NFL News & Analysis

Justin Fields, D.J. Moore and their importance to the Chicago Bears' rebuild

2MA43TE Chicago Bears quarterback Justin Fields during the second half of an NFL football game against the New England Patriots, Monday, Oct. 24, 2022, in Foxborough, Mass. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

• A new WR1 in Chicago: D.J. Moore is set to provide Justin Fields with a security blanket, something the young signal-caller has yet to have in his NFL career.

• Where Fields has struggled, Moore has thrived: Moore will aid Fields when under pressure and in the short and intermediate parts of the field.

• The Bears' 2023 outlook: Chicago's rushing attack thrived in 2022 behind Fields' legs. Now the offense as a whole has a chance to break out behind him and D.J. Moore in the passing game.

Estimated Reading Time: 7 minutes

A little more than 18 months ago, the Chicago Bears cleaned house and embarked on a rebuild. The team parted ways with head coach Matt Nagy and general manager Ryan Pace, replacing them with Matt Eberflus and Ryan Poles, who made quick work of gutting a roster that was chock-full of expensive, aging players.

Many key contributors, such as James Daniels, Khalil Mack and Allen Robinson II were either allowed to walk in free agency or traded. And as a result, the Bears entered the 2022 campaign with what appeared to be one of the worst rosters in the league.

Chicago’s passing offense struggled for most of the season under second-year quarterback Justin Fields. Over the regular season, the unit generated -0.097 expected points added per pass, 28th in the NFL. Their 5.7 yards per pass play tied for 26th. The team's highest-graded receiver was 2020 fifth-rounder Darnell Mooney, but his 69.2 PFF grade ranked just 49th at the position.

In the end, it was easy to see the problem — the Bears had a developing quarterback running an offense that didn’t have a single player who graded above 81.0. 

The goal of the 2023 offseason, then, was simple: to build the team back up around Fields, to put the third-year signal-caller in a position to succeed so that he can prove that he's the right guy for the long-term future of the franchise.

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Is Justin Fields the long-awaited answer at QB?

The Bears have been searching for a franchise signal-caller for a long, long time. In the PFF era, only two Bears quarterbacks have ever earned a single-season grade above 80.0 — and it's been a decade since that last happened.

Highest-graded Bears quarterbacks since 2006 (rank among QBs with 150+ dropbacks)
Name Season Dropbacks PFF passing grade Rank
Josh McCown 2013 258 84.3 5th of 44
Jay Cutler 2013 406 80.0 13th of 44
Brian Hoyer 2016 216 79.0 11th of 39
Jay Cutler 2015 556 74.5 11th of 40
Matt Barkley 2016 241 73.2 18th of 39
Jay Cutler 2011 364 71.4 15th of 39
Mitchell Trubisky 2017 415 71.2 19th of 41
Brian Griese 2007 297 71.0 18th of 47
Jay Cutler 2012 529 70.8 16th of 38
Nick Foles 2020 350 66.9 28th of 41

The last time a Bears quarterback attempted 300 or more passes and graded above 80.0 was in 2013 when Jay Cutler finished the year 224-of-355 for 2,621 yards, 19 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. However, Cutler was limited to just 11 games that season due to a torn groin and caused quite the quarterback controversy when he eventually returned to the lineup.

Only twice in the PFF era has a Bears quarterback made it through a full regular-season slate — Rex Grossman in 2006 and Jay Cutler in 2009 — but both quarterbacks earned a sub-70.0 passing grade over their respective seasons.

Rex Grossman (2006) Jay Cutler (2009)
Games 16 16
Comp./Att. 262/480 336/555
Yards 3,193 3,676
Yards per Att. 6.7 6.6
TD/INT 23/20 27/26
BTT/TWP 21/35 26/24
Passer Rating 73.9 76.8
PFF Passing Grade 50.4 65.6

Early in Round 1 of the 2021 NFL Draft, Bears general manager Ryan Pace pulled off a trade that moved Chicago up from Pick 20 to Pick 11. It cost them the 164th overall pick, a 2022 first-rounder and a 2022 fourth-rounder, but they ultimately secured Ohio State quarterback Justin Fields, the third-ranked prospect on the PFF big board and, at the time, the fifth-best prospect PFF had ever evaluated.

The Bears had the most cap space in the league, a young quarterback and, most importantly, the first pick in the draft. With a slew of roster holes, Chicago sent the first pick to the Carolina Panthers for extra draft capital and arguably their biggest need, a true WR1.

In comes D.J. Moore.

D.J. Moore‘s chance to shine

Moore has earned an 85.8 receiving grade since entering the league as the 24th overall pick of the 2018 NFL Draft, 26th among qualifying wide receivers. He has graded above 70.0 in all five seasons of his career despite playing with a quarterback carousel that featured some of the league's least effective passers.

D.J. Moore: PFF grades and rank among wide receivers since 2018
Season PFF Overall Grade Rank
2022 73.9 32 of 102
2021 76.9 28 of 94
2020 79.1 24 of 101
2019 82.2 11 of 103
2018 71.8 41 of 110

The 6-foot receiver out of Maryland might not have the height or length teams traditionally covet in a full-time outside receiver, but he brings the athleticism and short-area quickness to create separation downfield and make plays after the catch.

Across 363 career targets, the Bears' new WR1 has racked up 1,845 receiving yards after the catch, putting him among the likes of A.J. Brown (1,810) Tyler Boyd (1,830), Keenan Allen (1,911) and Stefon Diggs (2,108). His 5.1 yards after the catch per reception ranks 14th among the 79 receivers who have seen at least 250 targets over the past five seasons.

The former first-rounder has also had a step or more of separation on 410 of his 584 career targets, but despite this, just 69.3% of the targets thrown his way have been charted as catchable, a mark that ranks 66th among qualifiers at the position. 

Moore has the tools; he just needs someone who can get him the ball. 

D.J. Moore's quarterbacks: Catchable pass percentage and percentile rank among QB-WR partnerships
QB Targets to Moore Catchable Catchable % Percentile
Cam Newton 122 94 77.0% 60%
Kyle Allen 111 79 71.2% 46%
Sam Darnold 138 96 69.6% 42%
Teddy Bridgewater 99 65 65.7% 32%
P.J. Walker 62 40 64.5% 30%

In the last 17 years, Brandon Marshall (2012 and 2013), Alshon Jeffery (2015) and Allen Robinson II (2020) are the only Bears wide receivers who have graded above 85.0 over a season. 

The Vikings have had nine seasons of a wide receiver surpassing 85.0. The Packers and Lions each come in with seven.

Chicago has lacked weapons that command a defense's attention on every single play, and Moore will provide just that. 

The trio of Moore, Darnell Mooney and Chase Claypool might not be the most exciting group in the league, but it’s certainly an upgrade.

The Fields-Moore Connection

Justin Fields entered the NFL as one of the most accurate quarterbacks we’ve ever seen, and one of the more prolific deep-ball passers. While that hasn’t entirely translated at the pro level, there are still glimpses of the player we saw in college.

Over the past two seasons, Fields ranks 25th in passer rating on routes targeted more than 20 yards downfield (71.8). He has yet to find consistent success on those throws, but he remains one of the most aggressive passers in the league. Nearly 16% of his attempts have been deep balls, a higher mark than Bills quarterback Josh Allen.

Fields can stand to improve on his accuracy quite a bit, although it's not all on him. The Bears’ wide receivers have recorded the second-worst receiving grade in the league over the past two years, with the only consistent playmaker being Darnell Mooney.

That's why the D.J. Moore addition was so vital this offseason.

Fields has struggled in the NFL with passing over the middle, taking the “easy” stuff and playing under pressure. Quarterbacks targeting Moore over the middle and in the short area of the field have recorded passer ratings of 84.7 and 90.2, respectively — both significantly higher marks than what Fields has accomplished. Moore also serves as a safety valve when his quarterback is under pressure. Since 2018, he has seen the eighth-most targets among wide receivers when his quarterback is under pressure.

Moore does his best work on the outside but has also contributed significantly with 971 snaps from the slot, giving Bears offensive coordinator Luke Getsy a lot to work with. 

Position Snap Count PFF overall grade
Slot 971 70.4
Out Wide 3,387 86.6

The Bottom Line

While the Bears' passing game looked lost at times in 2022, the rushing attack thrived. Fields racked up 1,143 yards on the ground last season — the second most ever by a quarterback — while the rushing offense as a whole generated -0.010 EPA per play, the 10th-best mark in the league.

The 2023 campaign is about bringing the passing offense up to speed, with Fields and Moore leading the way.


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