How the Bears can add playmakers around Justin Fields in the 2023 NFL Draft
INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. — Prized wide receiver prospect Jaxon Smith-Njigba has heard all the narratives pointed to former Ohio State teammate Justin Fields, the Bears’ rising young quarterback.
Doubters believe Fields simply cannot hit NFL passes like he once did as a star at Ohio State, wondering whether he can read a defense, throw open a wide receiver and make plays with his arm to match the spectacular moments with his legs. Those who have questioned Fields’ abilities the strongest claim he’s a running back playing quarterback, a suggestion that came to the attention of Smith-Njigba.
“I wouldn’t think they’re very smart,” Smith-Njigba said last week at the NFL Combine. “I would think they should do some more research, more film watching, more – do something different.
“He’s whatever you need him to be. He’s a great passer, has a great arm, great eyes, great vision, reads a defense very well.”
Smith-Njigba knows what Fields needs as he enters his third NFL season is a dynamic wide receiver who can help him change a game through the air. Fields is lacking playmakers around him, something the Bears hope to change this offseason.
With the Bears committed to Fields as their quarterback in 2023 – prepared to trade down from the No. 1 overall pick rather than selecting a quarterback, as multiple sources have indicated – bringing in help at wide receiver is a top priority.
“As a receiver, you got to be a playmaker,” Bears head coach Matt Eberflus said. “We saw it in the playoffs, you saw it in the Super Bowl, those guys are making plays in critical moments, and that’s what we need.”
Prior to the 2022 NFL Draft, Bears general manager Ryan Poles brought Fields into the front office of Halas Hall and sought his perspective on the wide receivers available in that draft class. While Fields made his case for former Buckeyes teammates Chris Olave and Garrett Wilson, the Bears were lacking the draft resources to land either wide receiver prospect. This year, the circumstances are different.
The Bears are looking to trade down from the first overall pick and stockpile draft capital to bolster their roster. While there are needs across the board, Poles will certainly value adding greater talent to find Fields’ full potential.
Smith-Njigba might be the most fascinating wide receiver prospect available to the Bears. He played in just three games last season while limited by a hamstring injury, which has affected his draft stock. However, Smith-Njigba is 100% healthy as he looks towards the draft and reuniting with Fields could reveal his best form.
“We definitely had a little connection back in the day,” Smith-Njigba said. “Hopefully we can do it again.”
For the Bears to land one of the top wide receivers in this draft class without reaching over more valued prospects, it would have to come with a trade down outside of the Top 10. The belief is that the first wide receiver selected in this class will not go off the board until after the 10th pick.
If the Bears turn in the card for their first selection of this draft within the Top 10, it will likely be Alabama linebacker Will Anderson, a defensive lineman prospect like Jalen Carter or Tyree Wilson (Texas Tech), or an offensive lineman such as Peter Skoronski (Northwestern) or Paris Johnson Jr. (Ohio State). But there will be plenty of opportunities to land that dynamic wide receiver in this draft, and there seems to be great differences in how each team values these individuals.
Smith-Njigba, Zay Flowers (Boston College), Jordan Addison (USC), Quentin Johnston (TCU) and Jalin Hyatt (Tennessee) seem to represent the top of the wide receiver class, though the Bears could still find several of these options available in the late first round or early in Day 2 – if a trade back offers draft picks in these positions.
The Bears are confident in wide receiver Chase Claypool for 2023, whom they acquired for a second-round pick last year, after he will spend this offseason developing a greater chemistry with Fields. Darnell Mooney, who suffered a season-ending ankle injury late last November, is on track to return this spring.
As the Bears address their needs on offense, there’s growing belief Fields will benefit in a breakout season with his arm. Drafting a game-changing target will help him change those narratives.
This draft class features wide receivers with great potential and wishes to team up with the Bears’ promising quarterback.
“Justin Fields is dynamic,” Hyatt said. “Somebody that can get you the ball, somebody that can run with his legs, somebody that can kind of take over a game.
“I would love to play with Justin Fields.”