Darnell Mooney thrives, Anthony Miller slides as Bears GM Ryan Pace drafts erratically on offense

Pace’s skill-player picks have been hit-and-miss, but he has reached a point where he can’t afford any more misses.

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Darnell Mooney had 11 catches for 93 yards in the regular-season finale against the Packers.

Darnell Mooney had 11 catches for 93 yards in the regular-season finale against the Packers.

Nam Y. Huh/AP

It’s an interesting week for Anthony Miller and Darnell Mooney, wide receivers at opposite ends of the spectrum among Bears general manager Ryan Pace’s 39 picks in the last six drafts.

As the team gave Mooney the Brian Piccolo Award for exemplary work as a rookie Tuesday, it likely continued looking for a way to offload Miller. His exit has been expected after his latest underwhelming season ended with an ejection from a playoff game. Miller is a world-class athlete, but three seasons of being undisciplined and unreliable are enough.

It took Mooney little time to show the Bears that he could do everything Miller couldn’t — or wouldn’t. Mooney started getting more snaps than Miller in Week 2, ultimately was in on 73% of the plays vs. Miller’s 55% and outperformed him in every statistical category.

It’s obvious every time Mooney talks that Pace absolutely nailed it on an undersized wide receiver out of Tulane with the 173rd overall pick. He was the 25th receiver chosen but finished in the top eight among rookies in catches (61), yards (631) and touchdowns (four).

“It starts before you get here,” Mooney said. “You have to work out by yourself . . . and just be your own person. You don’t have anybody [saying], ‘Hey, wake up. Get here. Get there.’ Just learning that stage before you get here. Then when you get here, you’re able to just play ball.”

Fellow wide receiver Allen Robinson, a guy with the reputation for doing every part of his job the right way, gave Mooney the supreme compliment: “He’s a very professional person.” It’s boring, sure, but it means a lot.

The last time we heard from Miller, by the way, he was casually dismissing a question about a man he would later punch in the helmet. Even after coach Matt Nagy held a team meeting about Saints safety C.J. Gardner-Johnson and showed video of his instigation tactics, Miller couldn’t resist.

That was the tipping point after years of coaches saying publicly that Miller didn’t know the plays. His fellow receivers also recently voted him most likely to be late to practice in a lighthearted moment, though possibly with some truth in the levity, at a charity event.

The results of his approach: three games of 80-plus receiving yards in three seasons.

Now, after Pace traded up to get him at No. 51 overall in 2018 — essentially spending second- and fourth-round picks — the Bears will be fortunate to get a fifth-round pick for him this week.

The contrast between Miller and Mooney illustrates how erratic Pace has been in choosing offensive players.

The first pick he ever made was wide receiver Kevin White at No. 7 in 2015, and he played only 17 career games. Adam Shaheen, a second-round tight end in 2017, caught 38 passes as a Bear.

Conversely, he plucked future 1,000-yard rusher Jordan Howard from the fifth round in 2016, electric rusher/receiver Tarik Cohen in the fourth in 2017 and promising running back David Montgomery in the third in 2019. Mooney could be better than any of them and prove to be the best late-round find of Pace’s career.

It’s fairly common for general managers to have gems and duds on their draft record, but Pace no longer has any margin for error. He’s the architect of a team that went 16-16 the last two seasons and had no salary-cap space to make necessary upgrades.

All that’s left is the draft, and even then, the Bears are armed with only three picks in the top 160. Pace can’t afford to miss in the first three rounds, and he had better be absolutely certain the guys he chooses are closer to Mooney than Miller.

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