Are a lot of people glossing over what Darnell Mooney accomplished in 2020? It feels like they are. They haven’t really take a second to understand what the young receiver did is actually kind of amazing. Think about it. Here is a kid drafted in the 5th round out of Tulane. He is considered undersized at 5’11 and also thinner than ideal at 174 lbs. His lone selling point appeared to be his trademark speed. Not much else.
He comes to the Chicago Bears during a pandemic-ravaged offseason. So no Organized Team Activities, no rookie or mandatory minicamps, and no preseason to help prepare him. Then despite having to catch passes from two different quarterbacks, both of whom weren’t all that good, he sets the franchise record for receptions by a rookie with 61. A record that stood for 66 years. His 631 yards were also the second-best total on the entire team behind only Allen Robinson.
It was such a shame he didn’t get a chance to play in the playoffs.
Especially considering he’d posted 69 yards and a touchdown against the New Orleans Saints in their previous meeting. Maybe getting a chance to play on that stage would’ve gotten more people clued into how good this kid is and could end up being. The details go even deeper than that. When evaluating his Next Gen stats on NFL.com, a couple of things really jumped out.
Mooney averaged 3.2 yards of separation on his routes. For an idea, that is the same as Cooper Kupp, Jarvis Landry, and Davante Adams. Some of the best wide receivers in the game. His 7.6 yards of cushion given by defenses was the highest in the NFL, beating out Baltimore Ravens speedster Marquise Brown and more celebrated 2020 draft pick Henry Ruggs. Both of them played with better quarterbacks. How much better would it have been had the Bears not missed so many opportunities down the field when he was open?
Darnell Mooney is a good QB away from exploding
Is that being a little too presumptuous? Maybe. It wouldn’t be the first time a young receiver had a promising rookie year only to disappoint. Looking at you Anthony Miller. However, all the signs are there for Mooney. His obvious talent, his insatiable work ethic, and the fact he overcame difficult circumstances to thrive. If he has a QB who can actually get him the football down the field? The sky is the limit.
This is a big reason why the Bears were so aggressive in overhauling that position this offseason. Could Andy Dalton be the guy? Honestly no. The former three-time Pro Bowler has had some nice seasons in his career, but he’s never been known for his deep accuracy. Last season with the Dallas Cowboys was no exception. His completed air yards per pass attempt in 2020 was 3.4. That was 27th among quarterbacks with at least 300 attempts last season. Not great. No, Darnell Mooney wants the other guy.
The 11th overall pick did many things well in two years at Ohio State. One that never got enough credit was his deep accuracy. In terms of passing yardage percentage before and after the catch? Fields got 70% of his before. That meant he was throwing the ball down the field a lot and hitting his receivers for big gains a lot. This is the connection people should be wanting to see in the coming months. If the rookie is as advertised? Then Mooney is about to become a bigger problem than he already is.