Rookie Report Card: Chase Claypool and Darnell Mooney

Dan Meylor

Each week throughout the season, I’ll cover at least two rookies in the Rookie Report Card and try to always include the biggest performers from that particular week. On top of reviewing my expectations for each player coming into the league and how well he’s lived up to those expectations at the NFL level to this point, I’ll grade the player in three categories. Those categories are performance to date, rookie season potential and long-term upside.

The series continues in week two with a look at a pair of wide receivers, Chase Claypool and Darnell Mooney.

Chase Claypool, WR PIT

Week Two Stats: Three receptions, 88 yards, one touchdown (three targets)

One of the most physical receivers in the 2020 NFL draft, some questioned whether due to his size (6’-4”, 238 pounds) if Chase Claypool would make a positional change to tight end in the NFL. When he blazed a 4.42-second 40-yard dash and posted impressive explosion numbers (40 1/2” vertical jump, 126” broad jump) at the combine, however, it was clear he had the athleticism to make it on the perimeter at the next level.

Claypool built a reputation at Notre Dame as a wideout who liked contact. Overpowering against press coverage and too big and long at the catch point, he dominated smaller defensive backs at all three levels – but particularly in the vertical passing game. His leaping ability and long arms created an extended catch radius and his ability to use his frame to create space to make contested catches made him one of the most intriguing ball catchers in the draft class.

Although he was productive as a Golden Domer, catching 150 passes for 2,159 and 19 touchdowns, some considered Claypool a strong candidate to have a better pro than college career despite his questionable run after the catch ability and inconsistent hands from time to time. When he landed with the Steelers in the second round as the 11th wideout off the board, his group of supporters grew significantly.

Since arriving in Pittsburgh, there has been a steady buzz surrounding Claypool and his upside in the Steelers’ offense. Despite missing out on a preseason, beat writers have gushed about his playmaking ability and the coaching staff and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger have mentioned him on multiple occasions as a player who has impressed.

Through two games, Claypool has had limited opportunities but has made the most of each – catching all five of his targets for 127 yards and a touchdown. Clearly fourth on the wide receiver depth chart, he’s played just 33.3% of snaps (43) behind JuJu Smith-Schuster (114), Diontae Johnson (109) and James Washington (68.)

On Sunday against the Broncos, he put his mark on the Steelers’ win with an 84-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. Claypool simply ran past fellow rookie Michael Ojemudia, leveraged him towards the middle of the field, and subtly pushed off just as the ball arrived before racing to the end zone.

The play showed much of what the Steelers and dynasty owners alike saw in Claypool during the draft process. A deep threat with size and speed that hasn’t been seen since Calvin Johnson – who is the only other wide receiver over 6’-4” and 235 pounds to run a sub-4.45-second 40-yard dash.

Barring injury to one of the top-two receivers in Pittsburgh, Claypool’s rookie upside is capped as a dart-throw bye-week and injury replacement and that’s only if he overtakes Washington in the pecking order. Considering the buzz surrounding him in training camp as well as the instant (although limited) impact he’s made in his few opportunities, the sky is the limit for him as a dynasty asset.

While he’s more likely to develop into a dynasty fringe WR2/3, it’s possible Claypool could have the size and speed to be much more than that. After all, he fits the description of a Pittsburgh wide receiver from an athletic standpoint but is much bigger than those drafted in recent memory – all of which makes Claypool one of many long term young wide receiver stashes who shouldn’t be moved for less than a first-round pick.

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Darnell Mooney, WR CHI

Week Two Stats: Three receptions, 36 yards, one touchdown (three targets)

A fifth-round pick of the Bears out of Tulane, Darnell Mooney profiled as a small (5’-10”, 175 pounds) but shifty slot weapon with incredible short-area quickness and burst as well as good long speed (4.38 40-yard dash).

Although he was an unknown to me until after he was drafted, I spent some time watching his college tape and came away impressed with his suddenness to create separation and even more fascinated with his leaping ability and ability to come down with 50/50 throws down the field. His reliance on his natural quickness is maddening, however. Instead of using it to create maximum separation, he rushed into getting a half-step on defenders – forcing himself into making contested catches. Those route running shortcomings along with far too many dropped passes took Mooney outside my top 48 rookies in rookie drafts.

After an off-season without preseason games, there was little buzz about Mooney and it was unknown if he’d be a game-day active let alone part of the Chicago coaching staff’s game plan but that’s exactly what’s happened through two weeks. Having logged more snaps (60) than Ted Ginn Jr. (28) and even Anthony Miller (53), he appears to be in a playing time split behind Allen Robinson as the Bears’ WR2.

Through two games, Mooney has reeled in all six of his targets for 74 yards and a touchdown, which came on a jump ball just before halftime in week two against the Giants. On the play, quarterback Mitchell Trubisky scrambled around the pocket and heaved a 15-yard pass into the corner of the end zone where Mooney was well covered. Instead of waiting for the ball to come down though, the rookie stepped in front of the defender and high-pointed the ball in front of him for the score – something he did regularly in college.

Overall, Mooney’s usage has been encouraging and his touchdown was a fine play, but he hasn’t shown enough to motivate dynasty owners to think he’ll be anything more than a deep league stash. He’ll have to show better attention to detail as a route runner, more consistent hands and the ability to consistently beat bigger and more physical defensive backs to ever be starting lineup worthy.

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dan meylor