The Darnell Mooney Dilemma: Is he a True Wide Receiver One?

As we are about to head into the off-season many eyes are on the Chicago Bears cap space. Sitting comfortably at $98,638,266, the Bears have nearly double the cap of any other Franchise. While many fans have called on Chicago to get offensive weapons for Justin Fields to work with, it has brought up a good debate. Darnell Mooney currently rests at the top of the Bears receiving core. Will that change and is it deserving?

What the Numbers Tell Us
One year removed from his breakout 1,000 yard season, Mooney started poorly in his 2022 campaign. It is quite easy to make the excuse that Mooney was plagued with injury, missing ⅓ of the 2022 regular season. However in a closer glance you will notice that his per game averages also dropped off. Showing a decrease in yards per touch as well as yards/receptions per game. Despite the small sample size you will notice Darnell Mooney racked up the second lowest yards per touch of any Bear receiver besides claypool. Don’t get me wrong, Mooney has an amazing deep threat ability but needs to utilize his route running toolshed. With that being in mind, I personally believe Mooney would flourish more as a secondary receiver. In the near future I’d hope to see Mooney as a Hollywood Brown to someone’s Deandre Hopkins if you are catching my drift.

What Options do the Bears Have?
Mentioned earlier, Chicago has an immense amount of cap space to work with, leaving stars and long shots on the table for the Bears to acquire. Now there has been some speculation over potential trades for household names such as Deandre Hopkins or Davante Adams. Without jumping the gun on the trade radar, I’d like to focus more on the free agents available at hand.

Jakobi Meyers
Out of all the wide receivers available in free agency I find Jakobi Meyers to be one of the strongest route runners. Brad Speilberger of PFF remarked that Jakobi Meyers’ best assets are his sharp routes and hands. As a parallel to Mooney, Jakobi has great short reception ability and was able to catch nearly 70% of his targets last year. While obviously being remembered for his blunder in week 15 versus the raiders, people often overlook his abilities as a receiver. Pairing Meyers with Mooney creates a short/deep combination for Justin Fields to find more throwing areas down the field.

Allen Lazard
Allen Lazard is a player that I truly believe needs to be paired with Mooney. Lazard has been commonly praised for his efficient route running, averaging nearly 2 yards per route run. Now that may not seem like much but that includes every play that he did not get the ball. Coming off this season Lazard demonstrated his ability to find that first down marker, with 45 first downs on only 60 receptions. That makes out an astonishing first down conversion per catch rate of 75%. With the ability to push the ball effectively down the field for his team I would find him vital for Justin Fields options to hit the short slants and out routes.

JuJu Smith-Schuster
This selection is certainly off course from the rest of my picks as JuJu is not a solidified route runner. However, JuJu is a very competitive receiver and has the ability to make contested catches with ease. Schuster is complemented by his strength and hands which helped him boast a near 80% catch rate last season. Schuster also was able to rack up 58.3 yards per game on only 4.9 receptions making him quite efficient on short routes. Despite his lack of getting separation, his ability to make catches inside the numbers while facing pressure are remarkable. While Schuster certainly is not my first choice for the Bears to dump their payroll on, I doubt he would make a negative impact on the playcalling.
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