Few fifth-round draft picks make the type of impact as a rookie that receiver Darnell Mooney did last season with the Bears.
The 5-11, 174-pounder from Tulane set a franchise record for most receptions by a rookie wide receiver with 61 while amassing 631 yards and four touchdowns.
While Mooney's emergence was a surprise to some, the Bears saw limitless potential when they studied his college tape. When the speedy receiver was still on the board late in the fifth round, they traded up to select him at No. 173 overall.
"When we evaluated him last year, we knew in the fifth round we were getting a steal," said coach Matt Nagy. "He's proven us so far to be what we thought he was."
As Mooney prepares for his second NFL season, he's continuing to excel in training camp. Nagy told reporters Saturday that the 23-year-old is "on fire with his route-running" and is "putting his own spin and stamp on more routes."
Nagy further explained that both Mooney and veteran receiver Allen Robinson II are better understanding the details of route running in terms of the stem and the timing.
"They're putting their own little flavor on things," Nagy said. "We always say, 'Don't run the lines [in the playbook].' They're running the lines, but they're putting little stuff on it and it's getting them wide open."
Mooney gave one example of putting his own stamp on a route, telling the media: "It's not always just a three-step slant; it's maybe like a 1-2 and then give them a hard three, just more swag to it, give a little more flavor like coach Nagy said."
Mooney also said he may release off the line slower than the defender who's covering him is anticipating and then his third step will be faster than usual.
"Last year I was more so just trying to be at the right place at the right time," Mooney said. "This year I'm more comfortable just taking my time, being more at pace and being able to just win the route and then [have] the quarterback hit me. Just having that confidence and being able to run my route is definitely different than last year."
Mooney continues to work closely with Robinson, strengthening a bond that was formed last summer when the two receivers worked out together in Florida.
"We talk literally after every play," Mooney said. "We're on the field at the same time, so maybe I might do something and I'm like, 'Oh man, I can't wait until I get to the sideline and tell Allen.' And then on the way to the sideline, he's telling me already what he did. So, it works both ways."
"A-Rob's his mentor," Nagy said. "A-Rob's teaching him a lot of stuff, and that's to [Mooney's] credit for latching onto him. Now he's putting it out there on tape and it's fun to see, and he wants to keep growing."
In Mooney, Robinson sees a talented young player with a high ceiling who's driven to constantly improve.
"He's a person who's very much eager to get better and wants to get better and wants to fine-tune his route running, wants to better his craft each and every day," Robinson said. "So [when] you have players like that, just talking football, picking each other's brains, things like that come very seamless."
Like the Bears personnel department and coaches, Robinson believed—even before the 2020 season began—that Mooney would make a splash as a rookie.
"Obviously, he has the ability," Robinson said. "But once you can kind of talk to young players and see kind of not only where their football acumen is at but, like I said before, his eagerness to want to get better, I think that's something that separates a lot of guys … When you want to find different ways that you can better your game, and you enjoy working on the things that better your game, that just continues to make you a complete player."