Leading up to Bears training camp in late July, Shaw Local is counting down the top 25 most important Bears for the 2021 season.
What makes one player more important than another? That’s subjective, of course. But for our purposes it comes down to this: Are the Bears worse off if this player can’t play? Does this player have untapped potential or past greatness to live up to? Is his story going to be one fans follow closely this season?
Justin Fields might not be the best player on the Bears in 2021 (or maybe he will be), but he certainly is among the most important.
No. 15 Darnell Mooney
Position: Wide receiver
NFL experience: Second season
Looking back: The Bears were pleasantly surprised with the production from rookie fifth-round draft pick Darnell Mooney in 2020. He made an immediate impact, setting the team’s rookie reception record with 61 catches and piling up 631 receiving yards and four touchdowns.
The 5-foot-10 receiver has speed and is most dangerous when he catches the ball with space to create. He played his best game in Week 17 against Green Bay, catching 11 passes for 93 yards. An ankle injury suffered in the fourth quarter of that game caused him to miss the wild-card playoff game against New Orleans a week later.
Looking forward: Mooney has cemented a spot in the starting lineup and figures to be the No. 2 option behind Allen Robinson. With Robinson’s long-term future with the team in question, it’s imperative that Mooney continue to show progress. Mooney looked good this spring during OTAs and minicamp and already was building a connection with Andy Dalton and Justin Fields. A rapport with the new quarterbacks is going to be huge for Mooney and all the receivers.
The next step for Mooney, his coaches said, is to gain a better understanding of the offense as a whole – not just his route. Doing so will make him an even more versatile weapon, and will give him a better understanding of when and how to adjust routes. Mooney surprised some defenses as a rookie. Now teams know about him and have seen him on film. How he adjusts to that attention will be key.