Mooney’s impending disrespectful era comes after a 2022 season that many expected to build on a mini-breakout sophomore campaign (81 catches for 1,055 yards and four touchdowns) and serve as his welcome party to undisputed WR1 territory.
Instead, a myriad of factors led the speedy wideout’s production to decline. The Bears leaned heavy on the run game with the second-most ground attempts and best yardage output in the NFL. Justin Fields, in turn, attempted just 21.2 passes per start on the way to Chicago’s last place ranking in both passes and passing yards. Plus, when Chicago did air it out, teams were devoting more attention than ever to clamping down on Mooney as the primary receiving threat.
It led to a season with just 40 receptions (3.3 catches per game) for 493 yards and two touchdowns, which were all career lows, before Mooney fractured his ankle against the Jets in Week 12.
The good news is that he started cutting on his surgically repaired ankle this week as he gears up for his return.
“I am running,” Mooney told his fellow WRs. “I’m cutting. Started cutting today. I’ll be 100%. I got screws in my foot, so I’ll be a little robotic. Probably a thousand times better than I was.”
His joke about robotic enhancements aside, the Bears’ new offense still sets up well for Mooney to rebound.
Chicago could likely scale back Fields’ scrambling to avoid harm to its franchise quarterback after he rushed 160 times last season, and the WR corps to supplement such a decision is the deepest it’s been in years. D.J. Moore is the new headliner in a room that includes Chase Claypool, Velus Jones and fourth-round rookie Tyler Scott. It would come as no surprise if defenses shade heavily toward the former Panther after his blockbuster trade from Carolina.
The days of Mooney being peppered with passes are likely gone — he had 47 more targets than any other Bears pass catcher in 2021 and came just nine targets shy of leading the team again despite missing five games in 2022 — but he should have opportunities aplenty to take on defensive backs in lighter coverage.
Although his primary objective is winning, a return to form could also pay dividends for the former fifth-rounder during his contract year.
“They want to see me run and stuff,” Mooney said about the prospect of a new deal. “We’ll see. We’ll see. I’m in no rush.”