It’s hard to argue with the Carolina Panthers choosing wide receiver D.J. Moore in the first round, so I won’t even try.
Moore strikes me as exactly the sort of player the Panthers offense needs as it tries to keep up with the New Orleans Saints and Atlanta Falcons — who have taken turns serving as the the gold standard for NFC South offenses over the past two years. And when you pick up a ringing endorsement from former Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith — “They have never been able to replace me — until today” — that’s hard to beat.
What I particularly like about the pick is the different skill set that Moore will bring to the table. Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess were almost clones of one another — big receivers with a nice catch radius but not a lot of breakaway speed. Benjamin got traded in part because he and Funchess duplicated each other.
Moore is smaller (6-0, 210 pounds) than Funchess but should be better in the critical “yards after catch” category — a running back when he gets the ball in his hands, as general manager Marty Hurney said. Moore is probably not the burner that Curtis Samuel or Damiere Byrd can be when healthy. But he can run, and at Maryland he was extremely durable and productive, catching passes from eight different quarterbacks in his career.
“He’s fast,” Hurney said. “He’s sudden.”
Can Moore beat press coverage against some of the NFL’s bigger corners? That will be a question for him, and one he will have to answer over and over early. Teams were largely afraid to press Smith during his career because he was strong enough to fight through the early bump and then fast enough to burn them deep. Moore — who runs a 4.42 in the 40 — will need to exhibit similar talents. I’m nowhere near ready to compare him to Smith yet, despite what No. 89 says, but he’s at least got a chance to get somewhere in that area code.
The Panthers are making over their receiving corps on the fly, trying to give Cam Newton another shot at the greatness he showed as the NFL Most Valuable Player in 2015. Offensive coordinator Norv Turner now gets to incorporate both Christian McCaffrey and Moore into his scheme, as well as free-agent receivers Torrey Smith and Jarius Wright and a number of other veterans.
The Panthers still have a lot of other needs on Day 2 and Day 3 of the draft — they would be well-served to get a cornerback or safety on the second day as well as a defensive end.
But the Moore pick at No. 24 was a risk worth taking. Carolina made him the first wide receiver taken in the draft, and Moore now gets to play with a quarterback far better than any of those eight throwing the ball to him at Maryland. He doesn’t lack for confidence and answered my question this way as to whether he thinks he can be a Week 1 starter for Carolina: “If I put the work in and get it all down pat — yes, I do.”
I do, too. And even if Moore doesn’t start, he will need to make some noise early to help this Panthers team get over its New Orleans hump.
Newton texted coach Ron Rivera “Thank you” after this pick.
After Moore scores his first NFL TD, I think he should run over to Newton and proclaim: “You’re welcome.”