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Chicago Sun-Times
Chicago Sun-Times
Patrick Finley

Bears missed on WRs for years, but DJ Moore could be the 1

Bears receiver DJ Moore looks on against the Broncos. (Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

The Bears have been waiting a decade for DJ Moore.

They haven’t had a great receiver since 2013. Their search for one in the years since led them to one not-quite-elite receiver, Allen Robinson (only 12 NFL players had more receiving yards than he did in 2019 and 2020) and a solid second in Darnell Mooney.  

They once used a first-round pick to draft who they hoped would be a star receiver and once traded for a second-round pick to do the same. They missed on both, leaving quarterback Mitch Trubisky, and later Justin Fields, with some of the NFL’s worst receiver rooms.

Since 2013, when Alshon Jeffery posted 1,421 receiving yards and Brandon Marshall 1,295, there have been 79 NFL receivers with at least 1,200 yards in a season. Only one, Robinson in 2020, played for the Bears.

It’s too early to declare Moore a slam-dunk star — the Bears’ history with the forward pass is too checkered to presume the best possible outcome — but he looks like the long-term answer they have sought. Moore is under contract through 2025.

He became the second Bears receiver ever to be named NFC Offensive Player of the Week after catching eight passes for 230 yards and three touchdowns against the Commanders. Through the first five full weeks of the season, he ranked fifth in the NFL with 531 receiving yards. He averages 8.8 yards after the catch per reception, the most in the league. His average of 15.6 yards per target ranks second, and his 19.7 yards per catch ranks third.

When Fields targets Moore this season, he has a perfect 158.3 passer rating.

“It makes my job easier,” Fields said.

That’s precisely what the Bears had in mind in March when they sent the No. 1 overall pick to the Panthers for Moore, first-round picks in 2023 and 2024 and second-round picks in 2023 and 2025. The inclusion of Moore “really got us over the edge” in agreeing to trade the pick that would become quarterback Bryce Young, general manager Ryan Poles said.

If Moore completes the Bears’ quixotic quest for a top-tier receiver, it will cap quite a series of misses. Here’s a timeline of the Bears’ search since the end of the 2013 -season:

March 6, 2015: The Bears agree to trade Marshall to the Jets for a fifth-round pick. Marshall had become a distraction, screaming at kicker Robbie Gould after a loss to the Dolphins and even challenging a Lions fan to a fight on social media.

April 30, 2015: Then-Bears GM Ryan Pace takes West Virginia receiver Kevin White with the seventh pick. White misses his entire rookie season with a shin injury, then has only 25 catches over the next three seasons with the Bears. He’s one of the great draft busts of the decade.

Nov. 14, 2016: Playing on a $14.6 million franchise tag, Jeffery is suspended four games for violating the ban on performance-enhancing substances. The Bears let him walk at the end of the season, and he signs with the Eagles, later posting three catches for 73 yards and a touchdown in an epic Super Bowl LII victory over the Patriots.

March 12, 2018: The Bears sign Robinson to a three-year, $42 million deal — a steal for the 255 catches he totals over the next three years. Despite Robinson’s assertions he wants a long-term deal, the Bears give him the franchise tag for 2021, his worst healthy season as a pro, and let him sign with the Rams in 2022.

April 27, 2018: The Bears trade a 2018 third-round pick and a 2019 second-rounder to the Patriots to move up to draft Memphis slot receiver Anthony Miller in the second round. Miller has seven touchdowns as a rookie and 656 receiving yards in his second season but constantly frustrates coaches with his lack of attention to detail. He seals his fate by being ejected from a playoff game for punching the Saints’ C.J. Gardner-Johnson, with whom Bears coaches warned their players not to engage. Chairman George McCaskey says he has a problem with Miller allowing himself to be put in that position, and the Bears trade him to the Texans before the start of 2021 training camp.

April 29, 2022: With two picks in the first half of the second round and the need for a receiver, Poles drafts cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker. Georgia receiver George Pickens is drafted by the Steelers four picks after Brisker; he’s 12th in the league this year in receiving yards. Poles takes Tennessee receiver Velus Jones Jr. in the third round; he has only 11 catches for 110 yards in his NFL career.

Nov. 1, 2022: Hours before the trade deadline, Poles sends a second-round pick — which would become No. 32 overall — to the Steelers for mercurial wideout Chase Claypool. Poles says at the time he “didn’t feel completely comfortable” with the underwhelming free-agent receiver class of 2023 and wanted to be proactive. Claypool never becomes a factor on the field — 14 catches for 140 yards in 2022 — and is difficult off it. Save for the first week of OTAs, he misses the 2023 offseason program with injuries. He’s put on the physically unable-to-perform list before camp, then is removed a day later, and hurts his hamstring in mid-August. His poor Week 1 effort on routes and blocking assignments requires an apology to teammates. His assertion two days before the Broncos game that the team isn’t using him properly is the last straw; the Bears tell him to stay home from the game and from practice the next week, then trade him to the Dolphins for swap of late 2025 picks.

The Bears might have found their No. 1 receiver, but the Panthers are still looking. After just three games, NFL Network reported they were in the market for a reliable receiver to grow alongside Young.

That sounds just like the guy they traded to the Bears.

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