It’s a Bears bye week, and I have no weekly preview to do, and no Bears Rewind to tackle, so I’m sitting here jamming out to Taylor Swift’s version of ‘Red’ this afternoon, and it’s fantastic, in case you haven’t checked it out yet. While we’re on the topic of fantastic things, it’s probably a good time to talk about how good Darnell Mooney has been lately.
Since (and including) the Bears Week 4 victory over the Detroit Lions, the former Tulane wideout has hauled in 24 catches for 349 yards and a pair of touchdowns over his last six games. His 349 receiving yards on 24 receptions are good for 14.5 yards per catch over that stretch. For comparison, Henry Ruggs III leads the NFL in yards per reception at 19.5 this season.
Mooney’s numbers over the last six weeks are good for a 17-game pace of 68 catches, 986 yards, and five touchdowns, and his 349 yards since Week 4 are ten more yards and six fewer catches than Allen Robinson has logged all season.
I’ve been a Darnell Mooney fan since the Bears took the speedy wideout out of Tulane in the fifth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. Coming out of college, he was dubbed an explosive receiver who can play either outside or in the slot, possessing a dynamic ability to get in and out of breaks with tremendous speed. Mooney’s speed and athleticism allow him to create separation, not only downfield but in all areas of the field.
This highlight package by Ryder McConville shows all of the above and more. Great release, dynamic speed, the ability to create separation at all levels, the ability to go up and get the ball over defenders, etc. It’s all there.
Darnell Mooney, WR, Tulane-
– Electrifying speed
– Big time play-maker
– Stacks DB's vertically
– Body Control/Adjusting
– Sudden Release/Route breaks
– Tracking/Contested catches
– Acceleration after catch
– YAC ability#NFLDraft #RollWave pic.twitter.com/jiEa7HAGYr
— Ryder McConville (@RyderM25) April 14, 2020
Frankly, the only valid dig on Mooney coming out of college was his size. He caught 154 passes and averaged 16.7 yards per catch at Tulane while leading the Green Wave in receiving in 2018 and 2019. How his size would translate to the NFL was a valid concern. Still, Mooney has quieted those concerns in his first season-plus in the NFL, showcasing his explosive traits in small sample sizes for the most part, but the last six weeks have been pretty consistent for Mooney, making him look like a late-round steal for the Bears.
Mooney caught 61 balls for 631 yards and six touchdowns in nine games for the Bears as a rookie in 2020 (with Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles as his quarterbacks). With Justin Fields under center, for most of this season, Mooney has 36 catches for 450 yards and two touchdowns. Fields and Mooney look to be a dynamic duo in the making for the Bears, with the two looking lock-step on many of Justin Fields’ most impressive completions this season. After Fields hit Mooney five times for 125 yards in the Week 4 win over Detroit, Fields talked about how he and Mooney are staying after practice to work on their familiarity with each other.
“Me and Mooney, we stay almost every day after practice to throw at least a few extra routes,” Fields said. “So me and him are pretty much always on the same page.”
On Monday night’s Monday Night Football broadcast, Louis Riddick noted that Fields said Mooney was the guy working out with him at the end of practice during training camp, which had helped build a bond that couldn’t come when reps weren’t there this summer. On Monday night, Fields and Mooney connected for a go-ahead touchdown strike with 1:46 to play in the game. This play was more important than the score itself in what would eventually end in a losing effort for the Bears.
FIELDS TO MOONEY. #DaBears
— NFL (@NFL) November 9, 2021
As Next Gen Stats illustrates below, this throw and catch was absolute perfection. Mooney had 1.9 yards of space between the catch point and the sideline at the time of the catch, and just 1.1 yards of separation on the cornerback, all of which he gained between his move outside at the five-yard line and the catch point in the endzone, which was about five yards deep.
This play features Mooney’s ability to create space in the intermediate passing game, dynamic speed, and catch ability. More importantly, it highlights the synergy between him and Fields. Everything had to be on just right for that touchdown to happen, and it was. Cash. Money. Mooney.
Justin Fields & Darnell Mooney (16-yard TD)
Completion Probability: 28.4%
🔸 QB Speed at Throw: 14.40 MPH
🔸 Target Separation: 1.1 yards
🔸 Sideline Distance: 1.9 yards
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 9, 2021
With Darnell Mooney out-producing Allen Robinson in catches, yards, and touchdowns (all with only nine more targets than Robinson), and Robinson’s looming free agency right around the corner once again, it’s fair to wonder whether or not Darnell Mooney is primed to be Justin Fields’ and the Bears’ No. 1 receiving option in 2022. It’s probably more realistic to assume as much at this point.
If the Bears want to place the franchise tag on Robinson for the second straight year to keep him here in 2022, they would have to pay him 120 percent of his previous salary ($17,880,000), which comes out to $21,456,000. A team in salary cap hell paying a wide receiver $21.4 million seems absurd considering that only two wide receivers (DeAndre Hopkins and Julio Jones) currently have an AAV greater than that number. Allen Robinson is a great receiver, but he’s no DeAndre Hopkins, and Julio Jones’ contract is an albatross that’s paying him for past performance and loyalty rather than what he’s worth today.
But, that’s quite alright. The Bears have Darnell Mooney to assume the top spot in the wide receiver’s room at Halas Hall when Robinson departs, and they have plenty of other needs to address with the $21.4 million they would have had to pay Robinson.
When The Bears drafted Mooney, he knew that he would make people regret passing on him: “Just know that as soon as I get in, I’m going to make a lot of noise,” Mooney told reporters after the Bears selected him with the 173rd overall pick in the 2020 NFL Draft.
Mooney has indeed made a lot of noise since getting into the Bears lineup, and his arrow is pointing directly up at this point, especially with his budding connection with Justin Fields.