR1 traits (i.e. air yards/reception, drop rate, contested catch rate, PFF hands grade) but falls behind elsewhere. Most of Sharp’s stats fall into WR4 territory, and that is where I would expect him to remain with the Bears.
Wide Receiver 7: David Moore
Moore entered the NFL when he was selected by the Seahawks in the seventh round of the 2017 NFL Draft. After seeing little action as a rookie, he earned a larger role in the 2018 season. That year would be his most productive season to date, serving as a deep threat for Russell Wilson.
He continued in a similar role with fluctuating opportunities through 2020, even catching six touchdown passes in the 2020 season. Then in 2021, he was signed and released by the three teams before cracking the Packers’ active roster. He saw minimal action on the season. After signing with the Bears, he was arrested on marijuana and weapons charges on July 3, 2022.
Looking at his production, you see WR1-caliber drop rates, WR2-caliber TD production, and PFF hands grades. However, most of his statistics are scattered wildly across WR3, WR4, and WR5 levels of production. Therefore, I think it is safe to place him right in the middle of those groups at WR4.
Moore has shown the ability to be a home run hitter and make splash plays. But expecting more from him than the occasional cannon ball does not seem wise.
Key Questions for Bears Wide Receivers
Reviewing all these stats has led to a few more questions for me. First off, why have the Chicago Bears seemingly targeted wide receivers with a track record for quality run blocking?
It seems that getting receivers who can close out blocks and seal the edge is an emphasis. While only three of the wide receivers have consistently excelled at run blocking relative to their peers, N’Keal Harry had a very successful season as a run blocker in 2021. Additionally, both David Moore and Tajae Sharpe have performed above average in this aspect in the past.
The second question I have after reviewing these players is who is going to play special teams, and how will that impact final roster decisions?
The Bears have three players I would consider to be “locks” to make the roster at wide receiver in Mooney, Jones, and Pringle. Additionally, I consider St. Brown a likely candidate due to his connection with Luke Getsy and his special teams experience. Similarly, I think Harry will make the roster due to his run blocking and upside as a former first-round pick. That likely leaves one roster spot for the final four wide receivers sitting on the roster bubble.
This last wide receiver will need to play special teams, as I doubt that they will ask Pringle to play big-time snaps on offense and special teams. Although, in 2021 the Bears only had two wide receivers play many special teams snaps. And between St. Brown’s special teams experience and Velus Jones’ ability to play on kick coverage and return units, they might be okay without adding more special teams experience.
Chicago Bears Wide Receiver Review
Ultimately, the Bears are in a less than ideal position when it comes to their wide receiver room. They have one bonafide starting-caliber wide receiver in Darnell Mooney. Then, they have a player who has proven to be a capable wide receiver No. 3 in a top-tier offensive system with star talent around him in Byron Pringle. And finally, they have five guys who have proven to be capable backup wide receivers in the league but have not proven to be much more than that.
That is not including rookie Velus Jones Jr. (2022 college stats shown above) and second-year WR Dazz Newsome, neither of whom have garnered enough stats to be analyzed here.
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