Darnell Mooney went far beyond setting a Bears rookie wide receiver record with 61 receptions last year.
After all, the Bears aren’t exactly known as a team with a proud passing history so those 61 catches might cause only a few turned heads.
However, there hasn’t been a receiver taken as late in the draft as Mooney (173rd) who caught more passes as a rookie since Saints seventh-round pick Marques Colston made 70 in 2006. There have been other receivers taken later who blossomed into standouts, like Antonio Brown and Julian Edelman, but none had more rookie receptions than Mooney since Colston.
Mooney did this with his no-nonsense approach, working on his craft constantly and using his route-running skills, good hands and sub-4.4-second speed for the 40. And he did it despite no OTAs, no minicamp and no preseason.
As a result, Mooney set himself up for even bigger numbers in 2021.
At least the evidence suggests this much. Most receivers who catch passes will increase their totals from Year 1 to Year 2, barring injury. So those with fantasy football interest in Mooney, or fans hoping for more from the former Tulane pass catcher, can anticipate something greater than a sophomore slump.
Receivers drafted in 2019 averaged 7.1 more catches in 2020 than in their rookie year. Three-quarters of those drafted caught more passes in their second year, according to Pro Football Reference.
Numbers from most seasons go along these lines. Those drafted in 2018 averaged 10.3 more receptions in their second year, although the percentage to catch more passes overall was smaller at 57%.
Bears receivers have followed this trend, with both Anthony Miller and Javon Wims increasing their reception totals in their second year, while Riley Ridley did not.
Numerous factors can affect receiving totals, chief among them the quarterback. That’s what makes Mooney’s totals last year all the more impressive.
He did it despite two quarterback changes and almost an equal split between the passers in attempts, with Nick Foles throwing it 312 times and Mitchell Trubisky 297.
He also did it through two distinctly different style quarterbacks, one more able to move out of the pocket and make throws outside the playbook and one classical pocket passer.
“I feel like, I mean, there’s always things thrown at you,” Mooney said. “You just have to take it on. It doesn’t matter really what it is. You can’t control everything.
“Anything in your ability that you can control, just use that. It was a different year but next year is going to be an even more different year. You never know what you have the ability to control.”
Mooney’s adaptability bodes well for this year because the Bears plan is to actually have a quarterback switch at some point, between Andy Dalton and Justin Fields.
It’s always possible Dalton would play so well they wouldn’t make a change, but highly unlikely. And the contrast in styles between Dalton and Fields is going to be very similar to what the receivers adjusted to last year, with Fields the mobile passer and Dalton throwing from the pocket.
Mooney actually made more rookie receptions than any rookie wide receivers from the 2018 and 2019 draft classes except for Atlanta’s Calvin Ridley, who beat him by three (64). In fact, only five wide receivers caught more passes as rookies in the last three seasons than Mooney, and four were this past season: Chase Claypool (62), Tee Higgins (67), Justin Jefferson (88) and CeeDee Lamb (74).
So Mooney’s goal coming into the 2021 season is to erase the word potential associated with his name and make it so his production is discussed as a given.
“You know, I think a lot of people have told him what his potential is, how he can accomplish this and accomplish that,” receivers coach Mike Furrey said. “And I think right now it’s going to be just erasing the potential and really just becoming obviously what he can become.
“And obviously, with his mindset, maturity, his discipline, who he is as a person, it’s going to be fun to watch him from year one to year two.”
Darnell Mooney at a Glance
Career: Second season, 61 receptions, 98 targets, 631 yards, 4 TDs.
Key Number: 16. It’s Mooney’s streak of consecutive games with catches. He had at least two receptions against every opponent.
2021 Projection: 64 receptions, 102 targets, 750 yards, 5 TDs.
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