Carolina Panthers rookie wide receiver D.J. Moore was recently named best in class this season.
When the Carolina Panthers and general manager Marty Hurney were on the clock in last spring’s NFL Draft, a wide receiver was the known target. Even with Devin Funchess and some aspiring talent in Curtis Samuel and Damiere Byrd, Carolina needed a weapon, especially after trading former first-round pick Kelvin Benjamin. The Panthers picked relatively late at No. 24 but no receivers had been selected, meaning Carolina had their choice of any prospect in the country.
There were some intriguing choices of top-end talent but overall the depth of the draft at receiver was average. Still, with the entire pool of players available the Panthers ultimately had to choose between Alabama star Calvin Ridley or D.J. Moore out of Maryland. Both had consistently been ranked atop many draft boards and each brings their own unique style of play to the position.
Ultimately, Hurney and coach Ron Rivera decided upon Moore and while his development has been increasingly systematic, he’s displayed more than enough potential to be a consistent weapon for Newton and the Panthers offense.
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Playing only 43-percent of the snaps on offense, Moore has accumulated 24 targets with 18 receptions for 281 yards and one touchdown. He’s also averaged just over 14 yards per carry on six attempts in addition to contributing on special teams by returning punts and kickoffs.
According to Pro Football Focus, it’s been enough to earn him the No. 1 ranking for rookie wide receivers to this point in the season. Moore leads Ridley from Atlanta, Chrisitan Kirk with Arizona and Houston’s Keke Coutee.
Critics will point to Ridley’s gaudy rookie numbers as evidence he should rank as the top rookie receiver through eight weeks but a closer examination displays just how valuable Moore has been. Ridley has played 54-percent of the offensive plays for Atlanta earning 35 targets with 27 catches for 392 yards and six touchdowns, plus 13 yards on the ground in three carries.
Not only does Moore have more yards after the catch (161 vs. 143) and average more yards per reception, but he also has fewer drops while also not benefiting from playing alongside the best receiver in football – Julio Jones. No question both should be ranked at the top but the overall game, especially when taking into account route running and an ability to break tackles, gives the early edge to Moore.
For more grades, advanced statistics and more at Pro Football Focus, subscribe to PFF’s EDGE or ELITE subscriptions at ProFootballFocus.com.