NFL Draft position preview: Bears should strongly consider WR in 1st round
The Bears aren’t in a great place with their receivers at the moment, and their plan beyond 2021 is shaky. It’s the right time to take a playmaker, but can they trust GM Ryan Pace to find one?
Part 6 of a 10-part series previewing the NFL Draft and analyzing the Bears’ needs.
Brace yourself. Here’s where the Bears stand at wide receiver:
Allen Robinson is a legitimate No. 1 threat, but he probably would’ve left if he’d been allowed to attract a big offer in free agency rather than be stuck with the franchise tag. They’ll be moving on from Anthony Miller the first chance they get. Darnell Mooney is promising but projects as a complementary player. Marquise Goodwin is 30 and has one season of 450-plus yards in his career.
That’s shaky, to say the least, especially without a game-changing quarterback who can elevate that crew. It’s an untenable situation in the long run and probably isn’t good enough for the upcoming season, so wide receiver is high on the list of the Bears’ needs.
That means the position is absolutely in play for their draft picks in the first three rounds, including No. 20 overall.
If the Bears stay at No. 20, the top three prospects — LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, Alabama’s DeVonta Smith and Jaylen Waddle — will be gone. They likely will be choosing from among Florida’s Kadarius Toney, LSU’s Terrace Marshall, Ole Miss’ Elijah Moore and Minnesota’s Rashod Bateman.
Toney is the most talented of that tier, but he missed significant time with injuries and some analysts have raised concerns about his precision as a route runner. Being faster than everyone else is enough at the college level, but as Miller has learned, it takes more than that to succeed in the NFL. Moore, conversely, doesn’t have as high of a ceiling but is a more polished receiver technically.
Toney could be dynamite in the slot with a 4.39-second 40-yard dash time and is coming off a season with 70 catches, 984 yards and 10 touchdowns for Florida. He also averaged 8.5 yards on 19 rushes. If the Bears are confident they can correct some of his inefficiencies, he immediately could free them up to trade or cut Miller.
That sets up a hard decision for general manager Ryan Pace at a position where he has struggled. He took Kevin White seventh overall in 2015, traded up for Miller in the second round in 2018 and drafted Riley Ridley in the fourth round in 2019 before hitting the jackpot on Mooney in the fifth last year.
It’s an unsettling scenario for the franchise to depend on Pace to get it right at a position that has caused him so many -problems, but that’s what the Bears signed up for when they committed to another year of him picking the roster.
Grading the Bears’ need: High. The Bears have question marks about their wide receivers for this season and even more uncertainty down the road. If they do nothing or put this off until late in the draft, it’s possible they’d go into 2022 with Darnell Mooney and little else.
On the roster: Allen Robinson, Darnell Mooney, Anthony Miller, Marquise Goodwin, Javon Wims, Riley Ridley, Rodney Adams, Reggie Davis, Thomas Ives, Jester Weah.
The five best prospects: LSU’s Ja’Marr Chase, Alabama’s DeVonta Smith, Alabama’s Jaylen Waddle, Florida’s Kadarius Toney, LSU’s Terrace Marshall.
Keep an eye on: Toney. There’s a wide range of opinions on his NFL viability, but his talent is undeniable. The Bears should swing big and bet on his incredible upside.
Close to home: Notre Dame’s Ben Skowronek. After a choppy four years at Northwestern, Skowronek transferred to Notre Dame as a graduate student and had 29 catches for 439 yards and five touchdowns last season. He’ll likely be a seventh-round pick or sign as an undrafted free agent.