Steelers’ George Pickens proof the Bears needed to draft a receiver in Round 2
What’s concerning is how off-trend the Bears are. Hunting big-name receivers is mandatory in the modern NFL.
Steelers receiver George Pickens must have jumped off the screen to Bears coaches when they watched film of the Seahawks before their second preseason game.
The 6-3, 200-pound rookie split right near the end of the first quarter of the Steelers’ preseason opener Aug. 13 against the Seahawks. On third-and-13, the Seahawks gave Pickens a friendly seven yards to run off the line of scrimmage along the right flank.
Taking a shotgun snap, Steelers quarterback Mason Rudolph put his right heel on the 34-yard line and lofted a fade pass to the back right corner of the end zone. Pickens didn’t do anything fancy, save for a stutter-step, as he sprinted past Seahawks cornerback Coby Bryant. He used his left arm to push Bryant away, then — in motion — cradled his arms to catch the pass. He stomped his right foot down and tapped his left toe inbounds right before the back right pylon.
Pickens has been so impressive this offseason that he has become the prohibitive favorite to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. BetOnline installed him at 6-to-1 odds, ahead of everyone else in his draft class.
He could have done it at Halas Hall, but Bears general manager Ryan Poles didn’t draft a receiver in the second round.
It’s understandable that the Bears took Kyler Gordon 39th overall; cornerback was as great a position of need as receiver. Travel nine spots down the draft, however, and it becomes harder to justify.
The coaching staff has been impressed with rookie Jaquan Brisker, the second of the Bears’ second-round picks. Chosen 48th overall, Brisker has been the starting strong safety since his arrival and will be in Week 1, provided he returns from the thumb surgery he had last week as quickly as he thinks he can.
But picking Brisker came with an opportunity cost at a position where the Bears need even more help.
When they decided against drafting a receiver, the rest of the league exhaled. Four receivers were taken in the six spots after the Bears drafted Brisker:
• Tyquan Thornton, who caught a touchdown pass in the Patriots’ first preseason game before hurting his collarbone in the second Friday. He’s expected to miss the start of the season.
• Alec Pierce, who has three catches for the Colts in two preseason games.
• Skyy Moore, who had three catches for 23 yards for the Chiefs against the Bears in the preseason opener.
• And Pickens, whose stock fell in part because of the injury to his anterior cruciate ligament that limited him to the final four games last season at Georgia.
It’s not just about Pickens, however. What’s concerning is how off-trend the Bears are. Hunting big-name receivers is mandatory in the modern NFL. Unless third-round pick Velus Jones shocks the world, the Bears didn’t do that during an offseason that showed more than any other how valuable receivers are. Five of the top six leaders at the position in terms of total contract value signed a new deal during a six-week span in March and April.
On draft night, six receivers were selected in the first round for the second time in the last three years. If receivers are going to cost more in their second contracts, GMs wanted to exploit the market inefficiency by getting them on rookie deals.
The Bears are left with Darnell Mooney and question marks, including injured receivers Byron Pringle and N’Keal Harry.
The contract extensions given to receivers have all but wiped out the 2023 free-agent market at the position. While veterans are sure to be cut before March, the best 2023 free-agent receiver might be the Patriots’ Jakobi Meyers, who had 866 receiving yards last season.
The Bears, then, will have to draft their next receiver. That’s something they should have done in the second round last spring.