Take note, Bears: Elite WRs helped drive Rams, Bengals to Super Bowl LVI

Sure, it’s a quarterback-driven league. But part of prioritizing the quarterback means loading him up with top-notch receiving targets, such as the Super Bowl teams did.

SHARE Take note, Bears: Elite WRs helped drive Rams, Bengals to Super Bowl LVI

Beckham, left, joined the Rams in November and has 46 catches for 541 yards and six touchdowns in 11 games, including the playoffs.


LOS ANGELES — As is the case with most Super Bowls, the attention-getting stars going into the game Sunday are the quarterbacks. The Bengals’ Joe Burrow and the Rams’ Matthew Stafford are the leading men, and they’re the ones with the cameras in their faces.

But when it comes to special effects, the explosive receivers are the ones to watch.

The Rams and Bengals each think they have the NFL’s best corps at the position. The Rams feature All-Pro Cooper Kupp, Odell Beckham and Van Jefferson; the Bengals boast the trio of rookie sensation Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins and Tyler Boyd.

‘‘It’s definitely gonna be a show,’’ Higgins said after the Bengals wrapped up their final practice Friday at UCLA. ‘‘Those guys over there are really great. Then you’ve got me, Tyler and Chase. It’s definitely gonna be a fun one.’’

This is what it looks like to assemble an elite group of receiving targets, which is a non-negotiable requirement in the modern NFL. Of the 37 players who had at least 800 yards receiving this season, five are in this game.

The Bears should take note.

The Bengals did it despite parting with A.J. Green, thanks to developing Boyd (a second-round pick in 2016) and striking instant gold on Higgins (No. 33 overall in 2020) and Chase (No. 5 in 2021).

The Rams did it despite losing longtime No. 1 receiver Robert Woods to a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee in November. They had signed Beckham the day before to bolster a crew that already featured Kupp (third round in 2017) and Jefferson (second round in 2020).

Whether it’s through the draft or being aggressive in free agency, it takes major investment to get this good.

Assuming they let Allen Robinson walk in free agency, the Bears are headed toward next season with Darnell Mooney as their top receiver. While he’s dependable and topped 1,000 yards this season, he might not crack the top three if he was on either Super Bowl team.

‘‘This will be a battle of the best receivers,’’ Boyd said. ‘‘I look at us as the best group in the country. We showed that. But the Rams also have a great group.’’

Within that showdown, the main event is Chase against five-time Pro Bowl cornerback Jalen Ramsey.

Ramsey has been saying all week he wants to spend the entire game covering Chase, and the rookie welcomes it.

‘‘I’m just gonna play my game, bro,’’ Chase said. ‘‘He’s the one that’s gotta check me. I’m not playing defense; I’m playing offense. So he’s gotta check me.’’

It’s no surprise that putting a premium on receivers paid off for these teams. The game is all about passing, so every priority connects to that: Get a good quarterback, protect him and provide him with an arsenal. On the other side of the ball, it starts with pass rushers, followed by cornerbacks.

Taking the receiver position seriously means doing what the Rams and Bengals have done, as opposed to the course the Bears took the last three seasons, when they had — at most — two receivers clicking in Robinson and Mooney. Often, it was only one or the other.

But it takes more than just one, even if he’s a star. Top defensive backs and savvy coverages can negate that. So it’s not Kupp or Chase that makes his team’s passing game so fearsome; it’s the overwhelming collection of talent that forces a defense to make tough, futile decisions.

‘‘In years when guys were getting banged up and it was just kinda me out there and I was getting doubled, it was hard to do what I needed to do,’’ Boyd said. ‘‘Now that we’ve got all these guys that are ballin’ and making plays, everybody’s job is easier. It’s way more relaxed. It’s so easy for all of us to get into our game.’’

The same is true for the Rams.

‘‘We bounce off each other well, and then it’s a pick-your-poison thing,’’ Beckham said. ‘‘I feel like [all] of us are dangerous.’’

Kupp has been a budding star for years and is fresh off winning the receiving triple crown with 145 catches, 1,947 yards and 16 touchdowns during the regular season. He opened the season with seven catches for 108 yards and a touchdown against the Bears and pretty much averaged that the rest of the way. He’s widely regarded as the sharpest route-runner in the game.

Jefferson, who is third in the Rams’ hierarchy, didn’t have a 100-yard game this season, but he played his role reliably and averaged 16 yards per reception on his way to 50 catches, 802 yards and six touchdowns.

In 11 games with the Rams, including the playoffs, Beckham has 46 catches for 541 yards and six touchdowns.

Chase was fourth in the NFL with 1,455 yards and third with 13 touchdown catches. The Bengals were one of five teams that had multiple 1,000-yard receivers, with Higgins putting up 1,091 and six touchdowns on 74 catches.

Boyd, a two-time 1,000-yard receiver, slotted neatly into the No. 3 spot with 67 catches for 828 yards and five touchdowns.

With that many options, Burrow and Stafford will be hard to stop.

There will be moves and countermoves all night, and that’s a lot different than that perpetually checkmated feeling the Bears’ offense has had for years.

As new general manager Ryan Poles sketches out the personnel he wants to supply for Justin Fields, it should look a lot like what he’ll see in the Super Bowl.

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