Tomorrows Star Today – Darnell Mooney

Sometimes identifying future talent in fantasy football is about looking at trends and trying to be ahead of the curve.   It’s important to also recognise that other dynasty players are often impatient.  Off-season darlings can become unfavoured if they haven’t performed very early on.

This week’s Tomorrow Star Today is a player who was a star for fantasy football down the stretch last season.  This season hasn’t started so well, but there’s definitely a brighter future coming.  Today I’ll be talking about Bears wide receiver, Darnell Mooney.

Who is Darnell Mooney

Mooney played four years at Tulane.  He led the team in yards and receptions in his third and fourth years. Known as a speedster with sharp route-running ability.  Mooney never lit the college football scene alight, but this has a lot to do with playing for a smaller school.  

Mooney was drafted in the 5th round of the 2020 NFL draft.  A lot of this has to do with his size.  Although he ran a 4.38 40 yard dash, showcasing his elite speed, it’s clear teams will have been worried about his frame.  Mooney measured at 5’10 and 178lbs.  This is such a skinny frame that made his outlook in the NFL look risky.  However, watching his film from college, you can see the same player that we see in the NFL today.  Mooney was a clear mismatch against slower coverages, often taking an underneath route to the house from a distance.  He has both elite speed and quickness, with sharpness in his breaks.  He’s always going to struggle against a rangy cornerback, but align him in the slot and you can see he has difference-making ability. 

Mooney finished his rookie year with 61 receptions for 631 yards and 4 touchdowns. This put him fifth in terms of receptions in a stacked rookie wide receiver class.  He finished above first-round receiver Brandon Aiyuk and Jerry Jeudy in catches.  He also finished seventh in yardage amongst rookie wide receivers.  Mooney broke the Bears’ record for most catches by a rookie wide receiver.  Not bad for a receiver drafted in the fifth round.

What’s his outlook for this season

Look, it’s bold to suggest the Bears’ offense has looked anything but terrible so far this year.  Although, it’s worth noting that there have been flashes since Fields has come in as the starter.  Mooney is currently the half PPR WR54.  This season, he’s caught 20 passes for 261 yards.  This puts him ahead of Allen Robinson in terms of catches and yards, although Robinson has caught a touchdown.  

If we want to look for Mooney’s upside this year, we need to look at the game versus the Lions in week four.  Granted, this was against a very subpar defense.  However, Mooney finished with a line of 7 targets, 5 receptions, and 125 yards.  Three of these receptions were over 20 yards.  That’s what Mooney is always a threat to do in fantasy.  He’s a big play weapon who can win you a week with one score.

Mooney is likely a borderline flex for the rest of the season, although he certainly has upside.  If you need to win a week, he’s a good player to throw into your lineup for his high ceiling. 

Why is Darnell Mooney a future star

There are three key factors in which I think Darnell Mooney has the potential to be a star both in the NFL and in fantasy football.  This is beyond the fact that I think he’s a very talented wide receiver.

The first is the development of Justin Fields.  For years, Fields was spoken about as the QB2 behind Trevor Lawrence.  His slip to QB4 was one of the biggest draft stories of the past year.  After an unconvincing start, Fields seems to be finding his feet in Chicago.  One thing we saw in college was how beautiful Fields’ deep ball placement can be.  We saw this again when Chicago played the Lions in week four. Mooney caught three passes of over 20 yards, including a beauty for 64 down the field.  If the connection between the two develops as we’ve seen early flashes, this could be a lethal pairing for fantasy football.

Chicago’s Cap Situation

The second factor here is Allen Robinson’s contract.  Robinson is currently playing on the franchise tag.  All signs point to him leaving Chicago – including the fact that he’s been disappointing to start off the season.  With the Bears’ bonafide WR1 leaving in the offseason, that gives Mooney a heightened upside.  Overthecap projects the Bears around $45m in cap space in 2022.  The Bears have a few players they need to re-sign, such as Bilal Nichols, Akiem Hicks, James Daniels, and a left tackle of some kind.  Without a first-round pick in 2022, this doesn’t give them a lot of space to find an alpha wide receiver.  That could make it Mooney’s time to shine.

Will Matt Nagy remain?

The third and final reason why I think Mooney has a chance to shine going forwards is simple.  The chances are Matt Nagy gets fired this season.  Despite winning coach of the year a few years ago, Nagy has been disappointing.  He’s already given up play-calling duties and showed an inability to develop offensive talent.  If he’s gone, and the Bears bring in someone to work to develop Fields, this can only be a good thing for Mooney and his development.  

Potential cost

Darnell Mooney is a prime buy-low candidate in my eyes.  I believe you could get him right now for a 2022 2nd rounder, as he’s not contributing a huge amount this year.  Or trading another wide receiver who’s playing at a flex level, like Emmanuel Sanders or Hunter Renfrow.  I just bought him in a dynasty league, sending away Miles Sanders for Darnell Mooney and a late 2022 1st.  I’d recommend you do the same.

You can follow Lewis on Twitter @LewisWoodFF_UK and the rest of the team @5YardDynasty.

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