September 30, 2022

Bears Analysis

Top 25 most important Bears in 2022: No. 5 Darnell Mooney

Chicago Bears wide receiver Darnell Mooney runs up field after catching a pass during the first half against the Minnesota Vikings, Sunday, Jan. 9, 2022, in Minneapolis.

Shaw Local is counting down the top 25 most important Bears for the 2022 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?

For example, Justin Fields might not be the best player on the Bears in 2022 (or maybe he will be), but he certainly is among the most important.

No. 5 Darnell Mooney

Position: Wide receiver

NFL experience: Third season

Last year’s ranking: No. 15

Looking back: Coming off back-to-back 1,000-yard receiving seasons, Allen Robinson was poised to once again be the top receiver in Matt Nagy’s offense in 2021. But when the Bears made the switch midseason to rookie quarterback Justin Fields, any rhythm the offense had the first few weeks disappeared. Fields had essentially zero reps with the first-team offense during training camp. When they threw him into the fire, the only receiver he seemed to have a connection with was Darnell Mooney. Robinson’s production dipped dramatically last season. Instead, Mooney emerged as the No. 1 target.

In his second pro season, Mooney totaled 81 receptions for 1,055 yards and four touchdowns. He became Fields’ outlet and most trusted pass catcher. After the season, he spent time with Fields in Atlanta working on their connection before they even knew what the 2022 offense might look like. The 2020 fifth-round draft pick had his best season yet as a sophomore, and expectations are sky high in 2022.

Looking forward: Under new general manager Ryan Poles, the Bears overhauled the wide receiver position. Mooney now is the only significant contributor who returns from last season. With new offensive coordinator Luke Getsy taking the reins and installing a Kyle Shanahan-style offense, the Bears likely will be a lot more run-heavy in 2022. That will be a monumental shift from what the team ran under Nagy. Mooney might not reach 1,000 yards again this season, but he should remain the top target at receiver even if the offense looks different.

The Bears need Mooney to be healthy and at the top of his game. Poles needs to determine if Fields is the quarterback of the future or if he need to take a long, hard look at QBs in the draft. Fields needs talented receivers around him to make such a determination possible. Mooney will be a key part of the puzzle for this passing attack. The Bears took a lot of fliers in free agency at the receiver position. Mooney is the only sure thing right now.

In case you missed it: Previous installments of the top 25

Sean Hammond

Sean Hammond

Sean is the Chicago Bears beat reporter for Shaw Media. He also contributes to high school football coverage at Friday Night Drive. Sean has covered various sports at the amateur, college and professional levels since 2012. He joined Shaw Media in 2016.