Bears coach Matt Nagy watched rookie wide receiver Darnell Mooney zip all over the field in preseason practices, but he was cautious about turning him loose in a game.
After seeing how he played in the opener Sunday against the Lions, Nagy is ready to expand his role heading into the upcoming home game against the Giants. Mooney was on the field for just 21 plays (32% of the snaps), but caught all three of his targets for 38 yards — a pair of 19-yard gains and one that stopped at the line of scrimmage.
“The lights were not too bright for him, not at all,” Nagy said. “You saw his first catch, right over the middle... He caught the ball, went to his knees and had enough recognition to get back up and try to run. You saw the moves he made on his second catch on the left on the spin route.”
Mooney, a fifth-round pick from Tulane, was a relative afterthought in the draft. The Bears took two other players in the fifth round, pass rusher Trevis Gipson and cornerback Kindle Vildor, before they got to Mooney at 173rd overall. He was the 25th wide receiver picked.
But his upside was compelling. He put up 1,706 yards (17.8 per catch) over his final two seasons of college and clocked a lightning-fast 4.38 in the 40-yard dash at the combine. During the draft, Nagy compared his skillset to Chiefs star Tyreek Hill’s.
More opportunities for Mooney could come at the expense of veteran Ted Ginn, who played 43% of the snaps but had just one target. If Mooney is more effective, he’ll get those plays, and it sounds like Nagy is already leaning that direction.
“It was very encouraging to see where he’s at,” he said of Mooney. “We were just trying to get a feel as to how much he can handle... Without giving you a number, we were really impressed with how he played and I think you’re going to definitely see more of him.”