Early in the season, people get obsessed with the development of their team’s young rookies from the latest draft class. The year of 2020 is no exception, not for the Chicago Bears, at least. Plenty of buzz has been generated by the young corner, Jaylon Johnson. Meanwhile, most fans are watching Mitchell Trubisky wondering if he’s turned the corner?
Yet that’s not why we are here today. Potentially, we might be witnessing an exciting case of accelerated growth in the NFL for the Bears. Darnell Mooney, the electrifying receiver from Tulane, is turning heads everywhere.
The Coaching Staff Already Shows a Great Deal of Faith in Mooney
Generally speaking, players drafted in the 5th round or later aren’t expected to play large roles. Not in their rookie season, at least. In the case of Mooney, he does not act like a rookie, and his own coaches know this better than anyone else.
“It’s like he’s a five-year veteran in this league already. That game (in week one) did not phase him one bit.” - Mike Furrey, WR coach, Chicago Bears
In that first week at Detroit, Mooney was targeted three times, and caught all three passes for 38 yards. The numbers won’t blow anyone’s fantasy league out the water. And, fantasy stats aren’t the important part here.
It’s Mooney’s consistency that’s earning him substantially more playing time with each coming game.
For week two, Mooney’s snaps on offense jumped from 38% of plays in Detroit, to over 60% vs. the New York Giants this past weekend. The biggest development thus far has been Mooney starting in favor of Ted Ginn Jr. as the “Zebra,” with the later being listed as a healthy scratch in week two. Against the Giants, Mooney registered three more catches for 36 yards, and earned his first career touchdown reception.
When Called Upon, Mooney Has Been Money
It’s not about how many yards a receiver puts up so early in their development. The focus should be how consistently they can get open and produce when targeted. So far, Mooney has shown the consistency of getting open and maintaining separation from coverage.
In fact, he’s already above average in a key statistic.
#Bears WR Darnell Mooney had an average of 3.15 yards of separation in today's game. For reference, the NFL average is 2.84 yards.— Jacob Infante (@jacobinfante24) September 20, 2020
Part of that can be attributed to scheme, but kudos to Mooney for being as good as he has so far. He had 3.16 yards of separation last week, too.
If you’re trying to picture how big of a cushion that is, each yard is about three feet in length. The mathematical conversion for 3.15 yards is 9.45 feet of separation between the receiver and the DB in coverage. That’s quite a large amount of grass distancing Mooney at the end of his routes.
A good example of that separation is on display during Mooney’s first career touchdown reception.
As the old saying goes, “this picture is worth one thousand words.” Or, in relation to football, this is worth 6 points.
For perspective, Darnell Mooney is listed at 5-foot-11 and 174 pounds. He’s a full body away from the DB in this touchdown. Mooney isn’t just fast running the 40 — he ran an official 4.38 during the combine — his acceleration in and out of his cuts makes that 40 time look slow.
Here’s another item to consider. The amount of trust Mitchell Trubisky placed in Mooney to dance around the pocket, look downfield, and lob it to the rookie is not to be taken likely. It certainly wasn’t the prettiest of balls, and it — like a lot of other things — didn’t matter. Mooney made the play when his moment arrived.
His only hiccup has been when he fumbled the ball while attempting to run over a DB during the Giants game.
He’s Not Afraid of the Dirty Work
So many receivers shy away from contact when it’s not their time to catch a pass. This happens far too often, which gets incredibly annoying while trying to establish an effective run game. Mooney, on the other hand, seems to enjoy being a bouncer in these situations.
This #Bears running game just gets better and better.— Robert Schmitz (@robertkschmitz) September 22, 2020
The left side of the line blocks this flawlessly and, once again, Darnell Mooney gets downfield to set up the last 8 yards of Montgomery's run. Martinez hopelessly over-penetrates and has no chance. Just beautiful. pic.twitter.com/jEMyOrZmt8
Right at contact Mooney says “what’s up” to the DB as he delivers a good pop. He’s not big, yet it doesn’t matter. Mooney couldn’t care less about any size advantages/disadvantages when he’s looking to make a statement.
Here’s a closeup of the same play with Mooney engaged in his block.
Not convinced? Just look at this next play, then. He’s literally the lead blocker on an inside run.
Is there anything #Bears rookie Darnell Mooney can't do?— Robert Schmitz (@robertkschmitz) September 22, 2020
Watch him devastate Jabrill Peppers in the hole here, opening space up for an 11 yard Montgomery run. When you can get these kinds of blocks from your WRs, it's easy to build a successful run game. pic.twitter.com/XHcawBIhLk
Think your eyes are deceiving you? Here’s a screenshot of the play shortly after the ball is snapped. I even circled #11 for you all to see.
It’s no wonder how Mooney has gone from additional receiver in the corps, to primary starter at “Zebra,” to the likely #2 option in the receiving game behind only Allen Robinson.
Trubisky seems to trust Mooney as a target for key moments. The coaching staff has already opened up and cooked a buffet for his plate. Any time Mooney gets a chance to play, he ends the play while making a statement.
We have already seen such a huge jump from this receiver. When Ryan Pace traded up for the second time in the 5th round, he and the Bears’ coaching staff certainly had big plans in store for his long-term future. As it seems, the future is now.
Here’s to hoping that Darnell Mooney’s ascent continues during the 2020 season. And, for many years to come.