Darnell Mooney had the best season of his career in 2021, going over 1,000 yards. The latest milestone should’ve had people talking about him as a possible rising star. Instead, it feels as if many are brushing it off as a fluke. Sure Mooney had some impressive moments, but that success was less about his own ability and more about the presence of another. Namely Allen Robinson. With the former Chicago Bears receiver demanding so much attention from defenses, it was easy for Mooney to run free.
With Robinson gone to Los Angeles, one has to imagine defenses will start devoting more coverage his way. One would think he’d be defiant or even a little daunted by that prospect. Not Mooney. He saw it from a different perspective. As he told the Gadsden Times, it isn’t about him. If defenses are desperate enough to roll double-teams his way, then all the better. It means their coverage will be spread thin everywhere else.
“I’m ready for whatever anybody brings to me. I’m ready for any task, any type of defense that we’re seeing, whatever it is, anyway, I can help the team. You know, if I get double-teamed, I’ll be a decoy for the team so everybody else can be open. I mean, I’m good with that. Any way I can help win.”
This serves as a reminder of Mooney the person.
He wants to play well as any self-respecting athlete should. At the same time, he knows football is a team sport. It is 11 guys working together to accomplish the same goal. If he’s drawing that much coverage by himself, others like Byron Pringle, Velus Jones, and Cole Kmet will be in one-on-one matchups themselves. All it takes is for one of them to beat their guy, and it results in a positive play for the Bears.
Considering how much speed guys like Pringle and Jones have, it shouldn’t be an insurmountable challenge to accomplish such a task. Then when defenses are forced to shift their focus elsewhere, Mooney can resume doing what he did last year by torching defensive backs unprepared for his mixture of speed and route-running.
Darnell Mooney has a chance to do something special.
The Bears’ all-time receiving record is 5,059 yards set back Johnny Morris in the 1960s. Multiple players like Curtis Conway, Marty Booker, and Alshon Jeffery have made runs at it in recent years. None of them were able to crack that mark. Mooney is in a great position to do that. He is only 1,130 yards away from reaching the top 20 in team history this season. If his current trajectory holds, he may hold the record before his 28th birthday.
Those expectations could be accelerated even further if Justin Fields takes a big step forward in his development. Quarterback problems bedeviled all those other receivers. Fields is the most talented the franchise has had maybe ever, and there were flashes last season that he could become something special. It didn’t hurt that he also showed a strong connection with Darnell Mooney.
This is why it’s so easy to cheer for the guy.
He may or may not reach the level of a superstar in the NFL, but he’s already a good player. Yet rather than let that go to his head, his sole focus remains on what he can do for the team. Mooney has yet to experience a winning season in his career and his only taste of the playoffs was that ugly visit to New Orleans as a rookie. That won’t suffice for his expectations.
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