The Spotlight Series
A Footballguys Spotlight is an in-depth look at a player. His plusses and minuses are examined, and we give you our bottom-line stance on his 2022 prospects. If a player listed below doesn't yet have a link, don't worry. It's coming soon.
"His desire and passion are rare," Mike Furrey said of Darnell Mooney, directly after comparing him to Hall of Fame wideout Isaac Bruce. The Bears' former wide receivers coach, Furrey, became enamored with Darnell Mooney as a prospect. His work ethic and drive were outstanding, and Furrey begged the previous Bears regime to draft him. And drafting Mooney certainly hasn't disappointed the Bears or their fans.
Mooney ranks third in receptions among his 2020 classmates.
He set the Bears' rookie receptions record in 2020. His sophomore year saw him take a more prominent role, garnering 42 more targets and increasing efficiency across the board. As he enters his third season, Chicago's offseason moves have pointed to an even more significant role for Mooney, and the next step could be the actual breakout. The one that people notice. Mooney finished inside the Top 24 in total points in 2021, yet his ADP currently sits at WR25. Adapting to the Bears' No. 1 role, the projected growth of quarterback Justin Fields, and an innovative new offensive scheme should ensure Mooney finishes inside the top 20, at minimum. He's one of the last receivers being drafted with a legitimate shot at top-12 value.
No Robinson, No Problem
The 2021 Chicago Bears boasted an unspectacular offense. Former star Allen Robinson struggled, and inconsistent play-calling and quarterback play left a lot of yards on the field. Robinson has since departed for Los Angeles to play with Matthew Stafford and the Rams. Many believe Darnell Mooney will take a step backward as opposing defenses now key on him as the clear No. 1. But that overstates how Robinson played last year. While defenses may have focused on Robinson in the early weeks, Mooney quickly established himself as the Bears' No. 1 and started commanding top corners.
Mooney thrived when Allen Robinson wasn't on the field.
|With Allen Robinson||12||7.8||4.7||55.3||0.3||12.4|
|Without Allen Robinson||5||9.4||5.0||78.2||0.2||14.2|
His ability to play inside as a slot option or outside creates matchup problems. While he doesn't have the size of a prototypical No. 1 receiver, he's commanded a target share that suggests otherwise. He finished 11th in the NFL in targets, doing so on a team that only threw the ball 542 times (23rd in the NFL). Mooney's 27% target share ranked sixth in the NFL. While availability plays a role in raw target share, Mooney has already established himself as the Bears' No. 1 receiver. Frankly, any debate on that no longer remains. Mooney now leads a room with new additions, including Equanimeous St. Brown, Byron Pringle, and rookie Velus Jones Jr. GM Ryan Poles felt comfortable with Mooney as his leading receiver. In the first months in his new role, Poles said, "Bright spot was Darnell Mooney. As guys have come in to work out, we've had the opportunity just to introduce each other. And he stopped in, and I was really blown away by the person. He's got a quiet confidence about him, and he's hungry to be special. I'm always looking for guys that keep raising their own bar in terms of where they want to go. He just wants to be special, and you can feel that in him."
Darnell Mooney didn't get drafted on the first two days of the NFL Draft in 2020, but he has since established himself as a clear-cut number one option.
Darnell Mooney was able to find success in 2021, mainly on his own. His quarterback situation was less than ideal, with two of the least-accurate passers in the league throwing him the ball at different times last year. Justin Fields and Andy Dalton ranked 29th and 31st in on-target percentages. Fields was second only to Zach Wilson in bad throw percentage. With Andy Dalton gone, the belief is in Justin Fields to become the franchise-saving signal caller that has eluded the team for decades. While many have reservations, Fields' last five games offer hope.
|Last 5 Games with Justin Fields||Targets/Game||Rec/Game||Yards/Game||TDs/Game||FPTS/G|
Fields left one of those games at halftime, but Mooney and Fields were well on their way to establishing a top-tier connection. Fields' play should improve with a new offensive system and coaching staff. The young signal-caller was a historically-accurate college quarterback, and when given time in the pocket in 2021, his ball placement flashed potential. The Bears added pieces to the offensive line and look to have a unit that ranks better than 32nd in adjusted sack rate. Other than the offensive line, scheme changes incorporated by incoming offensive coordinator Luke Getsy should aid in making life easier for Fields.
Mooney has never experienced good quarterback play at the NFL level, and an increase in productivity from the player delivering the ball should result in the same for Mooney.
Addition by Subtraction
Matt Nagy often struggled to put his players in positions to succeed during his time in Chicago, and that was more true in 2021 than in years past. Play-action and RPOs were infrequent, as mentioned in the article linked above, but the offense also avoided the easy layups. Nagy seldom utilized screens and pop passes. However, Getsy will increase the frequency of those kinds of plays.
Heavier utilization of play action will see Mooney running intermediate and deep routes, getting behind the defense, and creating explosive plays. RPOs will allow Mooney to win immediately at the line of scrimmage, frequently running in-breaking routes and gaining yards after the catch. Screens and pop passes will let him be creative with the ball in his hands, an area that Mooney has excelled in since entering the league. He tied for 27th among qualified receivers in yards after catch per reception in 2021. Among receivers with at least 100 targets, he tied for 11th.
Getsy was the passing game coordinator in Green Bay last year and centered the offense around a singular receiver, Davante Adams. Mooney may not be as talented as Davante Adams, but both players' dynamic skill sets are similar and could indicate the former's usage.
Stats and Projections
Everyone that speaks of Darnell Mooney mentions his work ethic. No one has walked away from Mooney unimpressed, from his coaches at Tulane to his sophomore quarterback. That hard work has translated to the field early in his career, and every indication points to another leap forward. Darnell Mooney could finish inside the Top 12 on volume alone, but his quiet 2021 breakout has kept his ADP low, sitting at WR25. While fantasy managers pass on the third-year receiver, he's working toward the breakout people have to notice in 2022, possessing top-20 upside and remaining one of the last receivers on draft boards that could finish as a top-12 guy.
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