Bears WR Darnell Mooney knows you don’t believe in him, but ‘I will get my respect’
New season, same story for Mooney. The doubts have been mountainous since high school, but he’s undaunted as he becomes the Bears’ No. 1 receiver.
Darnell Mooney knows nobody thinks he can handle this.
He has heard it all offseason and got another reminder after practice Thursday, when a reporter asked him about being the Bears’ “apparent” No. 1 wide receiver. He didn’t wince at the phrasing. It’s more of the same.
Mooney was lightly regarded as a two-star prospect in high school and ended up at Tulane, which led him to waiting until the fifth round to get drafted in 2020. His own team took two other players in that round before claiming him at No. 173 overall, 25th at his position.
He has only skyrocketed since then, culminating in a 1,055-yard performance last season, but he’s well aware that everyone remains unconvinced. He even seems somewhat comfortable being doubted, for now.
“I know what I want out of my life, and I know what I want out of this league,” he said of his mindset heading into his third season. “I will get my respect, and I’m going to keep going until I get my respect.
“Even when I do get my respect, I’m still going to keep going.”
Quarterback Justin Fields desperately needs Mooney to take another big step forward as he takes the lead in a wide receiver room that isn’t grabbing anyone’s attention.
Allen Robinson left for big money and big glory with the defending champion Rams, and general manager Ryan Poles’ free-agent signings were Byron Pringle (67 career catches) and Equanimeous St. Brown (37). The draft is next week, but with the Bears’ first picks coming in the second round at Nos. 39 and 48, it’ll be difficult to land an instant star.
So Mooney needs to be the star.
He has been building chemistry with Fields since the Bears drafted the QB a year ago, and that was evident in their limited time on the field last season. They trained together in Atlanta last month, and without much insight into the offensive scheme at that point, they worked on the details of their connection.
Mooney is as deeply engrossed in those details as he was when he arrived at Halas Hall as an upstart two years ago. The biggest reason he overtook Anthony Miller so quickly then was because he was so precise in his mastery of the offense. Miller might’ve been more talented, but Mooney was always in the right spot. He’s still that way.
Now he gets a prime opportunity to take over the room at 24. He has accomplished enough in his young career to earn a shot at being the primary option in the passing attack, but his earnestness hasn’t faded.
He obviously thinks he’s due more respect than he’s getting but still sees a long way to climb.
Mooney looks at an elite receiver such as the Rams’ Cooper Kupp, for example, and is realistic enough to accept that he has a long way to go. He has devoted his offseason to improving his conditioning in part because he marveled at Kupp getting seven targets in the final minutes of the Super Bowl and still having the gas to go up for the game-winning touchdown catch.
“He was dead-tired, but you couldn’t see that he was tired at all,” Mooney said. “Me being able to do that and be consistent with that [is important]. And maybe the targets are going up even more this year, so I have to be able to take that on and just not be tired.”
That’s going to be an essential part of him stepping up as a true No. 1 wide receiver, which is important for the Bears regardless of this likely being a transition season while they make plans for 2023 and beyond. They need Fields to push the offense forward, and it’s almost impossible to envision him doing that without a huge contribution from Mooney.