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Why new Panthers receiver DJ Moore could be the next Stefon Diggs

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Moore is the total package. He can be an NFL star.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Texas John Gutierrez-USA TODAY Sports

It shouldn’t have taken until his NFL Combine for people to pay attention to DJ Moore, but his draft hype train didn’t arrive until late. Now he’s a Carolina Panther, the No. 24 pick in the draft after years of relative anonymity in one of the worst passing offenses in major college football. He should work well with Cam Newton. Moore is a good blocking receiver, and he can be a deep threat in the mold of what Ted Ginn had been for Newton a few years back.

Moore was an excellent receiver at Maryland, but he kept a low national profile there. Rated as a high three-star recruit in the class of 2015, Moore produced immediately in a narrow role. His freshman year, Moore was a bright spot in a dismal season that included a midseason coach firing and the Terps’ typical revolving door at quarterback.

The guys throwing Moore the ball were at the heart of the Terps’ problems, and they shoveled more responsibility onto Moore as his career wore on. By 2017, he was the Big Ten’s Receiver of the Year by 2017, despite Maryland finishing tied for last in the Big Ten East and having the conference’s No. 13 passing offense by yards per throw.

All the while, Moore’s been a good sport about the passers he’s played with. He said at the combine in early March that Maryland’s quarterback situation didn’t frustrate him.

“I practiced with everybody,” he said. “At Maryland we did split squads so we had all the quarterbacks going at one time. I had to rotate through all of them.”

His quarterbacks were 127th out of 128 FBS teams in passer rating his freshman season, then 85th and 109th. Moore is nice about it, but no one else has to be. Maryland’s quarterbacks have consistently been among the worst in the country, and they’ve depressed good receivers’ stats.

In this regard, there’s one obvious recent parallel to Moore.

The similarities between Moore and Stefon Diggs are mostly superficial. Both of them were receivers who wore No. 1 at the University of Maryland, and both were good. They also both measured exactly 6 feet at the combine, though Moore was 15 pounds heavier.

But the most important thing to know about Moore and Diggs is that both of them had to do a lot themselves at Maryland. Diggs had to spend a third of his freshman season with a linebacker throwing him passes after all of Maryland’s QBs got hurt. It never got that bad for Moore, but both spent years as the only threatening target on a team that had lousy QBs. That made it easy for defenses to key on them. They produced anyway.

“I don’t say we play the same, but we have the same hunger for the game,” Moore said.

Diggs had injury concerns that Moore doesn’t have. But nobody serious would ever argue that Diggs falling to the Vikings in the fifth round of the 2015 draft — before becoming one of the better receivers in the NFL for the next three years — wasn’t in large part on Maryland. The NFL overlooked Diggs, who’d never had a 1,000-yard season in college.

Moore was getting numbers by the end at Maryland. But he didn’t shoot up draft boards until he started working out in front of NFL teams.

At the combine, Moore’s workouts made people salivate.

At 210 pounds, Moore ran the 40-yard dash in 4.42 seconds. That was fifth-best among the 37 receivers who ran, and Moore blew away everyone else with his build. His 39.5-inch vertical leap was second-highest after LSU’s D.J. Chark. His 132-inch broad jump was tops at the position. He had the third-best shuttle time among receivers, too.

So, Moore’s a workout warrior. No one questions that.

After the combine, Moore rose from tied for fifth to second in Mike Mayock’s ranking of draft receiver prospects, only behind Alabama’s Calvin Ridley. ESPN’s Todd McShay projected him to go 29th overall to the Jaguars, and he made an appearance in the first round of a mock by SB Nation’s Dan Kadar. He was widely expected to be a first-rounder by the time draft day rolled around, and now it’s official.

But the reason he’s such an exciting prospect is that his workouts match the game film.

As NFL.com’s Matt Harmon wrote:

Of course, while it was great to see Moore show some objectively freaky athleticism at the combine, the evidence that he is a high-end prospect is all over his collegiate film, with his game being quite reminiscent of current Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate.

Moore is a devastating mix of hands, speed, and power. He’s already demonstrated as much on the field, and now he’s done the same in the fishbowl of the draft process.

Moore made a lot of great plays at Maryland. These three stand out to me.

“Once the ball gets in my hands, I just become a different person, like a playmaker,” Moore told me at the combine. “Just go out there and make the plays that are out there, find the seams in the defense and just go make a play out of it.” At Maryland, Moore repeatedly showed he could make something out of nothing.

Moore has unteachable hand-eye coordination and body control. It will serve him well in the pros, even if he needs one more foot than this to make a touchdown count:

And he has incredible agility. When Moore is in space, he looks like he’s directing defenders with a joystick and making them go wherever he wants, i.e. not to him:

He’s one of the most electric players Maryland’s ever had. He is the total package, with his only real shortcoming (a lack of height) made up for by his ability to jump really high. NFL receivers with way fewer physical tools than Moore have managed great careers.

A few months ago, the NFL’s evaluators didn’t think he should leave school.

This is the Maryland effect, again.

He declared for the draft with one year of college eligibility left. An advisory panel of NFL scouts that counsels juniors on whether to turn pro or not told Moore he shouldn’t.

“From the league, I got the ‘go back to school’ grade, but just talking to everybody on the coaching staff and my family, they just thought it was time for me to move on and pursue my career,” Moore told reporters at the combine.

Someone asked if that would be a motivator.

“Yeah,” he said. “I just want to prove them wrong now.”

The NFL already figured out Moore’s legit. So, really, he’s already proven wrong anybody who didn’t think he should be here. All that’s left is to see what he’ll do.