Groupthink has taken over the narrative around the Chicago Bears’ 2022 season. No team has been disrespected more this offseason. And, look, I get it — to a degree. Some of the heat thrown at general manager Ryan Poles has been understandable. But the 2022 season predictions — the lowly, downright atrocious season predictions — made for this team by experts across football media have been shocking.
Take the most recent 2023 NFL Mock Draft by ESPN’s Matt Miller, for example. He used ESPN’s Football Power Index to determine the first-round draft order; a draft order that had the Bears pick second overall. It’s a slotting that was determined by the FPI’s 2022 projections; Chicago ranks 31st — or, second to last. Only the New York Jets have a worse projection for 2022.
Despite picking five or six spots higher in Miller’s mock than most other mock drafts right now, the Bears still end up with a player who’s become a near-consensus 2023 NFL draft target this summer: Ohio State wide receiver Jaxson Smith-Njigba.
“The electric Smith-Njigba left us with a statement game in the Rose Bowl when he caught 15 passes for 347 yards and three touchdowns as the entire Utah defense failed to stop him,” Miller wrote. “This would be the highest a wide receiver has been drafted since Calvin Johnson in 2007, but Smith-Njigba is the type of talent Fields needs.”
At this rate, it’s going to be a very long mock draft season for Bears fans. Hopefully, a player or two will emerge from the shadows during the college football season to make mock drafts a bit more interesting. Otherwise, Smith-Njigba will continue appearing as a Bear as long as Chicago’s record keeps them in striking distance for him. He’s a surefire top-10 pick at this point in the process.
If the Bears don’t target a wide receiver in the first round next April, an offensive tackle like Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski would make sense. He comes off the board at No. 12 overall to the Washington Commanders in ESPN’s mock draft. With the Bears more likely to pick somewhere in the 10-15 range instead of the top five, the local product seems like a logical projection.
The most important takeaway from this mock draft isn’t the players or positions the Bears might target. Instead, it’s the continuation of this theme that Chicago is going to be bad — really bad — this season. And the more this kind of negativity is spread, the harder it is to find reasons to be optimistic about 2022.
Are the Bears actually that bad? Is it possible second-year quarterback Justin Fields doesn’t progress? That the offensive line is the worst in the NFL? That the pass rush doesn’t adequately replace Khalil Mack and the lack of top-shelf weapons at wide receiver hinders the offense beyond repair?
Sure. It’s possible. And if all of those negative outcomes occur, yeah, the Chicago Bears will be a top-five pick.
But what the national pundits are overlooking is that the opposite is just as likely. Fields could emerge as a top-10 quarterback in 2022. The offensive line could level up its play to simply adequate. Darnell Mooney could develop into a Terry McClaurin-type star. And, perhaps, Trevis Gipson becomes a double-digit sack artist. Those aren’t far-fetched outcomes. Perhaps they’re a bit wishful, but not impossible.
The truth about the 2022 Chicago Bears probably lies somewhere in between. They aren’t a perfect team. But they aren’t completely flawed either. They’ll be competitive, and they’ll win more than the five or six games most experts are predicting. The Bears won’t be picking in the top two of the 2023 NFL Draft.
Poles has a lot more work to do before Chicago competes for a playoff spot again. But he hasn’t left the Bears completely without talent. They’ll be fine in 2022, making projections like this seem ludicrous once December rolls around.
Bryan is the founder and managing editor of Bears Talk. His previous stops include Bears coverage for NBC Sports Chicago and USA Today. His NFL Draft and Bears coverage has also been featured on The Draft Network.