2023 Senior Bowl

NFL Draft: Bears can find wide receiver upgrades at 2023 Senior Bowl

The 2023 Senior Bowl is scheduled to kick off its week of practices on Tuesday, January 31, in Mobile, Alabama. The Chicago Bears scouting department will be in full force over the three days of practice sessions.

Offensive coordinator Luke Getsy and four members of the Bears’ coaching staff will be at the all-star game, too. Getsy was named head coach of the American team last week. As a result, Getsy will have an up-close look at many of the top senior prospects in the 2023 NFL Draft, including several wide receivers who could be an upgrade for the Bears next season.

OTHER 2023 SENIOR BOWL PREVIEWS: RB | Edge

There’s no doubt wide receiver will rank high on general manager Ryan Poles’ list of needs entering the 2023 NFL Draft. Free agency could provide some help, but with an underwhelming group of veterans expected to hit the open market, the NFL draft is the more likely way Poles and the Bears will add weapons for quarterback Justin Fields.

Rashee Rice, SMU

The big-name wide receiver competing at the 2023 Senior Bowl is SMU’s Rashee Rice. He’s a popular late-first-round pick in mock drafts right now after a 2022 season that totaled 96 catches for 1,355 yards and 10 touchdowns. He checks the production box, and his size exceeds the position’s minimums: 6003, 203 pounds.

Rice is a solid but unspectacular athlete who runs quality routes as a three-level target. His thick frame allows him to break tackles and pick up yards after the catch, and he reminds me quite a bit of San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Brandon Aiyuk. While not as twitchy of an athlete as Aiyuk, he has a similar projection as a quality No. 2 receiver with No. 1 upside as he develops as a pro.

Cedric Tillman, Tennessee

Tennessee’s Cedric Tillman has a chance to be the 2023 Senior Bowl’s biggest riser at wide receiver. Standing a verified 6031 and 214 pounds, Tillman has the kind of frame that makes offensive coaches swoon. His length is elite with over 34-inch arms, and he’s an explosive athlete for his size.

Tillman uses his size to his advantage as a pass-catcher. He’s a talented contested-catch receiver who has reliable hands. His ability to snag the ball away from his frame makes him an easy target who’s always open for his quarterback.

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Tillman played only six games in 2022 and finished the year with 37 catches for 417 yards and three touchdowns.

The Chicago Bears need a player like Tillman in their wide receiver room. While some may suggest the Bears already have a player like him with Chase Claypool, it doesn’t hurt to have two walking mismatches in your passing game. Tillman is projected as a Day-2 pick at this point in the 2023 NFL draft process.

Xavier Hutchinson, Iowa State

Iowa State’s Xavier Hutchinson is another physically impressive wide receiver at 6020, 203 pounds. While not as long as Tillman, Hutchinson has good height and mass. He had a massive 2022 season with 107 catches for 1,171 yards and six touchdowns.

Hutchinson is an impressive route-runner who displays polish off the line of scrimmage and into his route stem. He’s a flexible athlete who can easily get into and out of his breaks. Hutchinson wins after the catch, too, with a strong open-field skill set that allows him to take short receptions for big gains.

The Chicago Bears will like the package of traits Hutchinson brings to the 2023 NFL Draft. He checks nearly every box from a size, speed, and production standpoint and profiles as the kind of wideout who’d see immediate playing time with the Bears. He’s trending as a third-round guy right now, but a good week of practices in Mobile could push him into the later portion of Round 2.

Nathaniel Dell, Houston

If the Bears want to add juice to their wide receiver room, then Houston’s Nathaniel Dell is the guy they’ll focus on at the 2023 Senior Bowl. He’s significantly undersized at an estimated 5090, 158 pounds. The NFL doesn’t have an official measurement on him, so his Senior Bowl weigh-in will be one of the most important parts of the week for his NFL Draft stock.

On the field, Dell is a slippery and explosive slot receiver who can juke and dart his way toward chunk gains. His production in 2022 was remarkable. He finished the year with 109 catches for 1,398 yards and 17 touchdowns.

Dell, in some ways, is a smaller version of Darnell Mooney, who’s already on the smaller side of NFL wideouts. The NFL has a late-day-three grade on the Houston receiver, but some NFL draft outlets view him as a top-100 prospect. I’d bet on him being around in the later rounds, where he’d qualify as a quality low-risk, high-reward selection.

Dontayvion Wicks, Virginia

Virginia’s Dontayvion Wicks is an intriguing 2023 Senior Bowl participant who needs a big week to prove he’s more the guy we saw in 2021 than the player who underwhelmed in 2022. Wicks hauled in 57 catches for 1,203 yards and nine touchdowns in 2021 but regressed to 30 catches for 430 yards and two scores in 2022 (in eight games played).

Wicks is a high-cut wideout with above-average twitch and an appealing blend of downfield speed and body control. At times, he can make difficult catches look easy. But his good plays are offset by head-scratching drops which have called his hands into question.

Wicks sometimes suffered from subpar quarterback play, which is why the Senior Bowl is so important for him. He should benefit from consistent ball placement in the practice sessions. He’ll have to prove to scouts that he can make plays consistently against some of the country’s top senior cornerbacks.

Wicks is a Day-3 prospect who can elevate his stock into the mid-fourth-round range if he stacks three good practices at the Senior Bowl, followed by an impressive showing at the 2023 NFL Combine.

Puka Nakcua, BYU

BYU’s Puka Nacua will earn high marks from offensive coaches during the 2023 NFL Draft process. He’s an aggressive run blocker who gives 100% effort on every rep. His estimated measurables — 6’2″, 205 pounds — are a plus, as is his straight-line speed, which NFL scouts assume will clock a 4.45 40-yard dash.

Nacua appeared in nine games for the Cougars in 2022, totaling 48 catches for 625 yards and five touchdowns. His route-running is fine, although his steps are a bit jerky and overly active. He’ll need to tighten his release off the line of scrimmage and his stride in his stem to maximize separation on the next level. But once he gets going downfield, he’s a handful for defensive backs to contend with.

Nacua doesn’t profile as a first or second option in an NFL passing attack, but his ‘want to’ will get him on the field early in his career. Players with his on-field makeup and demeanor tend to play for a long time in the NFL.

Chicago Bears coach Matt Eberflus will like Nacua’s approach to the game. While I don’t see him being the kind of impact playmaker the Bears need, his effort and intensity will push him ahead of more physically gifted prospects. If he proves at the 2023 Senior Bowl that he can consistently win one-on-ones with cleaner routes, he’ll move up the wide receiver rankings.

Ronnie Bell, Michigan

Michigan wide receiver Ronnie Bell is another intriguing name the Chicago Bears will keep tabs on. He had a productive 2022 season with 62 catches for 889 yards and four touchdowns and offers upside as a schooled route-runner and intermediate target.

Bell stands a verified 5110 and 190 pounds, sporting a lean frame and body type that suggests he’ll be limited to the slot in the NFL. It’s where he did most of his damage with the Wolverines.

Bell isn’t the fleetest of foot, and he doesn’t have much wiggle after the catch, but he profiles as a receiver who will play sound and reliable football on the next level. That’s usually a Day-3 prospect, and if the Bears can add a player like Bell to their wide receiver room toward the end of the 2023 NFL Draft, it’ll be a win.

Jonathan Mingo, Ole Miss

Ole Miss’ Jonathan Mingo is a big-bodied prospect who will appeal to teams looking to add size and after-the-catch ability to their offense. While not a straight-line burner, Mingo has playmaking upside in the NFL as a strong runner with the ball in his hands.

Mingo checked in at 6014 and 220 pounds in the spring. NFL scouts project he’ll run a 4.56 in the 40-yard dash, which is right around how you’d expect a guy with his size to time.

Mingo finished the 2022 season with 51 catches for 861 yards and five touchdowns. His production could’ve been better had he not had some concentration lapses that led to concerning drops. He’ll have to prove in Mobile that he has reliable hands and can separate from quality defensive backs. One-on-ones will be critical for him.

There’s a chance Mingo can rise into late-Day-2 consideration if he dominates the 2023 NFL Draft process. He has a body type similar to AJ Brown, and if he can crack a 4.49 at the NFL Combine as Brown did, his stock will skyrocket.

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