The Mundies: Eruption

Hey, everybody.

May 18. A date that probably doesn’t mean much for many people. A random day in May. Easter is in the past, but it’s not quite Memorial Day. Kids and teenagers far and wide are counting down until the end of the school year, and the socially accepted pre-equinox start to summer.

More precisely, May 18, 1980, holds significance where I live in Washington state and is especially memorable in my family.

This is the date Mt. St. Helens erupted. The volcano is located in the southern Washington portion of the Cascade Mountain range. If you go about 100 miles due south of Seattle, then go directly east into the Cascades, you can’t miss it. Although the degree to which “you can’t miss it” is roughly 1,300 feet lower in elevation than before the eruption.

It seems that current knowledge of this event varies between people. It was 42 years ago. But keep in mind, that this was a catastrophic geological event. The death toll attributed directly to the eruption reached 57 people, which is relatively high based on the low population density in the immediately-impacted river valleys and 230 square mile impact zone.

If a similar eruption were to occur from Mt. Rainier within the much more populated surrounding areas, there would have the potential for a devastating loss of human life. The eruption triggered the largest recorded landslide in the history of the U.S. The brunt of that volcanic landslide, which became a tidal wave of a hot mudflow, or lahar, raged down the Toutle River Valley, destroying everything in its path. Well, almost everything.

View of the eruption of Mt. St. Helens from Gifford Pinchot National Forest.

The combination of the pyroclastic ash cloud, the landslide and mudflow created almost total devastation in the immediate impact zone. The entirety of Spirit Lake, a lake located at the mountain’s base, was observed to be boiling following the eruption. The aerial view of this formerly-dense forest looked like spilled matchsticks, with 100+ foot Douglas Fir trees upended with ease. Trees, animals, houses, bulldozers, logging trucks, cabins and everything in the blast radius or engulfed by the mudflow was flattened or destroyed. Well, almost everything.

My dad grew up in the small town of Centralia, Washington (90 miles south of Seattle). He was an avid fisherman and hunter, a very good athlete (especially basketball and baseball) and to this day throws the best knuckleball I have ever seen. When I was a kid, I almost fell over the first time he unleashed the knuckle-throwing to me during batting practice, and it’s almost impossible to catch with any kind of consistency. In the 1970’s, my dad and his close friend decided to go in on some property together in the Cascade foothills to have better access to good fishing and hunting (mostly deer and elk). They bought a couple of acres along Highway 504, and two cabins were built.

Highway 504 also happens to be the highway that hugs the Toutle River as it flows down the valley from Mt. St. Helens. Luckily, no one was there on May 18, 1980. My older sister was one month shy of her third birthday, and I was not yet one year old. My parents were both teachers at this time, but May 18 was a Sunday, so it would have been entirely possible for us to have been at the cabin. But we were not there.

The Aftermath

My dad’s friend’s A-frame-style cabin was destroyed. The periphery of the mudflow hit it directly, and the cabin was filled with mud. It remained standing, but it was buried in 20 feet of mud and ash.

What about our cabin, only 50 yards from the A-frame? Well, like every stormtrooper with a blaster throughout the Star Wars series, the mudflow somehow missed. Don’t ask me how. We have photos of the yard filled with mud, but the cabin was virtually untouched. So, I say again, “well, almost everything.”

The cabin is still there today. After the eruption, my dad and mom pivoted. Instead of a hunting/fishing cabin (partly because most of the big game and fish were wiped out in the general area), my dad started a business – a souvenir business with souvenirs based entirely on the Mt. St. Helens eruption. A shop was built on the property, and a second one was built farther up Highway 504, closer to the mountain. Eventually, a third shop was established. 

The top of an A-frame buried by the eruption.

The flora and fauna rebounded remarkably quickly following the devastation. The Toutle River – once a picturesque, crystal-clear mountain river – remained the color of ash for a long time. Even today, 42 years later, the river is filled with ash in the wintertime, and it still never gets back to that original clarity in the summer. I have countless fond memories of this cabin, the property and all of our adventures in that area.

It’s where my dad taught me to river fish for Steelhead and took me hunting for deer with a compound bow (the hunting never stuck with me, but I still fish). There is a large field on the property that butts up against a hillside, with Alder trees creating a dogleg right-shaped open area – which is where I learned to golf as a young kid. The cabin is where I first beat Wart at the end of “Super Mario Brothers 2,” and where I first saw “Spaceballs.”

I remember hiking out on the Toutle River mudflow plain with my dad, collecting ash from the eruption, sifting the rocks and debris out of it, then filling small plastic cubes and pens with the ash to be sold in the souvenir shop. I can recall collecting pumice rocks with my siblings, created only from volcanic activity, so lightweight that they float. We would then sell the rocks outside the gift shop for 25 cents or the bigger ones for 50 cents. Some of the first money I remember being mine was this “pumice money.”

Unfortunately, our family had to sell the property and business. My dad was getting older, and his managing of that endeavor had run its course. I wish I had been in a place in my life to take over the business and keep the property and cabin. But I was not, and neither was my older sister or younger brother. It’s been a while since I’ve been down there, but I will always have the memories of the “Toutle Cabin,” and our family will be forever linked in our own unique way to the eruption of Mt. St. Helens.

Many warning signs led up to the massive eruption on May 18, 1980. Seismic activity, smaller eruptions, and various other geologic tracking methods provided enough warning that something major was becoming more likely, and many people did leave the area in time. We strive for a similar strategy in fantasy football, looking at a slew of different things to try and predict the next fantasy eruption, such as Deebo Samuel and Cooper Kupp in 2021.

And now, The Mundie Awards.

Disclaimer:  My direction in fantasy football analysis is toward the analytics side of things. At In-Between Media, my goal is to include analysis from that angle but in a way that is easier to digest. I am in the process of developing my own model for projecting rookies in the NFL, but for now, I rely on others in the industry who have excelled in that arena, such as JJ Zachariason.


Darnell Mooney (WR, Chicago Bears)

Darnell Mooney is a player I am very high on as we approach the 2022 season. Mooney finished the 2021 season with 219.7 fantasy points in Points Per Reception (PPR) formats, enough to sneak into the WR2 group at the overall WR23. Mooney notched 81 receptions on 140 targets and cracked the 1,000 receiving yards mark for the first time in his young career, with 1,055 yards. He also rushed six times for 32 yards and a rushing TD.

I am not calling Mooney the next Samuel. There is no next Samuel. And I am not saying Mooney is likely to ascend to the overall WR1 like Kupp last year. I am saying that Mooney’s current situation, from a talent plus opportunity standpoint, does have high-end WR2 in the range of potential outcomes.

The way I am looking at Mooney is a third-year WR who showed flashes his rookie season (finished as the PPR WR49), then took a relatively significant leap during last year’s sophomore season. And importantly, both of Mooney’s NFL seasons with the Chicago Bears have so far included three things: 

  1. Allen Robinson 
  2. Matt Nagy
  3. Borderline disastrous QB situations

In 2020, the Bears’ starting QB gig was split between Mitchell Trubisky and Nick Foles. If there is one thing that numbs a WR’s potential, it’s not one but two “not great Bob” QBs slinging the rock in your rookie season. In 2021, the Bears made a savvy move by trading up in the NFL Draft to draft QB Justin Fields out of Ohio State University. However, Nagy decided to start the season with Andy Dalton at QB. Dalton went on to start six games during the season.

But not the first six games, eventually giving way to the rookie. Even that would have been too simple. The scattering of starts between Dalton and Fields did not put Fields in a position to succeed as a rookie. It did quite the opposite, and it wasn’t pretty for Fields:

• Only three wins, 28 interceptions and a 56.7 completion percentage

If that stat line doesn’t seem quite right, it’s because it’s not. That was Peyton Manning during his rookie year in 1998. So let’s cool it with the “Fields is a bust” talk, OK. There is still uncertainty with Fields, but I am basing my projection for Mooney on an improved Fields, who will have an entire offseason, will be the starter out of the gate in 2022 and Matt Nagy is now gone.

Looking deeper, there are a host of advanced stats also pointing toward a potential seismic ascension for Mooney.

• Target Share (26.7 percent): 14th
• WR Target Share (43.1 percent): 14th
Targets Per Route Run (29.6 percent): Fifth
Route Participation (94.6 percent): 11th
Receiving Yards Per Team Pass Attempt (1.95): 10th
• Target Separation (1.96): Seventh
Win Rate Versus Man Coverage (43.1 percent): 11th 

Darnell Mooney led the Chicago Bears in targets and receptions in 2021.

Specifically, I like his top-10 league finish in Target Rate (targets per route run) combined with his 11th best route participation. Targets are earned, and opportunity is king, and Mooney is adept at effectively earning those targets when he’s running routes. He ran routes at the 11th best rate in 2021. His target separation is also borderline elite and if Fields takes a positive step in 2022 with his accuracy, watch out. 

I talked a lot about the Bears’ QB situation in this section about Mooney, but I think it is overlooked that Mooney put up the numbers I’ve listed and finished as the WR23 despite the mismanaged QB situation. He’s not a big red zone target and only scored five receiving TDs in 2021. But he is one of the receiver types who does his damage without relying on TDs. Mooney will be the clear WR1 on a team slated to struggle, meaning a higher likelihood of more passing volume and negative game scripts. His main target competition (Robinson) is now with the Rams, and did I mention Nagy is gone?

We don’t have a clear picture of Mooney’s Average Draft Position (ADP) in redraft formats this early in the offseason, but I predict it will be right around where he finished last year as a low-end WR2. I will be all over Mooney at that draft price if it plays out that way, as he is a prime candidate to ascend into the top 20, maybe even the top 15.

As I have moved toward more analytics-based fantasy football content, my goal is to provide that content in a manner that is as easy as possible to digest. Advanced analytics are beneficial, and I think they can be explained simply and logically. Please feel free to reach out to me on Twitter to explain more about any of the analytical concepts I present in these columns. My Direct Messages (DM)s are always open.

And as always, find me on Twitter, talking fantasy football, joking around, posting GIFs and lending my support where it’s needed @MunderDifflinFF.