Bears' Jaxon Smith-Njigba dream could turn into draft reality

Schrock: Bears' Smith-Njigba dream could turn into draft reality originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago

Bears quarterback Justin Fields has been open about his desire for general manager Ryan Poles to find a way to draft wide receiver Jaxon Smith-Njigba.

Reuniting is an idea the former Ohio State teammates have discussed for some time.

"Since he's been in Chicago, we've always talked about it," Smith-Njigba said at the NFL Scouting Combine in Indianapolis.

The Bears desperately need to add playmakers at wide receiver this offseason. Chicago's wide receivers ranked last in the NFL in catches and yards in 2022. If Fields is going to take a big step forward as a passer in Year 3, getting him an electric receiver he is comfortable with is imperative.

"Just being at practice with him, making plays," Smith-Njigba said when asked why he has a good rapport with Fields. "Getting open in practice for him and catching the ball and just doing what I do. And him doing what he does. I feel like we definitely have a little connection back in the day, but hopefully we can maybe do it again."

The Bears' dream of reuniting Smith-Njigba and Fields is one that will be hard to make into reality.

Chicago owns the No. 1 overall pick but doesn't pick again until the back end of the second round. Smith-Njigba is expected to be one of the first three receivers off the board, with most mocks having him drafted in the nine-to-20 range.

Poles is openly shopping the No. 1 pick. The Bears' general manager hopes to get a first- and second-round pick this year as well as future firsts in 2024 and 2025 in return.

The Bears have an important calculus to make when trading the No. 1 pick. It's vital for Poles to get as many assets back as possible. However, the Bears also need to add blue-chip talent to their roster.

After a complete teardown, Chicago's roster has maybe one blue-chip player in Fields, and that's only if he develops as a passer. High-level talent needs to be injected into the roster.

If Poles' draft maneuvers, whether it be one trade or two, see the Bears picking in the nine-to-11 range in the draft, Smith-Njigba might be their best option to add a surefire player of that caliber.

Assuming Will Anderson, Jalen Carter, and Tyree Wilson are off the board in the first eight picks, the Bears will have to choose between drafting for need with a guy like Lukas Van Ness or going with one of the few blue-chip guys left in Smith-Njigba or running Bijan Robinson.

At the combine, Poles talked about the delicate dance he'll have to do when deciding how far down is too far down for the Bears to move.

"It’s a year-to-year thing," Poles said. "It just depends on what the draft class brings in terms of we’ve got different colors that we use. Blue players at the top and how many do you have? How many are you comfortable with, or are you comfortable going down to the reds? We should get some really good information this week to make us feel better about that so we know what that looks like."

If Poles is determined to add a "blue player," Smith-Njigba and Robinson might be the only players left if the Bears trade down to the back end of the top 10.

The Bears need to find difference-makers on defense. Anderson feels like a sure thing. Carter is an all-world talent with some maturity concerns. Wilson is an athletic marvel but far from a lock.

The 2023 season should be all about building around Fields and helping him reach his potential. If that's the case, Smith-Njigba might be the one prospect outside the top five Poles could draft that wouldn't be followed by a flood of questions about the general manager's decision-making at a pivotal time for the organization.

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The Bears arguably have more significant needs than wide receiver, but Smith-Njigba has elite traits, is dynamic with the ball in his hands, and already has a good connection with Fields.

Drafting Van Ness, Murphy, Skoronski, or Broderick Jones would all come with a wave of questions about evaluations, ceilings, and whether Poles misplayed his hand with the No. 1 pick.

Smith-Njigba would invite some criticism, but those would likely quiet quickly once memories of last year's receiving corps reemerged.

I still have a hard time seeing Poles and the Bears pass on Anderson, who has all the makings of a program-changing defensive cornerstone.

But if the Bears choose future draft picks over elite talent and slide down to nine or lower in the draft, Smith-Njigba will become a reality and might end up being their best chance to add the blue-chip talent needed to help put the franchise on the path back to contention.

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