D.J. Moore was drafted 24th overall by the Carolina Panthers and was the first wide receiver selected in the 2018 NFL Draft.
Moore was recently crowned as the top WR prospect in this draft class by our writing staff and it’s easy to see why. Moore checks all the boxes: production, age, breakout age, size, and athleticism. It should come as no surprise that he graded out as the top prospect in Anthony Amico’s WR prospect model.
Before analyzing Moore’s fit with the Panthers, let’s look at his prospect profile.
D.J. Moore, Maryland, 6-0, 210
RAW AND MARKET SHARE COLLEGE PRODUCTION
Although the results from his freshman season were not flashy, Moore accounted for 20 percent of Maryland’s receiving touchdowns and posted a reasonable dominator rating of 0.19. As a sophomore, Moore’s production took a step forward. Although his 41/637/8 receiving line is not particularly impressive, he accounted for 27 percent of Maryland’s receiving yards and 40 percent of Maryland’s receiving TDs.
Despite playing with four separate quarterbacks1 on a passing offense that ranked 74th in Passing S&P+ and 114th in Passing Success Rate, Moore posted an outstanding 0.53 dominator rating as a junior. Moore finished 26th in the nation in raw receiving yards. Although he appeared to struggle against stiffer opposition,2 he broke the 75-yard threshold against all other teams. It’s also worth noting that Moore played one of the toughest schedules of any receiver in this year’s class and contributed substantially in the run game and return game (which has under-appreciated importance).
Not only is Moore the second-youngest WR prospect in this draft class, but he’s ostensibly the most talented. Moore has one of the top Freak Scores in this class, and boasts the highest Phenom Index ever achieved by a WR prospect invited to the combine. The names just below Moore in the all-time Phenom Index list are beyond impressive: Allen Robinson, Demaryius Thomas, Larry Fitzgerald, Dez Bryant, Kenny Britt and Amari Cooper.
As Blair Andrews has shown, a WR who played his rookie season at age 21 has historically gone on to have at least one WR2 season more than 40 percent of the time.
Most importantly, Moore broke out at 19.7 years old, a positive indicator of future success. Forty-six percent of the top-100 picks with Moore’s breakout age have reached the 200-point plateau in at least one of their first three seasons.
Additionally, Moore performed well in Kevin Cole’s regression tree for evaluating prospects. Although Moore’s low number of total yards and yards per reception is cause for some concern, his career market share of receiving yards is healthy.3
However, Moore overcomes the low yards per reception and total yards metrics by posting a monster 53 percent market share in his final season. As a result, he lands in the cohort of past prospects with the highest likelihood of future success.
The Landing Spot
Note that Moore is ostensibly a more talented player than several WRs currently on the Panthers. He should not have much difficulty climbing the ranks once training camp starts. However, we know that targets are the lifeblood of fantasy scoring, and it’s fair to ask whether Moore can command a fantasy-relevant target share as a rookie in this crowded receiving corps. But given that Moore can succeed in the slot as well as play on the outside, he may be able to steal targets from most Panthers receivers this season.
Although the Panthers added both Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright in free agency, Moore should have no trouble beating out either player for playing time. However, it’s difficult to see him overtaking Greg Olsen or Devin Funchess on the target totem pole. Funchess in particular just turned in his best NFL season, and was fantasy viable with and without Kelvin Benjamin on the roster.
Now with Moore on the roster, and Olsen set to return from injury, it’s most likely that Funchess fails to earn a similar target share in 2018. Additionally, Moore’s selection means that Christian McCaffrey will have trouble repeating his 113-target season4 in 2018. Most importantly, Moore’s presence is bad news for Curtis Samuel’s fantasy value, since it’s unlikely Samuel sees enough targets to be fantasy viable next season.
Cam Newton is the biggest beneficiary of this selection. Newton was already a value in the eighth round, and Moore’s selection helps bolster a receiving corps that was light on talented players. The 2018 Panthers receiving corps may be the most talented group of receivers Newton has had.
Although Newton’s ceiling is bolstered by Moore’s presence, the lack of passing volume caps the upside for all Panthers receivers. Newton has never thrown more than 517 passes and averages well under 500. Additionally, the Panthers are below league average in pass percentage and pace over the last few seasons. It’s unlikely that any receivers earn a significant chunk of the targets, and as a result it is difficult to justify Moore as the 1.02 selection in rookie drafts.
However, Moore’s future in the NFL is bright. He could immediately take on the role that Steve Smith used to play for the Panthers. If that’s the case, we could see him ascend past all other receivers on the target totem pole.
Newton’s adjusted yards per attempt (AYA) was near its best when targeting Smith. If Moore is able to successfully replicate Smith’s role, it’s safe to assume that he will return high-end WR2 value. I’m hoping that Moore grasps the offense quickly, because I’m looking forward to rooting for a player that can do this: