Darnell Mooney is on a Rocket Ship to the Moon

September 9, 2021

Dylan Powell

Darnell Mooney is another player that I've been really excited about ever since he entered the league. I stashed him everywhere in dynasty last season and now those positions have started to gain a ton of value. With an ADP on Underdog Fantasy right now of 92.1, Mooney is also a player I'm targeting like crazy in the eighth round of best ball drafts on Underdog Fantasy. Because of this excitement and my continuously building investment in Mooney across fantasy formats, I figured he would be a great player to write up next. Let's get after it!

Darnell Mooney in College

Mooney played four years at Tulane where he put up some pretty uninspiring statistics. He finished his career with 154 catches (on 284 targets / 1,132 routes) for 2,579 yards and 19 TDs across 46 games. That's 3.3 catches, 6.2 targets, 56 yards, and 0.41 TDs per game. His 23 dropped passes led him to achieving a pedestrian 54.2% catch rate over the 4 years.

Despite the relatively disappointing counting stats, Mooney did commanded a solid share of the offense's targets from day one, and he actually lead Tulane in most receiving stats during his Junior and Senior seasons. As a freshman he amassed an absurd 33.5% target share (small sample bias here) before settling into a respectable and consistent 24-25% each year after that.

Metric 2016 2017 2018 2019
Routes Run 164 271 335 362
Targets 52 61 83 88
Tgt Rate % 33.5 24.0 24.8 24.3

Darnell Mooney as an NFL Draft Prospect

Across the NFL, scouts and analysts were excited by Mooney's speed and athleticism (which showed up in his testing at the NFL Combine), but they were turned off by his route running and poor hands.

Two quotes from Mooney's NFL prospect bio by Lance Zierlein at NFL.com:

"Limber and explosive, he has the makings of a mismatch slot with the ability to stretch and attack speed-deficient coverages. It's easy to criticize Mooney for frequency of drops during his time at Tulane, but he took short throws and turned them into touchdowns of 86, 79 and 55 yards in 2018. He's sudden underneath and should fit right in as a slot, but he won't be able to outrun NFL coverage and needs to tighten up the routes. He definitely has a puncher's shot at finding an NFL home, but the slender frame and inability to help on special teams are big challenges to overcome."

"Like the big plays athletic talent, hate the size and the hands." -- Personnel executive for NFC team

Oh man, they were either half right, or they lit a fire inside Mooney that sent him on a mission to prove them wrong in the next section of this article.

Darnell Mooney's first season in the NFL (2020)

To say that Mooney's first season in the NFL was a success would be an understatement. He was the 2nd leading receiver on the Bears (to Allen Robinson, of course) with 61 catches for 631 yards and 4 TDs. Those 61 catches were the most all time by a Bears rookie WR, the fourth most receptions ever by a rookie drafted in the fifth round or later, and the most since Tyreek Hill also had 61 catches in his rookie season.

Despite the success, the Bear's notoriously bad quarterback play forced Mooney to leave A LOT more production on the table. According to PFF, he was tied for 15th in the NFL with 23 deep targets (20+ yards downfield), but tied for 58th with only 4 deep receptions. As outlined by Nate Jahnke in his recent article at PFF, only 7 of Mooney's 23 deep targets were deemed catchable. I repeat, 16 of Mooney's 23 downfield targets were uncatchable.

Seriously. Check out this quick Darnell Mooney being Overthrown Compilation by Zing Highlights on YouTube. Then Imagine Justin Fields throwing those footballs instead of Mitch Trubisky. Sheesh!

Mooney's rookie season had some highs (catching multiple passes in every game) and plenty of lows (poor PFF grade, only catching 4 out of 23 deep balls). But the season ended on an emphatical high when Mooney caught 11 passes for 93 yards on 13 targets and only 27 routes run. That week 17 was Mooney's highest graded game on the entire season, and was a clear exclamation point on promising rookie season.

Darnell Mooney entering year 2

Now we get to the 2021 offseason, where Darnell Mooney has generated a ton of hype. There have been many reports out of Bears' camp about Mooney's development, notably Matt Nagy quoting that Mooney's route running is on fire and that Mooney reminds him of Tyreek Hill.

Nagy also commented this offseason on Mooney's work ethic, dedication, and soaking up mentorship from Allen Robinson:

“He’s proven us so far, to be what we thought he was,” Nagy said. “Because he works hard and the other thing is, A-Rob is his mentor. A-Rob’s teaching him a lot of stuff. That’s to his credit for latching onto him and now he’s putting it out there on tape and it’s just it’s fun to see. And he wants to keep growing.”

Coachspeak and Bears reporters are one thing, but my eyes opened and ears perked up when the best in the world at evaluating the WR position - Matt Harmon from Reception Perception - highlighted Mooney's sleeper appeal in this YouTube video back in July. In Mooney's Player Profile at Reception Perception, Matt identified that Mooney's "speed, separation ability, and stunning toughness for his size (reflected in his contested catch rate and in space data) are excellent signals for the start of his career".

Check out Matt's profile on Darnell Mooney at Reception Perception.

Back in May, Mooney's ADP on Underdog Fantasy was pick 120. At the end of July it was 102. Today, it's sitting at 93.

The rocket ship has begun it's lift off ladies and gentlemen, and very soon we may see Darnell Mooney rise up to join Tyreek Hill at the top of draft boards or maybe even blow right past him and go all the way to the moon.

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