Chicago’s receiver room currently consists of Mooney, Byron Pringle, Equanimeous St. Brown, Dazz Newsome, Nsimba Webster, and Isaiah Coulter, so on paper Mooney is the Bears’ number one. They’ll likely add to the position in the draft, and there could be another free agent brought in, but for the 2022 season it should be Mooney that gets their most targets.
For this WCG roundtable I asked our team this question; Can Darnell Mooney be a legit number one wide receiver for the Chicago Bears?
Lester A. Wiltfong Jr. - I’ve done a 180 with my thoughts on Mooney since the season ended. I always viewed him as a perfect slot once a receiver room is filled out, but with the way he attacks his craft every offseason, why can’t he evolve into a go-to guy for the Bears?
Does that make him number one wide receiver? I guess that depends on your definition of a WR1, but at 24-years old and heading into his 3rd professional season, it’s possible he’s just scratching the surface on his potential. He doesn’t have the size of many traditional number ones, which are usually the classic X receiver, but his speed, route running, and toughness, plus his obvious connection with Justin Fields, and I see Mooney thriving in the new offensive scheme.
Robert Schmitz - If this question is asking whether Darnell Mooney will be a Top-10/15 superstar WR, I think the obvious answer is no But I worry this question is getting Mooney underrated — he’s a Jack-of-All-Trades wide out that I see very similarly to Tyler Lockett, who is a smaller Z receiver who just eclipsed 1,000 yards for the 3rd season in a row. Lockett, like Mooney, is a dangerous all-tool receiver that’s strongest when running intermediate routes but can also attack with YAC, separate on 3rd downs, and stretch the field vertically. Mooney is a very, very good young Z receiver that’s already accomplished more in a Matt-Nagy scheme than most sophomore Zs would. If the Bears get more weapons to compliment what he does best, I think he may surprise Bears fans by becoming a “#1A” WR rather than just a number two.
Erik Christopher Duerrwaechter - That is a very good question. On one hand, the only other home grown receiver we’ve seen develop into a legit threat was Alshon Jeffery, and Darnell Mooney has solid chemistry with Justin Fields. On the other hand, I haven’t seen him dominate enough in games to suggest he’s ready to take over. His drops in critical moments last season stand out as a major issue he faces. This will depend on how OC Luke Getsy plans to utilize him - will he feature Darnell Mooney on more vertical routes? Or, does Luke Getsy himself see Darnell Mooney as someone he can count on for a big play? I just haven’t seen enough evidence to suggest, without question, Darnell Mooney can be a legit #1 receiver. The most likely time we’ll see our questions answered is the day following the upcoming NFL Draft.
Rahul Ramachandran - Mooney’s ceiling is as a #1a guy in my mind. By #1a, I mean a guy who can look deadly if he’s got a guy equal to or a bit greater alongside him. That allows him to get 1-on-1 coverage, and he’s good enough at everything to torch defenses in that role. As a legitimate #1, I’d have to see it to believe it. When you look at the top receivers in the NFL, they each have at least one thing that they can hang their hat on. Mooney is good at everything, but there’s nothing he’s truly special at. He’s got excellent speed but not like Tyreek Hill. He’s got good play strength but not like D.K. Metcalf and A.J. Brown. He’s a good route runner but nothing like Davante Adams. He’s an elite #2 but not quite good enough to be a nightmare matchup for opposing defenses.
Bill Zimmerman - I think there’s two answers to this question. Being a WR1 on the 2022 Chicago Bears and being a WR1 on a Super Bowl contender. The Bears are not contending for a Lombardi trophy this year, so Mooney can certainly hold down the fort this season. However, in a couple of years, we hope that Ryan Poles has built a contending team around Justin Fields, and when that time comes, Mooney needs to have settled into his role as a WR2, and a very good one, for Chicago.
Josh Sunderbruch - If by “number one wide receiver” you simply mean the receiver for the Bears who gets the most yards? Yes. He can be a Knox, Meredith, or Wright. In fact, he already was that guy in 2021. If by “number one wide receiver” you mean “a guy who opens up the offense for other players and scares defenses,” then the answer is probably not. He has a pedestrian catch rate, a pedestrian yards per target, and only about a third of his targets result in first downs. What is it about him that makes a defense worry? He has a connection to Fields, who might not even be a franchise quarterback. He’s gym shorts fast, but a sub-4.4 time at the combine does not mean what it once did, and he has a lot to show before there’s any reason to think that an offense led by Mooney is going to be anything other than a disappointment.
Ken Mitchell - Darnell Mooney already is a legit #1 wideout. There are 32 teams in the NFL, and last year, despite being saddled with a horrible quarterbacking situation, Mooney was 21st in passes caught, 19th in receiving yards (and that list includes TE’s like Travis Kelce). That’s #1 production. The real question is can he be a “high end” number 1, and the jury is still out on that.
Robert Zeglinski - I think Mooney can be a top weapon, a real game breaker when the necessary moment arises. But to me, a No. 1 receiver is someone you can run your offense through. He’s the guy that the defense knows is getting the ball on third-and-long and can’t do anything to stop him. I don’t think Mooney has the hands or the capacity to handle such a responsibility. He’s a stretch-the-field guy, not a classic possession receiver making catches in traffic and sitting down in medium zones. It’s nice that Justin Fields likes him. Justin Fields likes everyone, it seems. It doesn’t make Mooney elite, and it won’t make him a true No. 1.
Sam Householder - Mooney isn’t the “open even when he’s not” super reliable, “I’ll just throw it his way and see what happens” type of No. 1. He’s a very good No. 2 and maybe a 1a type like a couple of my colleagues laid out. But relying on him to be The Guy isn’t going to end well. Maybe the Bears can get away with it for this season, but I think there will be games where he’s taken away and moments where fans look back after games and say “They’re still missing a one.” He’s a piece, a good piece, but not the piece they really need.
We also asked the people on Twitter their thoughts on Mooney and they were much more hopeful that we were.