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Finding Justin Fields a Young Receiver Critical for Bears

By Gene Chamberlain,


The draft offers options for the Bears if they try to upgrade at receiver, although not quite like the last two years.

Only three teams spent less cash on wide receivers than the Bears last year, only two paid a lower amount per receiver and only three devoted a smaller percentage of their total salary cap than the Bears at this position.

You get what you pay for, some would say. This isn't quite so clear, though.

They paid out $6 million for Byron Pringle and N'Keal Harry to catch 17 passes between them and paid an average of $896,000 for the others and those receivers had 123 receptions. So obviously they didn't spend wisely at the position.

It would appear being cheap with receivers is the wrong thing to do, but not so fast. The 49ers and Eagles played for the NFC championship Sunday and the percentage of cap space they devoted to the position barely exceeded the Bears' spending at 5.9% and 6.8%.

It's not that the Bears have the wrong idea by paying less overall for wide receivers. They just paid the wrong wide receivers.

They paid $965,513 for Darnell Mooney and $965,000 for Equanimeous St. Brown, their starters. Chase Claypool counted $673,000 because he came at the mid-point, Dante Pettis $895,000 and Velus Jones Jr. $983,000.

It's little wonder wide receiver is a position practically everyone thinks the Bears need to upgrade, but doing it in free agency is cost prohibitive. What they need to do is identify and draft the right one.

GM Ryan Poles isn't exactly off to a flying start there with Jones, who made seven receptions, but there were promising signs from him at season's end.

Here are college's elite receivers the Bears can consider in this year's draft as they seek to bring in more talented rookies, who get less but can produce.

The receiver crop overall is said by analysts to be a step below the last two or three.

Quentin Johnston, TCU

The 6-foot-4, 193-pound all-around threat really stood out in his final season with 60 catches and 1,069 yards. He made 115 catches for 2,190 yards total. He's a classic X-receiver who wins jump balls and is physical, but has speed to get downfield.

NFL Draft Bible says he "...may be the best pure X-receiver projection" in this draft.

The question about Johnston is whether he can be considered in the same class with other top receivers chosen in Round 1 in recent years like Garrett Wilson and Chris Olave last year. He didn't come out of a program that faces SEC talent weekly. In the national title game he had one catch for 3 yards, but did have six for 163 yards in the semifinal game against Michigan.

Jordan Addison, USC

At 6-foot, 175, he's much like some of the other receivers the program has had in recent years size-wise and production-wise. He transferred from Pitt after two years and for his career at both had 219 catches, 3,134 yards and 29 TDs. He's known for his route running and his speed is only expected to be above average.

Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State

A hamstring injury held down his totals this past season but the 6-foot, 197-pounder had 110 catches for 1,698 yards and 10 TDs playing mostly in the shadow of Olave and Wilson.

"While his overall speed, play strength, and hands do not move the needle, Ohio State's new top receiver is a high-floor player who can start early in the NFL," NFL Draft Bible reports.

Jalin Hyatt, Tennessee

Would the Bears draft a second receiver from the Vols after Jones didn't shine as a rookie? Hyatt does have plenty of production at 108 catches, 19 TDs and 15 TDs. He made 67 catches last year for 1,267 yards. He's more the route runner type than Jones was at 6-foot, 175.

Kayshon Boutte, LSU

Of all the receivers who could shoot up charts later in the predraft run up, it could be Boutte. Last year it was expected he'd be in the top two and follow the path of other top LSU receivers into the NFL. Then he had to have ankle surgery and this past season wasn't up to the skill level he had been at before the injury. He is 6-foot, 190 and made 131 receptions for 1,782 yards and 16 TDs at LSU.

NFL Draft Bible's Ric Serritella calls him a "Willing blocker, looking to finish defensive backs, and dig out safeties, validating his competitive stamina," which is something Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy could love.

WR Cedric Tillman, Tennessee

Yes, another Vols receiver, but this one with the classic X-receiver build at 6-3, 215. He was down to only six games last year due to an ankle injury that wasn't a serious one and had 37 receptions for 417 yards with three TDs, but for his career had 17 TDs and 109 catches for 1,622 yards. He made 28 receptions of 15 yards or more, with his best games coming last year against NFL powers Georgia and Alabama (17 catches, 352 yards 2 TDs).

Josh Downs, North Carolina

A slot receiver at 5-10, 180, who made 202 catches for 2,483 yards with 22 TDs, including 101 catches in 2021.

He's not a physical specimen and his speed will be scrutinized at the draft. He has the ability to shift and run routes, plus gain after the catch, but the catch radius is a concern to some.

Rashee Rice, SMU

Highly touted by Mel Kiper Jr. as being underrated, it's not an opinion exclusively held by ESPN's veteran analyst. "This is a wildly underrated prospect at receiver," NFL Draft Bible writes.

Part of the reason he is underrated is he hasn't had one extreme season but he did finish with 233 catches for 3,111 yards and 25 TDs, with 10 TDs last year. He has great elusiveness once he has the ball and has shown ability to be a slot or play outside at 6-1/2, 189.

Zay Flowers, Boston College

A receiver who will be classified with the slot group, at 5-10, 177, he simply finds ways to get open and do damage. He made 200 catches for 3,056 yards with 29 TDs, including 78 catches for 1,077 yards with 12 TDs last year. Another receiver Kiper says teams need to grade higher than some of the original projections have said for him. A champion as a route runner says NFL Draft Bible.

Jonathan Mingo, Ole' Miss

Perfect X-receiver size at 6-2, 215 and made 112 receptions for 1,758 yards and 12 TDs for his career. NFL Draft Bible praises his acrobatic abilities in jump ball situations and rates him as a Day 2 draft pick. He found ways to be productive at both schools and at 6-foot, 200 pounds it's thought he might challenge the 4.40-second barrier in the 40.

Elijah Higgins, Stanford

He has size like Bears acquisition Chase Claypool at 6-2 1/2, 235, and as such some teams think he might be a U-type tight end instead of a wide receiver. But he definitely showed wideout skills. He made 119 catches for 1,380 yards and six TDs in his final three years at Stanford, including 59 for 704 last year. The problem with using him as a tight end is he doesn't block like one.

Twitter: BearDigest@BearsOnMaven

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