Bears minicamp review: Is Mooney primed to make star leap? originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
The Bears' wide receiver room leaves a lot to be desired.
Darnell Mooney will be Justin Fields' No. 1 target, but the rest of the depth chart remains in flux. The Bears signed Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown, Tajae Sharpe, and Dante Pettis while spending a third-round pick on Velus Jones Jr.
That group will play a key role in Fields' development in the first year of offensive coordinator Luke Getsy's system. DK Metcalf and Terry McLaurin aren't coming through that door. Such deals wouldn't make sense for the Bears, given the draft capital and financial cost.
So, what you see is likely what you will get from the 2022 Bears' wide receivers.
With mandatory minicamp done and the Bears officially dismissed for the summer, we're going over what we've seen from each position group to this point. Part 1 focused on the offensive line. Now, we shift to the second biggest question mark facing the Bears.
WR1: Darnell Mooney
WR2: Byron Pringle
WR3: Equanimeous St. Brown
General manager Ryan Poles arrived and stripped the roster down the studs, handing out only one-year, prove-it deals to fill in the roster holes before officially starting the rebuild next offseason.
There were no splashy offseason moves to give Fields another elite target to pair with Mooney. Allen Robinson headed to Los Angeles, Jarvis Landry was never an option before signing with the New Orleans Saints, and Odell Beckham Jr. remains unsigned but not on the Bears' radar.
Even in a draft stacked with wide receiver talent, the Bears used their first two picks on defense before finally selecting Jones Jr. in Round 3.
Mooney has excellent chemistry with Fields and is ready to take on the No. 1 wide receiver role. The Bears need him to exceed expectations for the offense to flourish this season.
"At the end of the day, I will get my respect and I'm going to keep going until I get my respect," Mooney said in April. "Even when I do get my respect, I'm still going to keep going."
Mooney and Fields have continued to grow their bond this offseason, and the Tulane product believes Getsy's scheme can bring out the best of everyone on the offense.
"I would say the scheme we've got here. I love it a lot," Mooney said during minicamp. "Complements a lot of us players -- running back, quarterback, and a guy like me. Just able to do a lot of things that I love to do and just be a playmaker."
In an offseason that has had Bears fans clamoring for a splashy receiver move, the best thing for Chicago will be for Mooney to make the leap many believe he's capable of and move into the neighborhood Metcalf and McLaurin occupy in the wide receiver hierarchy.
If Mooney can go from nice WR2 to bonafide No. 1 receiver, the Bears' offense will be more dangerous and it will be easier for Poles to fully flesh out the group next offseason with a top pass-catcher in place.
It's a leap Mooney appears primed to make, but he will need some help from the rest of the group.
St. Brown could be the most likely candidate to pop among the rest of the group. The Notre Dame product has familiarity with Getsy from their time in Green Bay. During minicamp, St. Brown did a good job using his size and strength to shield off defenders and make contested catches over the middle of the
"I thought EQ had a tremendous year last year in his growth and his maturity from where he was to where he is now," Getsy said of St. Brown in April. "I was really excited that we were able to snag him up because I think all his best football is ahead of him. So, I'm excited to see -- he's one of those guys again, you talk about a big body, a guy that can run, his toughness and all that stuff and everything that we're going to preach in this system."
The Bears' long-term answers to their WR issues will start materializing next offseason, likely in the early rounds of the NFL draft. But, as far as 2022 is concerned, the Bears must hope St. Brown, Pringle, and Jones punch above their weight to give Fields and Mooney some support.
Biggest question: Can Getsy's scheme help mask the lack of top-level talent?
X-factor: Velus Jones Jr.
Jones is the biggest wild card on the Bears' offense. The Tennessee product has impressed Fields and Mooney early on with his speed and playmaking ability.
At this moment, it's unclear how the Bears will elect to use the third-round pick. It would make sense to put Jones in a gadget role designed to get him the ball in the easiest ways possible (screens, sweeps, and pop passes) and let his speed do the work.
A reliable Jones who can give the Bears 700-900 yards (rushing and receiving combined) will help loosen things up for Mooney and tight end Cole Kmet. However, if Jones is a non-factor, the Bears will need even more from Pringle and St. Brown for the passing game to have teeth.
Verdict: It's not ideal, but Mooney can elevate it if he transforms into a true No. 1 receiver.