Name: Darnell Mooney
Time with Bears: Rookie
“Now 3rd down and goal, pass is CAUGHT, Touchdown! Darnell Mooney! And the Bears are back within one possession.”
Darnell Mooney is a rising star on the Bears, and it couldn’t be more improbable. He was unranked by ESPN as a recruit out of Gadsden City High School in the Alabama town of the same name. According to his college bio, he played receiver and defensive back for the Gadsden City Titans, as well as point guard on their basketball team.
He chose Tulane to play college football, and he saw action right away as a freshman, logging 8 starts in 12 appearances. In a matchup against Houston, he caught 7 receptions for 63 yards, and finished his freshman season with a total of 24 receptions for 267 yards, an impressive 11.1 yards-per-catch average. He carved out an important starting role in the Tulane Green Wave offense in his sophomore season, where he caught 34 receptions for 599 yards, upping his YPC average to 17.6 to go along with his 4 touchdowns. Mooney began to show what his future could hold.
He returned as a starter for the Green Wave his junior year, breaking out for 47 receptions and just shy of 1000 yards receiving. He earned Second-Team All-Conference honors within the American Athletic Conference, partially due to his 8 touchdowns, and again upped his YPC average to a stellar 20.7. He opted to stay at Tulane for one more season, helping the team finish with a 7-6 record for the second year in a row, while catching 48 balls for 713 yards. He finished his college career with a 16.7 YPC average, proving himself to be a deep threat who can take the top off a defense if given the right quarterback to place the throws.
The Bears selected Mooney in the 5th round of the 2020 NFL Draft, trading up with Philadelphia to select the Tulane product after cutting ties with their 2018-19 deep threat Taylor Gabriel. Because they both played at Tulane, Mooney was immediately likened to Matt Forte, former Bears running back and current analyst for NBC Sports Chicago’s Football Aftershow. Perhaps it’s unfair to hold Mooney to the same standard set by the record-holder for receptions by a rookie (running back or receiver!), but Bears fans would be elated if Mooney develops into the kind of superstar Forte was for so long.
Mooney entered training camp with much to prove, and proved any doubter wrong by earning a spot as a rotational player in the first unofficial depth chart. By week 2, he had surpassed veteran Ted Ginn, Jr. as a starter, catching a touchdown against the Giants. A couple weeks later against the Colts, Mooney became quarterback Nick Foles favorite target as he caught 5 receptions for a then-career high 52 yards. In a loss against the Los Angeles Rams, Mooney broke open for what would have been a 95 yard touchdown pass, but the protection broke down and Foles couldn’t make the throw.
Mooney has already caught 40 receptions, so he’s approaching Forte’s record, but there isn’t much time left to reach it. He would have to average 6 receptions per game to reach the 64 receptions mark and put him in the Bears record books. Still, there are some tough defenses coming up, and without a competent quarterback throwing him the ball, it will be tough. The kid has played his heart out so far for the Bears this year though, and Bears fans should love seeing him in more action.
Mooney is still a rookie, so there’s plenty of time for him to develop in his 4-year contract with the Bears. The most important thing, though, is that he gets an average-or-better quarterback dropping back and hitting him in the hands on deep plays. He’s fast, has great motions to draw defenders into precarious positions, and can run after the catch as well as any other receiver on this (poor) offense. If the Bears can finally solve their decades-old quarterback problem, Mooney could have Pro Bowls in his future.
In week 14, the Bears host the Houston Texans. The primary storyline through the game, groan all you want, is the ugly step-child Mitch Trubisky in a class where Deshaun Watson and Patrick Mahomes were drafted after him. Watch for Mooney to quietly have a productive afternoon, as Houston’s defense is nothing to brag about and they will be focusing on shutting Allen Robinson down. All it takes is one well-placed deep ball, and Mooney walks away with a nice stat line.
Week 14 prediction:
7 targets, 4 receptions, 73 yards, 1 TD