Outside of the Monday Night Football matchup, Week 2 in the NFL is in the books and there’s been plenty of stories worth talking about. The Las Vegas Raiders’ hot start, Kyler Murray’s video-game numbers, and Zach Wilson’s struggles are just a few that come to mind.
But quietly, the Carolina Panthers are 2-0 after a dominant win against a New Orleans team that just absolutely smashed the Green Bay Packers as their focal victory. There are a lot of reasons for the surprising start: a dominant defense led by Brian Burns, offensive coordinator Joe Brady scheming to Sam Darnold’s strengths, and Christian McCaffrey being, well Christian McCaffrey.
And yet, despite all of those factors in place, it still wouldn’t be possible without D.J. Moore’s emergence into a de-facto No. 1 wide receiver.
To say it’s an emergence is sort of undercutting Moore’s last few seasons. Back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons with a ridiculous team air yards percentage (39%) and YAC over expected (+1.4)—both good for top-five marks in the entire league—make the case that Moore is already sort of a star. But with the departure of Curtis Samuel and with a quarterback in Darnold that is comfortable looking for him on nearly every pass route no matter the down and distance, his ascension to top-15 wide receiver status looks even clearer two games into the year.
On pace for 84 catches, 1,309 yards, and nine touchdowns through a couple match-ups (obviously quite a small sample size), Moore is lining up inside and out and running a plethora of different concepts—doing so at a high level. Route charts show he's doing a bit of everything, using clean releases to win on the perimeter and his underrated physicality and hand strength to win on in-breaking reps. Tasked with facing extremely tight man coverage early this year—he’s facing a condensed 2.2 yards of initial cushion per route run (via NFL Next Gen stats), which happens to be the lowest in the league—Moore has done an exceptional job beating press and grabbing hard catches in tight windows, a skill of his that has been somewhat underappreciated with his elite athleticism and YAC ability over the years.
As is usual with Moore, he’s also making the spectacular look normal, as he caught a ridiculous toe-tap pass on the sideline in Week 1 that had the lowest probability (9%) of any completion so far this year (again, via NFL Next Gen stats).
The flash, the body control, the athleticism, the YAC, the route-running versus man, throw in some jet sweeps and punt returns as a cherry on top—it’s all there.
Robby Anderson is the big-play guy and McCaffrey is the workhorse, but without Moore, this Carolina offense would not be off to its current hot start. It’s time we give the 24th overall pick in the 2018 draft the first-round level attention that he deserves and put him in that top-15 wide receiver conversation.
It’s a deep position with many different types, but Moore has proven he is a legit No. 1 wide receiver in this league. It’s time for everyone to get with that program.
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