Darnell Mooney Fantasy Outlook: Is There Enough Room in Chicago Bears’ Offense for This 2021 Breakout Star?

    Chicago Bears WR Darnell Mooney broke out in 2021 as the team's primary target, but much has changed. What is Mooney's fantasy outlook in 2023?

    Ahead of the 2023 NFL season, we’ve researched more than 350 fantasy football players, trying to identify which ones are overrated, underrated, and priced right. With that in mind, here is Chicago Bears WR Darnell Mooney’s fantasy outlook for 2023.

    Behind in research? Get a trade offer in your dynasty or redraft league? Not sure who to start or sit this week? Leverage PFN’s FREE fantasy tools — our Fantasy Football Draft Kit, Fantasy Football Trade Analyzer and Calculator, and Start/Sit Optimizer! Put the finishing touch on your A+ draft with 1 of our 425+ fantasy football team names.

    Darnell Mooney’s 2023 Fantasy Outlook

    As dynasty managers know, skill players come in two groups. One group consists of incredible producers who typically shine regardless of where they play or who joins their team. Put Justin Jefferson in Cincinnati, and somehow he and Ja’Marr Chase (and Tee Higgins) will all make it work. Because they’re all that good.

    But most skill players fall in the second group — the large swath of players whose fantasy fortunes hinge more on their environment than their talent. For years, Cordarrelle Patterson struggled to carve out a niche — until the RB-needy Falcons capitalized on his long-latent talent.

    The inverse is true, as well. Sometimes, decent players break out early in their careers as their team’s No. 1 or No. 2 offensive option. If/when that offense becomes more crowded, those guys frequently regress. It’s not their fault. They stepped up when needed. But when more talented players leapfrog them, they might not have the skill set to reclaim their standing.

    Darnell Mooney might be on the cusp of such a fate. It’s not his fault. It’s simply how things are shaking out on the rapidly ascending Bears.

    Three years ago, Mooney was an under-the-radar fifth-round draft pick — the 25th wideout selected. With a small frame and drop issues, he didn’t profile as a long- or even short-term NFL starter. But he had speed. And the Bears desperately needed speed. Allen Robinson was Chicago’s WR1, and former second-round pick Anthony Miller was still a work in progress as the No. 2.

    Mooney gave Chicago something they lacked, and he seized the opportunity, asserting himself as the new No. 2. And with Robinson slowed/hobbled/declining the following season, Mooney quickly became the No. 1 target for Andy Dalton and future franchise QB Justin Fields. Mooney was the overall WR23 in fantasy that year. He was on the map, seemingly for good.

    But that’s when environmental factors kicked in — circumstances beyond Mooney’s control. Fields is certainly still developing as a passer, and that was crystal clear last season in the Bears’ run-heavy scheme. Fields averaged only 21.2 throws per game — well shy, for example, of Dalton’s average of 40.2 throws in five full games in 2021.

    Not surprisingly, Mooney dominated in three of those contests while picking up 29 targets in the season’s final two weeks. Heavy volume can turn good receivers into fantasy gold. But that wasn’t the case with Fields at the helm in 2022.

    Despite a career-high 65.6% catch rate and a reduced drop rate, Mooney took a step back. It didn’t help that he missed five games. However, despite playing from behind frequently, he was no longer the unquestioned alpha.

    Heading into 2023, Mooney’s fantasy prospects look much dimmer. The arrival of D.J. Moore means he can be no better than the WR2 in a sub-par passing attack. That’s a rough combination.

    Meanwhile, we haven’t yet seen the best from 2020 second-rounder Cole Kmet, who tied for the ninth-most TE red-zone targets last year. In fact, Kmet caught all 10 of his red-zone looks, becoming the only receiver with a 100% catch rate on at least five red-zone targets. He became the first player to go 10-for-10 or better from this range since RB Ahmad Bradshaw in 2014.

    If Fields takes a giant leap as a passer — on par with what we saw from Jalen Hurts, for example — then there will be plenty of opportunities for Mooney to operate as a weekly fantasy starter. But the odds of Fields making that big of a move seem slim. This remains a conservative passing attack, and Moore’s arrival further caps every other wide receiver’s ceiling.

    Mooney is no exception. The good news is that he has no obvious rivals for the WR2 job. The bad news is that being the No. 2 on today’s Bears is like being the No. 4 in Kansas City.

    With Fields, Moore, D’Onta Foreman, and Khalil Herbert nearly guaranteed to earn more touches, Mooney will battle Kmet for the No. 5 role on offense. And with Kmet holding a leg up near the end zone, from a fantasy perspective, Mooney might wind up no better than sixth.

    To be clear, Mooney still has a path to weekly relevance in deeper leagues. But as with so many “good” players who came before him, he’s a beneficiary and victim of his environment. Unless Chicago’s passing environment improves dramatically, he’ll struggle to maintain consistent value.

    Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast!

    Listen to the PFN Inside Access Podcast! Click the embedded player below to listen, or you can find the PFN Fantasy Podcast on iTunes, Spotify, and all major podcast platforms.  Be sure to subscribe and leave us a five-star review!

    Related Articles