Who will be the guy behind Darnell Mooney? That’s the question the Chicago Bears are asking about their receiving corps in a veteran versus rookie battle for the No. 2 receiver label. The Bears do have an interesting training camp battle brewing between some of their rookie O-linemen and a few of their veterans, but the duel for WR2 is another thing to look out for as training camp continues.
Mooney is the clear leading receiver in Chicago’s offense heading into the 2022 regular season after a stellar second year (and first with quarterback Justin Fields). Fields and Mooney connected 81 times for 1,055 yards and four touchdowns in 2021. The young receiver also tacked on 32 extra yards and another touchdown on six rushes last year, bringing his all-purpose yardage up to 1,087 on 87 touches—12.5 yards per touch—with five total scores.
It was an important step forward from Mooney, then a second-year receiver, especially as fellow pass-catcher Allen Robinson II struggled to build chemistry with Fields. Still, Robinson had been able to maintain his status as at least the Bears’ second-most-productive wide receiver (though he still had fewer targets and receptions than tight end Cole Kmet). Now Robinson—and even Chicago’s statistical WR3, Damiere Byrd—are gone after signing elsewhere in free agency, leaving a hole behind Mooney on the depth chart.
To the Bears’ credit, they made moves early in the offseason to address that hole. They signed veteran wide receivers Byron Pringle and Equanimeous St. Brown when free agency began, then drafted rookie receiver Velus Jones Jr. near the start of the third round of the 2022 NFL Draft. Even more recently, they continued to try to bolster their wide receiver depth by trading a 2024 seventh-round pick to the Patriots for former first-round receiver N’Keal Harry.
So those are the contenders for Chicago’s WR2 spot in 2022: Pringle, St. Brown, Jones, and Harry. Unfortunately for the Bears, Harry, Pringle, and Jones have all suffered injuries in training camp. Harry’s ankle injury is reportedly the most severe, but Pringle so far has not gotten a timetable for return from his quad injury and Jones is still day-to-day with an unspecified injury.
At the same time, St. Brown, the one healthy newcomer at the position, doesn’t really seem like he’s clearly in the running to step into the No. 2 receiver spot, even despite all the injuries. In three years with the Packers—not including the entirety of the 2019 season he missed due to an ankle injury of his own—St. Brown recorded just 543 yards on 37 catches and a single touchdown.
With Harry’s severe injury and St. Brown seemingly out of the running thanks to low production throughout his NFL career, that brings the battle for WR2 down to the rookie Jones versus the veteran Pringle.
It feels like Pringle gets the early edge thanks to his veteran status and the potential he seems to have despite being buried on the depth chart behind Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman in Kansas City. That’s the key word: potential. If Pringle is able to get more reps as a starter in 2022 and run with them, he could absolutely lock himself into the No. 2 receiver role behind Mooney. He’s got the tools—he’s got a 4.46 40—and stature—a 6-foot-1, 203-pound frame—to excel on the outside catching passes from another young quarterback in Fields.
On the other hand, Jones provides more excitement as the third-round-rookie foil to Pringle’s labels as a former undrafted free agent and more veteran player. Jones stood out at Tennessee primarily as a slot receiver who excelled with his great speed and the ability to create yardage after the catch. He has good hands and an ability to separate from defenders with his speed, though he does need to work on his route-running skills at the pro level. Still, that speed and run-after-catch potential give him the tools he needs to be a big-play threat in an offense that could really use more explosive playmakers.
For now, Pringle seems to have the upper hand as the more proven, veteran commodity that has the potential to break out for the Bears with more reps as a starter. Jones has more to prove as the rookie coming in, so Pringle should have a better chance at being Fields’ guy behind Mooney. That said, if Pringle’s injury is more serious than we’ve been led to believe thus far, Jones will have the chance to step up and take over if he can show off his big-play tools early and often in Chicago.
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