Last year, the Razzbois got together in our group chat and looked closely at a bunch of wide receiver sleepers that we thought would be productive, and we hit on a bunch of them: Corey Davis, Cole Beasley, and Russell Gage were my sleeper targets in my DataForce Charity team, the focus of my how to win an industry fantasy football tournament article. By knowing who I was going to target late in the draft, it opened me up to take upside targets earlier in the draft. It’s absolutely WAY too early to get excited about wide receiver sleepers for 2021, but if we can get some players on your radar before your competition realizes it, then you’re ahead of the game. So, let’s take a look at Darnell Mooney, who might be the kind of guy you want to target for deep leagues or a FLEX receiver in a 12-team league.
There are those players who jump out at you in their metrics and scream “breakout.” Then, there are those players who have talent and opportunity, and you put those factors together, and you can see that the chance that they outperform their projections are better than average. Mooney is in that later category: he’s fast, he goes deep, and when given the opportunity, he caught the ball. Problem was, the disastrous quarterback play from the Chicago Bears left him with more missed opportunities than made opportunities.
Mooney spent his collegiate career at Tulane, where he lead the team in receiving yards in his junior and senior years. At the 2020 NFL Combine, his 4.38 40-yard dash put him in the 96th percentile of participants. However at 5’10” and 176 lbs, he was undersized for most NFL coach preferences, and ultimately went in the 5th round to the Chicago Bears. To recap for those of you who don’t Stan the NFC North, the Bears found themselves starting 5-1 before entering a QB battle and dropping 6 in a row. Rumors swirled that star wide receiver Allen Robinson wanted out of Chicago (he then got a contract extension), and running back Tarik Cohen was knocked out early in the season with an ACL injury. In other words, the Bears had one of the more tumultuous .500 records in the league.
In the middle of all of this, rookie wide receiver Darnell Mooney quietly collected the second most targets on the team (98), which was nearly 25% more looks than third year receiver Anthony Miller. Stunningly, Mooney started only 9 games for the Bears and saw snap shares topping 70% only after Week 7. Most fantasy managers won’t get excited by a receiver who put up 61 receptions, 631 yards, and 4 TDs. I mean, Tyreek Hill could do that in 2 games, right?
Mooney has all the advanced metrics in his favor: his target share overall was 16%, but in the last three games of the year, Mooney had a 24% target share among Bears receivers. Even more interesting, Mooney took 44% of the targets among all Bears receivers, indicating he had taken a solid WR2 position on the opposite side of Allen Robinson. Overall, his season saw him running deep, with his aDOT through the first part of the season being above 14 yards. In the last five games, however, Mooney was used in a more possession-receiver role, where his depths of target topped out at 8 yards. That’s a bit unnerving.
However, one of the reasons that Mooney’s aDOTs dropped was the Bears’ realization that Trubisky couldn’t throw the deep ball. Allen Robinson’s aDOT dropped about 30% in the same time frame as Chicago moved to shorter passes.
An important factor to consider with Mooney is how bad his quarterbacks played. As a fifth-round draft pick in his rookie season, Mooney garnered the 29th most potential air yards in the NFL in 2020 (1157). However, he ranked 10th in the NFL in unrealized air yards (739), meaning that most of those deep throws didn’t connect. On the season, Mooney had only 2 drops on nearly 100 targets, so he wasn’t responsible for those missed yards. In fact, only 73 of his 98 targets were catchable, so his adjusted catch rate was 83.6%. 20 of those targets were contested, and overall, the passes thrown his way were not thrown in stride. For a player who has 96th percentile speed to be tossed passes that were generally not in stride, contested, and inaccurate, it really caps their upside.
Donkey Teeth has Darnell Mooney as the 97th ranked player on his Top 100 Keepers for 2021 Fantasy Football list, which is reason to get excited. We’re probably looking at Mooney’s floor after the 2020 season: a player who can play deep and short and manage a high volume of targets. However, without better quarterback play, Mooney won’t be able to realize his upside. If Mooney realized his 83% true catch rate, he would have had a 70+ catch season with over 800 yards and 5-6 TDs, which would put him in WR30 territory instead of the top 50.
Mooney is a player that will be off of most fantasy manager radars next year, but he’s a player that could bring you top 30 WR upside while providing a fairly safe floor. That makes him a nice sleeper candidate to target for keeper leagues or late in drafts, so you can worry about scarcer positions with your earlier picks.
How are you feeling about Daring Darnell? Dash down to the comments and let me know!