NFL Draft: Bears could solve WR problem with 2nd-round pick

Wide receiver seems like the most loaded position in the 2022 draft class, so new GM Ryan Poles needs to find a game-changing receiver at No. 37 overall.

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Justyn Ross was spectacular in his first two seasons at Clemson before serious injuries disrupted his college career.

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INDIANAPOLIS — The day Ryan Poles took the job as Bears general manager, he took on a lengthy to-do list of necessary repairs left unfinished by Ryan Pace.

These aren’t little touchups like replacing some siding or repainting the bathroom. These concerns are more along the lines of putting on a new roof and replacing the water heater.

Given that he’s a former offensive lineman and seems particularly perturbed by that unit’s underperformance, that’s probably Poles’ priority. He views that as an emergency. But he might be able to fix that in free agency.

Supplying Justin Fields with a legitimate wide receiver corps should be next, and the Bears’ second-round pick, 39th overall, is a good way to address that problem. They have just two selections in the first four rounds — the other is a third-rounder at No. 71 — and must find immediate contributors with those picks because everything after that will be a long shot.

The wide receivers potentially in their reach in the second round are Georgia’s George Pickens, Penn State’s Jahan Dotson, Ohio State’s Chris Olave, Clemson’s Justyn Ross.

Olave and Dotson are probably pipe dreams; ESPN’s Mel Kiper and Todd McShay have both slotted as first-rounders. Olave was one of eight receivers to clock a sub-4.4 in the 40-yard dash at the NFL Scouting Combine.

Much of the conversation around Olave centers on him having history with Fields at Ohio State, where Olave averaged more than 100 yards per game and scored seven touchdowns with Fields in 2020. There’s a thought that reuniting the two would be similar to the Bengals pairing Joe Burrow with Ja’Marr Chase.

But what makes the Burrow-Chase combo special is that both players are great independently. Burrow has the ability to be a perennial MVP candidate. Chase could make the argument right now that he’ll be the NFL’s best receiver this season. The fact that they played together at LSU is just a nice bonus.

Ross has a little history with Fields, too, but it’s mostly from the Clemson-Ohio State rivalry that developed in the College Football Playoffs and showing up at the same high school camps when both were hot prospects. Nonetheless, he’s a fan.

“I think very highly of him,” Ross said this week. “Great player.”

Pickens and Ross each had their college careers disrupted by major injuries, and Poles’ staff must factor that into their evaluations.

Pickens tore his ACL about a year ago, but made it back by the end of November and had five catches for 107 yards over the last four games. Over his freshman and sophomore seasons, he totaled 85 catches, 1,240 yards and 14 touchdowns.

He is 6-foot-3, 195 pounds and ran a 4.47 in the 40-yard dash. Ross is 6-foot-4, 205 pounds. The Bears didn’t have a receiver taller than 6-foot-2 last season, and the four who played the most stood at an average of 5-foot-11.

Ross had neck surgery after an injury in 2020 and missed the end of last season with a stress fracture in his foot.

That’s what’s holding him back from being a first-rounder, because Ross was an electric playmaker who put up 1,000 yards as a true freshman and 865 the next season. After missing all of 2020, he had 46 catches, 514 yards and three touchdowns in 10 games last season.

“There is still a lot of doubt [among analysts], but I feel good about it,” Ross said of his health. “I’m 100% right now... I feel like I can go through the roof just because of my ability and size and everything.”

If healthy, Ross seems like he’d fit what the Bears want as they try to fill in the receiving corps around third-year player Darnell Mooney. It’s likely he’ll be the only receiver from last season they retain.

“You want explosive, athletic ability there that can produce chunk plays,” coach Matt Eberflus said. “So if you throw a screen, you want a guy that can take it and go for 15 or all the way.

“One guy might be quick and he’s really a short-route runner. Another guy can do it all. That would be our No. 1 receiver. Should be able to do that. And the other guy should be able to take the top off the defense.”

While it gets progressively tougher to find that kind of game-changer as the draft goes on, the Bears have a realistic chance at No. 37.

Of the 13 wide receivers picked in the top half of the second round from 2016 through ’20, five have had 1,000-yard seasons. The Saints’ Michael Thomas was top-five in catches, yards and touchdowns over his first four seasons after they took him 47th overall in 2016.

He’s rare, but the depth at wide receiver in this draft class gives the Bears a shot at finding someone like him. Many analysts believe it’s the most loaded position, and some of the top players are sure to slip to the second round. It’s up to Poles to figure out which ones everyone else will regret bypassing.

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