The Carolina Panthers entered a rebuilding phase over the offseason, and it began with the hire of head coach Matt Rhule. As a coach taking over a new team, the first thing to look at is what players fit what you want to incorporate on offense and defense—finding those players that will become building blocks for your franchise.
While many will point to running back Christian McCaffrey as the obvious weapon on offense, another player is a crucial weapon for the Panthers. That would be wide receiver, D.J. Moore.
Moore had a breakout season in 2019, hauling in 87 receptions for 1,175 yards and four touchdowns. That production was produced in just 14 games. Better yet, he put together that breakout season without another receiving threat opposite of him and Kyle Allen throwing him the ball.
Dating back to his days at Maryland, Moore has suffered from inaccurate quarterback play. In 2019, he ranked 72nd in target accuracy on overall targets. That wasn't enough to keep him from ranking ninth in receiving yards last season.
What makes D.J. Moore a building block for the Panthers offense?
Luckily for Moore, his strengths as a receiver fit well with a quarterback that lacked arm talent to push the ball down the field or outside of the numbers. Most of his production comes in short to intermediate areas of the field, working over the middle. Usually, that would be the make-up of a slot receiver, but Moore primarily lined up in the X and Z positions for Carolina in 2019.
By utilizing his strengths of quick footwork, acceleration, elusiveness, and play strength, Moore thrived at attacking those high traffic areas over the middle. One area that saw noticeable improvement was his release packages in his sophomore season that helped him get off of the line of scrimmage.
One trait that stands out is his aggressiveness to attack defensive backs quickly, not allowing them to be comfortable. Here, Moore releases a few steps to the outside, forcing the cornerback to open his hips. Even though the corner was able to recover, and the linebacker was playing a shallow zone, the second-year receiver could make a contested catch in a tight window for a quick few yards.
Aggressively attacking the cushion of cornerbacks and working into their blind spots when facing zone coverages was something that Moore dominated in 2019. His acceleration off of the line of scrimmage quickly puts defenders on their heals.
Notice how quickly Moore eliminates the cushion between him and the cornerback. Working into his opponent's blind spot, he has complete control. The corner is unbalanced at the top of the route, and with a quick pressure step to the outside, it allows space for Allen to fit the ball in between the cornerback and safety crashing down over the top.
The awareness of where the single-high safety is positioned throughout his route and working the cornerback to the sideline to make that small opening is excellent work by Moore.
One of the best plays from 2019 was this play against Eli Apple. Understanding he has help over the middle of the field, Apple opens his hips to the outside when Moore utilizes a pressure step to help stay over top of him. Taking advantage of this, Moore attacks that weak hip and aggressively drops his hips with a two-step break into his dig route.
Following the catch, Moore demonstrated his ability to stop on a dime and turn the other direction. Quickness, acceleration, and power to elude defenders and break tackles allow for a nice 52 yard pick up. One of the best receivers post-catch, the former Maryland product made something out of nothing time and time again last year.
On top of his ability to gain separation early and make plays over the middle, Carolina manufactured touches for him in the screen and jet sweep game. On only 19 rushes over his first two seasons, Moore has picked up 212 yards. It's an area that could be exploited more often in the upcoming season under new offensive coordinator Joe Brady.
How can D.J. Moore improve upon his impressive 2019 season?
After looking at what Moore accomplished with the poor quarterback play, it's hard to ignore the dotted lines entering the 2020 season. Carolina signed quarterback Teddy Bridgewater over the offseason who brings the third-year receiver accuracy in the short and intermediate areas of the field. Something he hasn't seen in his young career.
No one is expecting Bridgewater to all of a sudden be an explosive downfield passer at this point in his career. Making his money in those short to intermediate areas of the field is where he has found success in the NFL. Adding a quarterback with a limited arm to push the ball downfield, but brings accuracy to those quick-hitting throws over the middle fits right in with Moore's skillsets.
The Panthers also signed wide receiver Robby Anderson over the offseason who has experience playing for Rhule at Temple. Anderson will give the offense a vertical threat that should draw some attention away from Moore. Better quarterback play and a viable weapon across from him is a great start.
Joe Brady is taking over the offense after helping LSU's offense light the world on fire due to his influence on the playbook. In just one season at LSU, Brady helped take the LSU offense out of the stone ages and produce arguably the best offensive season in college football history. Seeing what he did with LSU’s weapons should tell you enough about what he could draw up for Moore in 2020.
When should you target D.J. Moore in your fantasy draft?
In most drafts, Moore has been selected anywhere from the second to fourth rounds, depending on the number of teams. His ADP is currently around 27th overall, and depending on how the board falls, he could likely become the top receiver for a roster. While he's not your Michael Thomas or Chris Godwin, he makes a strong case to be a viable number one wide receiver in the upcoming season.
Given his skillset matching perfectly with Bridgewater’s limits and Brady’s addition as offensive coordinator, expect an even better season for Moore. Carolina will find additional ways to manufacture touches and take advantage of what he does best. Rhule mentioned that he wants the young receiver to become the dominant receiver that demands the number one cornerback attention in 2020.
Given the leap we saw from year one to year two, there's no reason to doubt that Moore can become that receiver. He still needs some improvement against aggressive man coverage, but there were noticeable improvements from his rookie season to 2019. His release packages and hand fighting throughout the stem of his route improved significantly in just one season. There's still some work to be done when it comes to his route running, but he has all of the physical traits that should translate when facing press man coverages.
Expect to see Moore earn more time working from the slot in 2020 under Joe Brady. Allowing him to move around the offense instead of being held strictly to the boundary alignments will bring additional production.