Out of the University of Maryland, D.J Moore was the first-round pick by the Carolina Panthers, with the 24th overall selection. This made him the first wide out to be selected in the 2018 draft, ahead of the hotly scouted Calvin Ridley, Courtland Sutton and more. This demonstrated clearly that the Panthers had made their mind up. Moore is their guy, and they got him.
He is 6’0, and he weighs in at 210lbs, so he’s not exactly the next Julio or anything like that. His physical size lends him towards seeing a lot of use in the slot, or sometimes starting off the line in bunched/stacked formations. It is important to give him a good release, because that allows him to utilise the positive physical elements; and they are very positive. The athleticism is undeniable. Moore posted a top five result in everything he participated in at the combine except for Bench Press. He had the best Broad Jump in the entire position, at 11’0, which was the fifth highest among all positions, so his explosiveness isn’t in question. He also impressed in the Vertical Jump and both 20 & 60-yard shuttles. His 4.42 40-yard Dash wasn’t slow either, where he finished fifth.
Moore would be a hot prospect at most positions with those athletic qualities, but most receivers should be athletic. What about when he’s actually on the field, when there’s actually a defender in front of him? Well, that’s where the Maryland graduate is at his most scary, when he gets the football. D.J Moore is one of the most electric people in this draft class, when the leather is in his hands. He absolutely thrives on the quick passing game, and even took some snaps at running back, where he is a serviceable option also. A huge part of the college gameplan for the Terrapins was to get the ball to him as quickly as possible. Screens and slants were extremely prominent, because he is just a different type of animal once he has the ball tucked in his arm. Moore’s usage, and work after-the-catch really reminded me of how the Giants utilise Odell Beckham Jr, they’ll throw him a slant when they’re on 3rd and 10, they scare the defense with go-routes and then throw him a curl. Moore is a very difficult player to guard due to the way he is used, and the fact that to stop him, you need to assume that it’ll be a short pass every time. This is where I would have some fun. If you have a guy who’s typecast as the quick target, underneath, you can absolutely terrorise the defenders with double moves. It’s not easy to shake off NFL Cornerbacks, obviously, but if he’s in the slot this year he is going to give some Middle Linebackers nightmares, if DJ Moore runs a sluggo route even Bobby Wagner is going to have had some Weetabix that morning to have any chance of reacting in time.
I think that being a wide receiver who gets a lot of work in the seams and over the middle is a lot easier when you’re paired with a good Tight End, and with Greg Olsen being by far the most reliable receiving threat for Carolina for years, there is definitely room for a young slot receiver to bloom, and this will build both his rapport with Newton and his confidence, whilst Olsen is still around. Some people have said that Moore being picked up after the Panthers already acquired Torrey Smith, another speedy receiver from Maryland – although with 8 years of experience – would cause for D.J’s immediate impact to be dampened, but I think that Torrey Smith will be used deeper down the field and if anything, him stretching the safeties deeper will create more space for the underneath passes. This could really help the rookie to settle in.
The Panthers offense is built around the backfield, that is no secret. Even though they usually run it with their QB and pass it to their running back, the focus on the stars behind the line remains. However, Cam Newton is a smart Quarterback, and Norv Turner knows what he’s doing as an Offensive Coordinator. They have an oversized HB who can throw taking the snap, and a WR who can run releasing from right next to him – so it’s clear they have a knack for utilising their players’ strengths. So, how will they utilise the new receiver’s strengths? Drafting Moore, to me, represents the first step towards sharing some of the declining Greg Olsen middle-of-the field targets, and it allows them to do this without becoming too reliant on the aforementioned WR at running back, and giving McCaffrey 200 targets a year. By adding a second elite athletic talent, who can make plays after the catch, to pair with the second-year HB, they are opening up two quick pass targets for Cam, both of which will be around for years, and if you have ever played as a Quarterback, you’ll know that having two quick reads feels much more comfortable than just the one.
D.J suffered from a lack of a consistent QB in college, and none of the many candidates who were throwing him the ball were particularly good, but even so, due to the sheer volume, as their primary read, they still afforded him plenty of chances to show off. It is very clear to me that, as much as people point out the fact that throwing isn’t his first love, Cam Newton will be a massive upgrade at the position for him. If you come into the league having already proven that you have talent, when the person giving you the ball isn’t reliable, that’s surely a great sign. But how talented is he really, when you take out just the pure athleticism? This is where you start to see a couple of chinks in his armour.
Let’s remember that we are now looking at him as a Carolina Panther. One of the most fundamental things he needs to be able to do is block. The Wide Receivers have to block for run plays, including designed QB rushes and options, they need to block after the catch for other receivers, including CMac, and of course, they have to do it when Cam scrambles on pass plays. So, in other words, it is important that they are good at it, and above all else they need to be consistent. He can block, of course he can, but sometimes he looks like he doesn’t know which way to direct the defender. If you have ever played on the offensive side of a football team, you will have been taught one thing very early on; an intrinsic principle to the sport – no matter what you’re going to do, do it with conviction and confidence. If you’re going to block someone, and you can’t tell in that moment which way you should block them – don’t worry about it, just make sure you move them one way or the other, the ball-carrier will read your hips and play behind you whichever way you go. It’s much worse to not block someone properly than it is to do a good block to the wrong place. Running backs and wide receivers are agile and reactionary, so just give them a lane on one side of you and put your hands through their chest.
The Panthers O-Line can only do so much, and now that there is an Andrew Norwell shaped hole at Left Guard, and with Greg Olsen slowly bringing his career to an end, albeit a delayed one from some people’s expectations, Moore will have to step it up as a blocker to make sure he gets as many snaps on the field as possible.
There is another thing which I found frustrating in Moore’s tape: his catching technique. Yeah, I know…
A wide receiver. One who catches the ball wrong. Still the first one taken in the draft. That highlights, loud and clear, how good he really is once he’s got it.
It’s not that he can’t catch. Don’t get me wrong, he can catch the ball – sometimes spectacularly, when the ball looks to be out of his reach – but his technique for bringing in the simple catches is what I noticed. The number one rule for being a wide receiver is to catch the ball [coaches and players, say it with me] with your hands. Sounds obvious right? D.J Moore doesn’t catch the ball with his hands. He catches it with his body. When 80% of your catches are quick, underneath dump off throws, you might be able to get away with not worrying about the technique too much but let me explain the problem. When a ball is passed to you, the QB aims at your chest – ‘on the numbers’ – and this is where you are taught to put your hands when you’re ready to catch it, in front of your chest. The issue is, however, if you let the ball hit your chest, before it has hit your hands, it can bounce off anywhere. You’re wearing pads, so when the ball hits them it’s very unpredictable. Therefore, the correct technique to catch a ball is to almost fully extend your arms away from you, and take the ball in your hands, away from your body, then you can bring it in once you have control of it. Moore, whenever the ball is within his immediate frame, does a more goalkeeper styled catch where his hands and arms close around the ball as it hits his body, which is quite frankly not acceptable at the highest level. When an NFL level throw comes towards you, it comes fast, and it is thrown hard – the windows are tight, so they have to get it through with some urgency – and this means, if it hits your pads, it’s going to bounce away from you with the same velocity that it came with. Cam Newton isn’t the best touch-passer in the league either.
If you want to see what I mean, I would point you towards his game against Michigan State in 2017, for once one of his QB’s placed an absolutely pinpoint accurate pass. It was a back-shoulder fade, down the left sideline, the CB had his back turned, and when Moore went to catch it, it looked like a locked in reception, and first down – but he waited on it. This is the final issue with catching it with your body. You take too long to actually catch the damn thing. He waited for the ball to make it into his stomach, and tried to close his arms around it, but the defensive back, who literally couldn’t even see the pass coming, had time to put his arm inside the basket and knock the ball out for an incompletion, all whilst running and looking the wrong way. If Moore used his hands this would have been an easy catch for a first-round-pick worthy player. There was even one play against UCF where a pick-six was taken back to the house after the ball popped up off of his pads, because of his poor technique.
Rant over. Sorry.
So why is he still worthy of a first-round pick?
Everything that is bad about this kid is coachable. Everything. He has raw talent and athleticism, which make him dynamic and exciting after the catch, he’s smart and quick, and he has a good work rate. The issues are things that a coach can fix, reminding him to catch with his hands, and making sure he attacks every block with aggression and commitment. If anything, his issues with catching and blocking aren’t enough to stop him trying to become the WR1 in the next season or two, anyway – so once he has fixed them he will be lethal. His route running could improve, on intermediate or deeper routes, but this won’t present a huge issue immediately, and if anything just adds to his potential, as he’ll gradually work on deeper routes and get more varied usage in the scheme.
The Panthers, like I said before, are very good at utilising the benefits of their personnel. They use Cam a way that only Cam can be used, they feed McCaffrey more targets (80) than Tyreek Hill, A.J Green, and Doug Baldwin (75), and their Tight End is still a huge threat at the age of 33, on the wrong side of repeated foot injuries. This is all because of the fact they use people in the way that they will be most effective. So, who’s to say they can’t facilitate an electric receiver underneath. All they need to do is put him in the slot and let him wreak havoc, then they can see how he thrives and continue to build him into the gameplan more, especially in the inevitable post-Olsen era.
The most common NFL player comparison I’ve seen for D.J Moore is definitely to Golden Tate, of the Detroit Lions. That’s a pretty good comparison to get; Tate is one of the premier short-passing game receivers in the league, after all. They both have similar usage, with Tate boasting an aDOT (average depth of target) of 6.7 yards last season, and they both thrive after the ball is in their posession. If Moore could get his hands up to speed, and iron out some technical creases, there’s no reason he can’t one day demand Tate-level volume, once he’s established himself.
D.J Moore will definitely be one of the most exciting rookie Wide Receivers to watch this year, especially when he gets the ball in his hands in space. Carolina have found the perfect partner to work underneath with McCaffrey, and it could be a very difficult duo to stop. Moore has a few things he needs to work on, but they’re all coachable and within the next few years he could become an incredibly talented NFL receiver, worthy of the comparisons he’s getting to Golden Tate. I could easily see him pulling in 50 or 60 receptions and the occasional Touchdown this season, if Cam takes a fancy to him, which I think he will.
Draft Grade: B+