The San Francisco 49ers are highly suspected to take a wide receiver in the 2020 NFL Draft. If they take two, though, Tulane’s Darnell Mooney could be a late-round find.
With mere weeks remaining before the San Francisco 49ers‘ number is called in the 2020 NFL Draft, a good deal of attention has already been given to the top wide receivers general manager John Lynch and Co. could target with one of two first-round picks.
But the Niners have far more receiving needs than can be addressed with just a single receiver. Outside of second-year pro Deebo Samuel and recently tendered restricted free agent Kendrick Bourne, there isn’t a lot of depth.
After Round 1, San Francisco isn’t slated to select until two picks in Round 5, another in the sixth round and two more in Round 7. Barring a trade down, Lynch will have to find some more late-round gems.
And that’s where Tulane wide receiver Darnell Mooney comes into play.
Mooney was consistently productive his last two seasons, recording 993 and 713 receiving yards in 2018 and 2019, respectively, with a combined 13 touchdowns. At 5-foot-10 and 176 pounds, it’s easy to see why he’s projected to be a day-three pick. As far as size and functional strength go, he doesn’t exactly have it.
Then again, he doesn’t necessarily need it.
Mooney was one of the NFL Combine’s best speed performers, running an excellent 4.38 40-yard time, which was tied for third best among wideouts. And when it comes to straight-line speed, it’s one element head coach Kyle Shanahan covets.
This attribute, matched with the smaller stature, is indicative of another slot receiver, Taylor Gabriel, who was a Shanahan free-agent target back in 2017.
Granted, Mooney had some trouble with drops, and that could be a problem early at the NFL level like it was with Samuel. It certainly hurts Mooney’s NFL Draft stock. But Mooney is an explosion waiting to happen with the ball in his hands, and he has some excellent footwork to burst past his defender at the line of scrimmage.
You can get an idea of this explosiveness in the video below:
Now, the question is finding a role for Mooney to play.
Not having special teams abilities will hurt, too. But the 49ers are banking on a fully healthy return from slot receiver Trent Taylor, who missed the better part of the last two years with back and foot injuries.
Meanwhile, fellow wide receiver Richie James seems to be a non-favorite in Shanahan’s game plan, rarely being used in the offensive game plan.
Hoping for either Taylor or James to provide a serious and regular impact in three-wide formations this upcoming season is a bit premature, and one could figure the Niners will guard against relying too much on either of those two to fill a void.
Mooney, meanwhile, has plenty of late-round upside, particularly if he falls beyond the fifth round and becomes one of those sleeper gems Shanahan turns into a downfield, field-spreading threat.
There are a number of concerns with Mooney, of course. And he’s going to have to overcome his frame and the problems with drops to have any sort of success at the pro level. Yet Rounds 5 through 7 are the times where teams gamble on a player’s upside, and San Francisco can afford to take these kinds of risks late.
The 2020 NFL Draft kicks off on Thursday, April 23.