Two games — that’s all it took for our first taste of the professional player Carolina Panthers rookie DJ Moore may become.
Expectations for Moore, the first receiver selected in this year’s NFL draft, were naturally always high. And while Panthers coach Ron Rivera has insisted this offseason that the team wanted to work Moore into the offense slowly, being careful not to overload the 21-year-old, that plan may be changing somewhat.
Moore only saw 17 offensive snaps in the team’s Week 1 victory over Dallas, and registered one rush for 3 yards and no catches. It was mostly more of the same Sunday against Atlanta, when he again played 17 of 67 offensive snaps and had one rush for 7 yards.
Because while Moore certainly didn’t have a breakout game against the Falcons, he absolutely had a breakout play — a 51-yard touchdown catch and run on his first NFL reception.
And if that play was any indication of what’s to come with Moore, a Maryland product taken in the first round, then coach Ron Rivera was spot on Monday saying the team needs to get him more involved.
“I think we’ve got to put more on his plate. I do,” Rivera said Monday. “What it is, is it’s about getting to know and understand our guys and what they’re capable of. I think we’ve always felt that about DJ, and this was an opportunity. He showed us.”
Moore was lauded during the pre-draft process and offseason for his physical gifts and ability to pick up yards after contact. General manager Marty Hurney even said that once Moore catches the ball, he runs more like a running back in the open field.
All that was on display during his touchdown grab. Moore caught a laser pass from Cam Newton in the middle of the field, planted his foot and cut hard toward the end zone with a Falcons defender draped all over him. So Moore, stronger than his 5-foot-11, 215-pound frame may indicate, promptly stiff-armed the defender to the ground, separated from him, and ran untouched the rest of the way into the end zone.
“He’s an obvious playmaker when he gets the ball in his hands,” running back Christian McCaffrey said of Moore. “He’s definitely young and growing, and I think that’s the beauty of it — he is just so naturally special.
“Once he really figures it out, it’s going to be extremely hard to cover him.”
It helped that the touchdown play was something the Panthers had already run earlier in the game. On the first attempt, Moore was open in the middle, but Newton instead launched a deep shot to Torrey Smith that was broken up.
Rivera said that once offensive coordinator Norv Turner saw how the defense played Moore the first time, it made sense to go back to the same play again.
A broader role
Moore has played more on special teams than offense so far in his young career, impressing as a gunner on return coverage, but plays like the one he made Sunday will make it difficult for the coaching staff to keep him off the field. Even among a rebuilt receiving corps, especially one without Damiere Byrd (knee) and Curtis Samuel (medical issue), Moore’s explosiveness stood out.
Rivera noted the team has somewhat scaled back its initial plan to teach Moore all three receiver positions, especially at the same time as he has seen more special teams action, but that it may be time to get the rookie more actively involved in the offense.
“Just looking at some of the things that we’ve done, things that we’ve done in practice, I think that we can stress him more and ask more of him,” Rivera said. “I think when you lose the guys that you’ve lost, whether it be Damiere or Curtis, the fallback is to have DJ do more.
“But he’s earning opportunities, and I think those opportunities will continue to grow for him.”