The Chicago Bears were never going to keep the No.1 overall pick
in the 2023 NFL Draft. They have what they believe is their franchise
quarterback. So it was not surprising when they traded down to the
ninth spot. What was surprising about the trade was that along with
a barrel full of draft picks, the Carolina Panthers included wide
receiver D.J. Moore.
D.J. Moore in Carolina
Moore as a Panther was a constant in a sea of change. From 2019-21,
Moore was one of only two players in the NFL who produced at least
1,100 receiving yards in all three seasons. This accomplishment
was even more impressive when you look at the list of who was
getting him the ball. Over those three seasons he caught passes
from; Kyle Allen, an aging Cam Newton, Will Grier, Teddy Bridgewater,
P.J. Walker and Sam Darnold. That’s not exactly an all-time
list. And last season when his receiving line slipped to 63-888-7
and 25th in fantasy points, he caught balls from Walker, Darnold
and Baker Mayfield.
But to find the answer to how Moore will produce for your fantasy
team in 2023, we really need to know how much quarterback Justin
Fields will progress as a passer. Fields was a top-10 fantasy
quarterback in 2022 because of his legs, not his arm. He threw
the ball just 318 times in 15 games (21.2 attempts per game) yet
posted the sixth-best FPts/G average at 22.8. By comparison, Jalen Hurts also played 15 games last season and threw 459 times or
over 30 times a game. Hurts’ level was enough to support
two top-10 wideouts; A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith. So fantasy
owners will need to determine whether the “new” Bears
offense will allow/entice Fields to throw at least eight more
times a game.
It will require two changes.
First, a better offensive line. While Hurts had the luxury of
the best offensive line in football (per PFF and others), the
Bears ranked 14th. To that end, the Bears have signed OG Nate
Davis, who played with Tennessee last season, but they lost OT
Riley Reiff to the Patriots so it’s pretty much a wash.
Of course, there are still more signings to go and the draft in
Second, it will require Fields to search for a second or third
option more quickly. In 2022 he spent an average 2.7 seconds in
the pocket, which was the longest of any quarterback who played
at least 10 games. And although he’s great at running the
ball (160-1,143-8) if we want his receivers to succeed, he’s
going to have to make faster/better passing decisions.
The addition of Moore certainly raises the level of the Bears’
receiver room, but outside forces (OL, Fields maturing) will be
the determining factor as to whether he can become a WR1. Picking
an offensive lineman like Northwestern’s Peter Skoronski
or signing more free agents could go a long way in aiding Fields’
growth. And he must, because Moore has needed about 138 targets
a season (twice what Mooney saw last season) to produce top-20
numbers in the past. Until we see that type of improvement from
the line and Fields, I’m not sure Moore can produce much
better than low-end WR2 or high-end WR3 numbers.