What to make of Bears receiver Darnell Mooney's sophomore season

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(670 The Score) It’s hard to get a bead on Bears receiver Darnell Mooney’s sophomore season. The Bears, you’ll remember, have the worst passing offense in football – it’s not exactly an environment ripe with opportunities – and Mooney’s slow start tampered some of the WR1 predictions that were confidently thrust out onto the internet after his rookie season.

“I mean, I think of myself as a guy and I expect a lot of things out of myself,” Mooney told reporters Thursday. “So regardless of what others may think of me or put me in a position or rank me wise, I feel like I’m a top receiver and I believe in myself highly. Nothing to shade away from what I’ve done. I just have a good mindset for myself.”

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There’s plenty to love about Mooney’s production so far. After back-to-back 100-yard performances (a career first), he has officially surpassed his 2020 season total yardage (631) and is on pace for his first ever 1,000-yard season. Only nine other wide receivers in the NFL have a higher percentage of their team’s air yards than Mooney (37%) and at his current receptions per game rate (4.1), he’ll pass his rookie year reception total (61) with two games to spare.

His speed is clearly feared – only five receivers have faced a deeper average cushion than Mooney has this year (7.3 yards). Even with fellow receiver Allen Robinson out lately, it’s hard to look at the 30 targets Mooney got in November and not see someone the Bears think can be their top receiver.

“You can see somebody that continues to challenge himself throughout each week,” coach Matt Nagy said of Mooney earlier this week. “You could see the other game, when he had all those targets and he had five or six catches, he was kinda frustrated about that – that he had a lot of targets and not a lot of catches off of that. But I like that about him because he cares. I think his want to be great is really, really high. We see that, we feel that. He’s always staying after practice, he’s getting extra work in, and that pays off.”

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Then there’s the stuff Mooney hasn’t done so well. The drops are a problem – after only having one in 2020, he has already at five this year, according to Pro Football Reference. He also has the 12th-worst catch percentage (55%) in football, and despite all that world-class speed, Mooney only creates roughly league-average amounts of separation (though Robinson’s similarly poor separation numbers make you wonder who’s really at fault for that ... or maybe you’re not really wondering at this point.)

The two straight 100-yard games that Mooney has had are great in the sense that it helped distract everyone from the fact that he only had one in his previous nine games. He wouldn’t be the first young NFL player to have trouble finding consistency, and Bears fans should be more than used to saying "progress isn’t linear" by now. Even if those same fans are starting to lose confidence in Mooney's future as a WR1, they should take some solace in the fact that he himself has more than enough to go around.

“A lot of confidence,” he said. “Like I said with anything, confidence is everything. If you don't have confidence to do anything, you're not going to do well at your job. Confidence is the main deal."

Cam Ellis is a writer for 670 The Score and Audacy Sports. Follow him on Twitter @KingsleyEllis.