Chicago fans are excited, as they should be. Justin Fields is the presumptive savior at quarterback. Teven Jenkins is the mean mauling offensive tackle that Charles Leno never was. Allen Robinson is back and coming off of his best season with Chicago. Roquon Smith is coming off a second-team all-pro season, and Khalil Mack is still one of the best defensive players in the NFL. Chicago is also excited about someone else, a 2020 fifth round pick out of Tulane University, Darnell Mooney.
Darnell Mooney was a two-star wide receiver out of Gaston High School in Gadsden, Alabama. He was not very highly recruited and ended up committing to Tulane University in 2016. During his four years at Tulane, Mooney racked up 154 receptions, 2,572 yards, and 19 touchdowns across 46 games. Mooney was a classic deep threat, averaging 16.7 yards per reception, which caught the eye of NFL scouts.
However, scouts still doubted Mooney, calling him “rail thin” and knocking him down for “Not having enough attention to detail on his routes”. Mooney was projected to go in round 7 or as an undrafted free agent by some analysts. To the credit of Ryan Pace and the Bears front office, they saw something special in Mooney. Something the media analysts didn’t — or couldn’t — see: his work ethic, his character off the field, his leadership perhaps?
The Chicago personnel staff saw something to bet on a 5’10” 175 lbs wide receiver who didn’t contribute on special teams. The gamble paid off. It took Darnell Mooney two NFL regular season games to find the end zone, catching a 15 yard pass from Mitchell Trubisky. Mooney progressively got better as the season went on, scoring two more of his four total touchdowns in the final four games of the season. Mooney saved his best game for last when he caught 11 out of 13 targets for 93 yards against the Green Bay Packers in week 17.
What Does Darnell Mooney Do Well?
Mooney is an incredibly nuanced route runner for just being a rookie. He uses different releases depending on the cornerback’s leverage and the route he’s supposed to run to create separation early. He’s also is a great deep threat, like he was in college, out running defensive backs and stretching the defense vertically to open up space for Allen Robinson and others.
Mooney suffered statistically by not having a quarterback who could take advantage of his speed and hit him in stride when he got over the top of the defense. Something Bears fans hope will not be a problem with Justin Fields in town now. Mooney still has room to grow. But he has already has shown improvements from college to the NFL as a route runner, which is a great sign of his work ethic.
Mooney reminds me so much of Tyler Lockett in Seattle, Russell Wilson’s favorite target of the past few seasons. Ironically, Jimmy Graham compared Justin Fields to Russell Wilson last week:
“At some point I’ve got to get him matched up with a guy up there in Seattle. Especially, you know, the ability to make plays while you’re running. I think he’s going to have — it’s been impressive to see him so young, so focused. And I can tell it definitely reminds me a lot of Russell Wilson.”Jimmy Graham at the Bears Press Conference August 5th, 2021
How Good can Mooney Be?
Mooney has already proven countless analysts wrong. From being a two star athlete to getting picked in the 5th round of the NFL draft, to showing that media Draft analysts were too low on him by having a spectacular and promising rookie season. No one should put a ceiling on Darnell Mooney’s potential at this point because he’s made everyone who has, look foolish so far.
In conclusion, no. Chicago fans have not taken the Darnell Mooney hype train too far, because Mooney has improved consistently since his freshman year in college and there is no reason to think that will not continue moving forward. The Bears still need Allen Robinson to stay in Chicago long-term.
Darnell Mooney provides them with a great one-two punch that compliments each other’s skill sets wonderfully. However, I don’t think Mooney can fill in at Allen Robinson’s role as a “third down, got to have it” guy. This isn’t a knock on Mooney, but NFL teams need two or three legitimate receiving threats in today’s game.
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