Bears News: Eberflus says Mooney
Mike Dinovo - USA Today Sports

Bears News: Eberflus says Mooney "working his tail off" for 2023 season

by - Senior Writer -

Four years ago, when Ryan Pace elected to draft receiver Darnell Mooney in the fifth round, it was a risky move but filled with a ton of upside. The 5-11 173 pounder out of Tulane wasn't viewed as a No. 1 WR but a pure speedster who was supposed to slide into the slot position.

You saw a lot of that as a rookie, but as the season went on, he started to assert himself as the team's legitimate No. 2 WR, finishing with 631 yards and four scores. By the time he entered his second season in Chicago, Mooney was the No. 2 WR on the roster. Still, with Allen Robinson going downhill in 2021, Mooney quickly became the team No. 1 as Justin Fields formed an instant connection with him, seeing him finish with just under 1100 yards and four scores.

2022 was supposed to be a breakout year for Mooney as he came into camp as the No. 1, had a connection with Fields, and was coming off a massive second season. Instead, Mooney struggled to find his footing and finished with just 493 yards and two scores. Granted, an injury cut his season short, but before the injury, he still wasn't living up to what everyone expected.

Now that he has had time to recover and wipe away the nightmare that was 2022, Mooney is coming into camp with a fresh mindset, as the 2023 season will soon be starting.

“Yeah, I can just say this, that Darnell is working his tail off and he’s right on track,” Eberflus said. “He’s right on track, and we anticipate him going as soon as possible. He’s going to have a great summer, and he’s really amped up for that summer to get ready for training camp, so we’ll see where it is, and barring any setbacks, he’ll be ready.”

However, what role can the Bears expect from Mooney this season, especially after making the moves they made last year?

We do know that Mooney will not be the No. 1 WR this season, as DJ Moore has that spot locked down. According to most reports out of Chicago, Moore has not only formed a great connection with Fields thus far, but he has been impressive. Some have said he is the best WR Chicago has ever had, which isn't saying much, but he hasn't played a game yet.

Moore can reach 1300 yards this season if Fields continues to improve as a passer. That is something the Bears offense desperately needs, which will help take the Bears to the next level. With the No. 1 WR accounted for, could Mooney slide back to the No. 2, where he had his most successful season?

That seems logical, but with Chase Claypool getting an entire offseason under his belt, he has the inside edge on the No. 2 spot. Claypool was a 1000-yard WR during his tenure in Pittsburgh and struggled immensely when he arrived in Chicago. Much of that involved learning a new playbook and struggling to carve out his role with the Bears, but that doesn't appear to be an issue this season.

Claypool has said he is in a much better place this season than last and is comfortable with the playbook and Justin Fields as a player. He has the talent to reach 1000 yards himself, and if the Bears could have two 1000-yard WRs, it would give them something they last had in 2014. With the outside spots accounted for, it does appear that Mooney will be moving back to the slot position this season, but that may be a good thing.

Mooney lacks the overall size you look for in a No. 1 WR but has the breakaway speed to make things happen. His overall size is perfect for a slot WR, and he has proven to put up good numbers when he is called upon. Moving him to the slot will make his numbers less impressive than his first two seasons, but even if he gets you 600-700 yards with five scores, it would be considered a good year.

Mooney needs to be healthy for the Bears offense to take the next step as a unit, and he is healthy as we head towards camp. There is a lot of potential on the offensive side of the ball, and, realistically, three guys could reach 1000 yards receiving, Mooney included. Look for similar numbers to his rookie season if he does move to the slot, but that will only help Fields and this offense reach new heights in 2023.

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