The Chicago Bears mortgaged a significant portion of their future in order to land Justin Fields in the 2021 NFL Draft. The wisdom of that move remains unclear, though the regime of head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace did him few favors as a rookie.
Fields spent most of the offseason working behind Andy Dalton, a longtime starter for the Cincinnati Bengals who spent a season with the Dallas Cowboys as Dak Prescott’s backup. Dalton never figured to spend more than a year in Chicago, but that didn’t stop Nagy and his coaching staff from giving him the starter’s reps during training camp and the preseason, leaving Fields largely untested when his moment finally arrived.
The rookie didn’t light up the scoreboard as a rookie, though the same holds true for nearly all the other first-year players at the position. Still, team ownership saw enough in 2021 to move on from both Nagy and Pace after the season, replacing them with Indianapolis Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and Kansas City Chiefs executive Ryan Poles, respectively.
Now, the new brain trust must surround Fields with the appropriate supporting cast and help him develop.
2022 Draft Picks
To no one’s surprise, the Bears allowed several aging veterans to depart in 2022. Akiem Hicks, Jason Peters, Allen Robinson, and several other key starters from the past season walked in free agency, and more moves of that variety could follow. In a slightly less predictable fashion, the team traded Khalil Mack to the Los Angeles Chargers in exchange for draft picks, including the 48th overall selection this year. Now, Chicago has huge holes all over the roster.
The Bears’ quarterbacks spent most of the 2021 season working under duress thanks to an injured and leaky offensive line. Peters and former second-round pick James Daniels have departed, leaving several spots vacant along the unit. Second-year pros Teven Jenkins and Larry Borom will each get chances to start, but the front office will also have to find more talent in the upcoming draft, especially with Terron Armstead unlikely to land in Chicago at this stage. In the receiving corps, Robinson’s departure leaves Fields without a clear No. 1 receiver. Darnell Mooney will factor into the equation, but the team needs to add multiple pieces to give the young signal-caller reliable options.
The Bears have some key spots filled in Eberflus’ new scheme. Roquan Smith looks like an ideal fit for the Darius Leonard role at weakside linebacker, and Robert Quinn should generate some pressure off the edge. Still, a pass-rushing three-tech remains paramount, and Poles’ first attempt to find one — free-agent defensive lineman Larry Ogunjobi — failed his physical and did not sign with the team, at least for now. Justin Jones arrived shortly thereafter to help, but he provides a boost to the run defense more than anything else.
Dream first pick
George Pickens, WR — Georgia
Mooney can take the top off a defense, but a bigger-bodied receiver would help in an offense that likes to attack over the middle. Pickens offers that size and more, giving the Bears someone who could eventually develop into a No. 1 wideout.