Since being drafted by the Chicago Bears in 2020, Darnell Mooney has been a real easy guy to root for. His day three draft status made him an underdog fan favorite. He showed an immediate dedication to his craft by recording himself calling plays so he could practice breaking the huddle and lining up during the COVID offseason, and his first purchase as a professional was a Jugs machine. That dedication led to him setting Bears’ rookie receiving records and breaking 1,000 yards his second season. He’s just scratching the surface on his potential and the Bears are banking on him elevating his play to another level.
Chicago could have targeted a top tier wide out in free agency or via trade. They could have packaged some draft picks to go get a top rated receiver in the 2022 draft. But the new regime decided that Mooney was their number one.
That’s a calculated gamble the franchise is taking, especially considering how important this season is for the development of second year QB Justin Fields, but the Bears aren’t alone in their belief.
Sports Illustrated’s Connor Orr thinks that Mooney could put up “monstrous numbers,” and that he’ll “finish the season as a household name.”
Pro Football Focus puts the 24-year old Mooney in their up and comer category in a recent article ranking receivers.
Mooney has gone from a fifth-round pick out of Tulane to a budding WR1 in a couple of years’ time. Between his deep speed, route running and after-the-catch ability, he can win in a variety of ways. Last year, Mooney tied for sixth in total receptions over 15 yards downfield (20), finished sixth in separation rate against single coverage and was one of 22 wide receivers with double-digit broken tackles after the catch (10).
There’s reason to believe that Mooney’s production is only going to improve from here as he gets comfortable with quarterback Justin Fields. Don’t be surprised if the Fields-Mooney connection soon morphs into one of the better young tandems in the NFL.
Fields and Mooney have the type of off-field relationship you like to see from the QB1 and the WR1 and that started to build a year ago. They started working out with each other last offseason, but they’ve taken it to a new level these last few months prepping for the new offensive scheme. They push each other with late night film sessions, after practice workouts, and so much personal time put in together away from Halas Hall too.
“He honestly makes me want to do more,” Fields said via the team’s site. “Just seeing how much he works, how hard he works, it’s kind of contagious.”
Mooney led the Bears in targets with 140 a season ago, and in 2022 he’ll be Chicago’s go-to receiver again, but this offseason the Bears completely revamped their receiving corps with the notion that Mooney can be a true number one. They let Allen Robinson leave via free agency, and Mooney is ready to embrace the responsibility that comes with that.
“I’m ready for whatever anybody brings to me,” Mooney said in a recent Q&A with The Gadsen Times. “I’m ready for any task, any type of defense that we’re seeing, whatever it is, anyway, I can help the team. You know, if I get double teamed, I’ll be a decoy for the team so everybody else can be open. I mean, I’m good with that. Anyway I can help win.”
Mooney building off his 81 catch season will not only give the 2022 offense a much needed boost, but it will also validate the regime’s faith it put in him as their number one.