The 2020 class of pass-catchers, headlined by Minnesota Vikings star Justin Jefferson, have already arrived at the foot of their third professional season. Jefferson has quickly become one of the league’s most impressive and dominant young talents, but he isn’t alone. He’s one player from a 2020 group of high-tier perimeter weapons that includes CeeDee Lamb (Dallas Cowboys), Tee Higgins (Cincinnati Bengals), Chase Claypool (Pittsburgh Steelers), and Michael Pittman Jr. (Indianapolis Colts). Chicago Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney, one of the day-three steals of the 2020 NFL Draft, will look to use the 2022 season as his stepping stone to joining that already impressive bunch.
Mooney is a receiver I expect to quickly establish himself as a weapon to gameplan for with quarterback Justin Fields in his second season in Chicago. Mooney wasted little time proving his draft slide was a mistake. He’s totaled 1,686 yards and eight touchdowns over his first two seasons in the league, including a career-high 1,055 yards in 2021. Not bad for a fifth-round pick.
Darnell Mooney holds keys to Bears’ offense
A product of small school Tulane, Mooney’s projection this year is simple: become a go-to target for Fields.
The departure of veteran receiver Allen Robinson in free agency means Mooney’s time has arrived; it’s his wide receivers’ room to captain this fall. And with no significant moves made at the position this offseason, it could be Mooney’s room for a while.
The Bears were expected to invest in a potential game-changing pass-catcher this spring, but without a first-round pick, their options were limited. General Manager Ryan Poles opted to go defense early in the 2022 NFL draft with the selections of cornerback Kyler Gordon and safety Jaquan Brisker In the second round. He added pop on the outside for Fields in the third round with the selection of Senior Bowl standout Velus Jones Jr., but the former Tennessee Volunteer doesn’t move the needle in the passing game right away.
Aside from Jones, the receivers opposite Mooney in the lineup strengthen the argument that a breakout year is coming. The Bears’ depth chart boasts free-agent signings, Byron Pringle and Tajae Sharpe. Dazz Newsome, a day-three pick in 2021, barely played as a rookie. Equanimeous St. Brown? Dante Pettis? It’s a group that won’t keep defensive coordinators up at night. And while first-year head coach Matt Eberflus is in full rebuild mode, allowing Fields to progress means putting the necessary talent around him that can create separation and present open throwing windows for a 17-game slate. That leaves Mooney and his growing rapport with Fields.
Fields is an exciting pocket presence I expect to blossom into one of the league’s top young talents. As he goes, so go the Bears. He’ll rely on Mooney, a wiry talent with the third gear to take the roof off of the defense. He’s much more than a boundary nine-ball threat. He’s an alpha on the perimeter whose oily hips and electric footwork allow him to separate off the line of scrimmage in the blink of an eye.
Mooney holds the keys to the offense in 2022. He has all the tools to become an elite perimeter talent in year three, even if things look bleak for Chicago in the short term.