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Mooney continues to defy expectations

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Eight games into his NFL career, Darnell Mooney has exceeded all expectations.

The fifth-rounder out of Tulane has jumped from a player with a fair shot at making the active roster to the Bears' second-leading receiver.

As Mooney turned in his best performance to date against the New Orleans Saints, registering five catches for 69 yards a touchdown, broadcasters Joe Buck and Troy Aikman wondered aloud how the Tulane product slid to the 173rd pick six months ago.

Mooney's best play came on the Bears' longest pass of the season, a second-quarter heave by quarterback Nick Foles that went for 50 yards and set the Bears up for their first touchdown of the day.

Mooney used his speed and agility to get separation from former Pro Bowl cornerback Janoris Jenkins.

"I know that him and Marshon [Lattimore]," said Mooney, "they like to bury you, let you go outside and just pushing you to the sideline. I took advantage of that and then gave them something outside. He went for it, and I took my release inside."

In the fourth quarter, Mooney became an unlikely goalline target, catching his second career touchdown. 

"I knew it was gonna be a touchdown," said Mooney. "It's just me being patient and just letting the play happen instead of rushing it and letting Nick throw the ball."

Mooney was the 25th receiver selected in a draft that was considered unusually deep at the position. This season, he is performing essentially on par with his six draftmates chosen in the first round. Mooney ranks sixth in catches and eighth in yards among the 2020 draft class.

Mooney's draft stock might have slid due to a slight statistical regression between his junior and senior college seasons. His receiving yardage went from 993 in 2018 to 713 last season despite catching the same number of passes: 48.

Mooney believes that the pro game has allowed him to take his craft more seriously, which manifests in hours of reviewing game film. Mooney said that his ability to research opposing defenses was much more limited during his college career.

"I didn't have the time to kind of take out the film," said Mooney," and learn the guys and what they have to do. Now I have that opportunity to just do that all the time. Whenever I leave here, I can continue to watch film. That way, I don't have to go out there [on the field] and get a feel for what I'm doing. Instead, I can just watch film and see what they're doing."

Mooney plans to play a more significant role in the Bears offense during the second half of the season. With the Bears in the hunt for a playoff spot and his rapport with Foles improving, he may be well-positioned for another step up.

"I've been able to be a playmaker for us," said Mooney. "Not as much as I've wanted to, but the season is getting close to the end. But we have a lot more games left, a lot of big games as well, a lot of division games coming up. And we have to win those as well as the non-division games. Hopefully, I can continue to be more of a playmaker and make sure that we get the Dub."

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