George Pickens must have jumped off the screen to Bears coaches when they watched film of the Seahawks in advance of their second preseason game.
The 6-3, 200-pound rookie receiver split right near the end of the first quarter of the Steelers’ Aug. 13 opener against the Seahawks. On third-and-13, the Seahawks gave Pickens a social distance-friendly seven yards to run off the line of scrimmage along the right flank.
Taking a shotgun snap, quarterback Mason Rudolph put his right heel on the 34 and lofted a fade pass to the back right corner of the end zone. Pickens didn’t do anything fancy, save for a stutter-step, as he sprinted past Seahawks cornerback Coby Bryant. Pickens used his left arm to push Bryant away and then, in motion, cradled his two arms to catch the pass. He stomped his right foot down and tapped his left toe in bounds right before the back right pylon.
The Steelers’ receiver has been so undeniably impressive this offseason that, on Friday, he became the prohibitive favorite to win NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year. BetOnline installed him at 6:1, ahead of everyone else in his draft class.
He could have done it at Halas Hall. New Bears general manager Ryan Poles, though, didn’t draft a receiver in Round 2.
It’s understandable that the Bears took Kyler Gordon at No. 39; cornerback was as great a position of need as receiver. Travel 10 spots down the draft, though, and the Bears are a lot easier to scrutinize. The coaching staff has been impressed with rookie Jaquan Brisker, the second of their second-round draft picks. Chosen at No. 48, Brisker has been the starting strong safety since his arrival — and will be in Week 1, provided he returns from last week’s thumb surgery as quickly as he believes he can.
Picking Brisker came with an opportunity cost, though. At a position where the Bears need even more help.
When they decided against drafting a receiver, the rest of the league exhaled. Four wideouts were taken in the six spots after the Bears drafted Brisker:
Tyquan Thornton, who caught a touchdown pass in the Patriots’ first preseason game before hurting his collarbone Friday night. He’s expected to miss the start of the season.Alec Pierce, who’s had three catches for the Colts in two preseason games.Skyy Moore, who had three catches for 23 yards against the Bears in Week 1 of the preseason.And Pickens, whose stock fell in part because of the ACL injury that limited him to Georgia’s final four games last season.
It’s not just about Pickens, though. What’s concerning is how off-trend the Bears are. Hunting big-name receivers is mandatory in the modern NFL. Unless third-round pick Velus Jones shocks the world, the Bears didn’t do that during an offseason that showed, more than any other, how valuable receivers are. Five of the top six leaders at the position in total contract value signed a new deal during a six-week span during March and April.
On draft night, six receivers were drafted in the first round for the second time in three years — and the ninth time in league history. If receivers were going to cost more in their second contract, general managers wanted to exploit the market inefficiency by getting them on rookie deals.
The Bears are left with Darnell Mooney and question marks, including injured receivers Byron Pringle and N’Keal Harry.
The contract extensions given wideouts have all but wiped out the 2023 free-agent market. While veterans are sure to be cut before March, the best 2023 free-agent receiver might be the Patriots’ Jakobi Meyers, who had 866 receiving yards last season.
The Bears, then, will have to draft their next receiver.
That’s something they should have done in Round 2.