How Claypool 'improved tremendously' in first Bears offseason originally appeared on NBC Sports Chicago
LAKE FOREST, Ill. -- We didn't get a fair judge of Chase Claypool during his first half-season with the Bears.
Trades in the NFL aren't plug-and-play like the NBA or MLB. The Bears didn't acquire a hard-throwing reliever or three-and-D specialist. They sent a second-round pick to the Pittsburgh Steelers for a young wide receiver who didn't know their system and had yet to work with quarterback Justin Fields.
Claypool arrived at the trade deadline last season and had to work to get up to speed mostly on his own time as the Bears used practice and meetings to game plan for that week's opponents. The time for installation had long passed.
That led to an underwhelming first seven games in a Bears uniform. Claypool caught just 14 of 29 targets for 140 yards and no touchdowns after arriving in Chicago. He flashed a bit during a Week 13 loss to the Green Bay Packers, but he suffered a knee injury during the first half that hampered him for the remainder of the season.
While he had a disappointing start to his tenure in Chicago, the Notre Dame product appears to have put his nose to the grindstone this offseason as he works to show that general manager Ryan Poles' bet on his talent was the right one.
"Chase has improved tremendously from the end of last year to now," Fields said Tuesday after the Bears' second OTA practice at Halas Hall. "That’s one thing I’m truly proud to say, seeing his work ethic, his attitude change. You can just see he’s taking another step, so definitely excited for that."
Claypool is entering a contract year and understands that the Bears are his best chance to get the big payday that comes with being a playmaking wide receiver in the NFL.
The first step is making sure he has full knowledge of the Bears' offensive scheme.
Last season, the Bears gave Claypool a handful of plays to master, but he didn't have the time to fully immerse himself in offensive coordinator Luke Getsy's scheme.
With months to reset and dive in, Claypool is in a better place as the Bears build toward the 2023 season.
“Yeah, I do," head coach Matt Eberflus said when asked if he believed Claypool was more comfortable.
"I do cause him second time going around he knows the formations and the motions and knows the route disciplines. He’s learning that as we go and you can certainly see him getting more comfortable adjusting too.”
The offseason addition of DJ Moore should allow Claypool to operate in a more natural role of a No. 2 receiver who is asked to stretch the field vertically and be a big-body target on third down and in the red zone.
An elite wide receiver in Moore, an improved Claypool, and a refreshed Darnell Mooney give the Bears a talented trifecta of wide receivers for Fields to utilize.
Moore can do it all. Spend two hours watching him and it's clear he has the talent and skills to beat defenses in a myriad of ways. We know Mooney is an adept operator in the intermediate portion of the field, an area where Fields thrived last season when he led the NFL in completion percentage on throws between 10-19 yards (66.7 percent).
That's why Claypool is so vital. Not only should his field-stretching ability play well with Fields' deep-ball prowess, but an improved connection between the two should force safeties to respect the deep pass and open up the middle of the field for Moore, Mooney, and tight end Cole Kmet to operate.
The Bears gave up a prized draft pick to acquire Claypool. It was a bet on talent and rare physical ability, one they hope cashes in 2023.