We’re in the thick of the NFL offseason and it’s officially time to start fantasy football prep. I’ll be answering the biggest questions heading into the 2020 season. Click here to read the series of questions answered so far.
23-year-old D.J. Moore has already accomplished quite a bit during his two-year career. He finds himself in excellent company when it comes to most receiving yards gained through the age of 22 during the Moss era (1998-2019):
- Randy Moss (2,726)
- Josh Gordon (2,451)
- JuJu Smith-Schuster (2,343)
- Mike Evans (2,257)
- Amari Cooper (2,223)
- Larry Fitzgerald (2,189)
- Sammy Watkins (2,029)
- DeAndre Hopkins (2,012)
- Moore (1,963)
His 55-788-2 and 87-1,175-4 receiving lines in 2018 and 2019, respectively, didn't exactly light the world on fire, but the production was truly special when we consider most receivers that were Moore's age during this time still played college football.
Of course, balling out early in life isn't always correlated with continued success. We saw just how quickly a talented receiver can go from amazing to meh with one QB change in Pittsburgh last season.
What follows is a breakdown on what to expect from Moore in 2020 based on both his past production and new-look offense.
Moore is ridiculous with the ball in his hands
The production that Moore achieved after the catch as a rookie was ridiculous. Overall, only 2019 A.J. Brown (8.9 yards after the catch per reception), 2012 Percy Harvin (8.7), 2019 Deebo Samuel (8.5) and 2014 DeSean Jackson (8.5) were more lethal with the ball in their hands than Moore (7.9) was in 2018.
The Panthers have done a great job utilizing this skill-set by feeding him 19 rush attempts over the past two seasons. All Moore has done with those opportunities is rack up 212 yards – an average of 11.2 yards per carry that ranks sixth in NFL history among everyone to ever get at least 15 rush attempts.
Obviously these accomplishments are a small sample size, but it's still good to be at the top of the leader board when possible.
While Moore wasn't quite as efficient in 2019 (8.7 yards per target) as he was in 2018 (9.6), the reduced performance can easily be chalked up to porous QB play from Kyle Allen. Moore was one of the most-unlucky players from the 2019 season, as he found himself as one of just 10 players to receive a catchable deep-ball rate of 30% or lower (PFF, among 73 players with double-digit deep ball targets):
- Corey Davis (0%)
- Curtis Samuel (19%)
- Jimmy Graham (20%)
- Keenan Allen (25%)
- Chris Conley (26%)
- Moore (29%)
- Phillip Dorsett (29%)
- Christian Kirk (29%)
- Zach Pascal (30%)
- Odell Beckham (30%)
Overall, the Panthers boasted a league-worst 25% deep-ball rate in 2019. The Colts (31%) were the next-worst offense.
It was bad, particularly for Samuel.
QB changes can be cause for concern when it means a worse player is under center. This won't be the case in 2020.
There's reason to be optimistic about this Panthers Offense
It's tough to put Allen and Teddy Bridgewater in the same category. The Panthers' new-found franchise QB was better across the board in 2019:
- Completion rate: Bridgewater (No. 6), Allen (No. 25)
- TD rate: Bridgewater (No. 13), Allen (No. 32)
- INT rate: Bridgewater (No. 4), Allen (No. 33)
- QB Rating: Bridgewater (No. 11), Allen (No. 34)
- Yards per attempt: Bridgewater (No. 19), Allen (No. 27)
- Adjusted yards per attempt: Bridgewater (No. 15), Allen (No. 34)
Bridgewater was pretty clearly an above-average QB in 2019. Even if you want to assume an incoming downgrade in performance due to life outside of a Sean Payton coached offense, Teddy has a ways to fall before getting even close to Allen and the league's worst of the worst at the QB position.
Of course, the biggest knock on Bridgewater is his tendency to check down. Only Jimmy Garoppolo (6.5% deep-ball rate) had a lower percentage of their pass attempts travel fewer than 20 yards downfield. Allen (11%) ranked 16th. The good news for Moore is 1) He was used more underneath than Samuel in 2019 (11.74 vs. 14.78 average target depth) and 2) Bridgewater (57% catchable deep ball rate) was far and away more accurate when he did throw deep compared to Allen (30%).
There are a number of additional external factors to consider when projecting Moore other than simply how Bridgewater performs. Perhaps new head coach Matt Rhule and OC Joe Brady will experiment with Samuel as a low-aDOT slot and Robby Anderson out wide. Christian McCaffrey figures to again see all the volume he can handle. TE Ian Thomas boasts sneaky upside. Backup WR Seth Roberts tends to play more snaps than we all would like wherever he goes.
At the end of the day ...
It's wise to bet on young talent
Moore finished as the PPR WR16 in 2019. He's currently being drafted among the league's top-12 WRs in best-ball formats, while his redraft ADP sits a bit lower in the borderline WR2 range.
I do tend to prefer Moore in the latter range more so than the former. This offense had three receivers with triple-digit targets in 2019. McCaffrey is again the favorite to lead the way in targets, meaning Moore's probable best-case scenario is to function as a highly-efficient No. 2 pass-game option that finds a way to turn routine catches into big plays.
We've certainly seen Moore accomplish this very feat more than a few times over the years.
The Panthers Defense figures to be awful in 2020, meaning they'll likely find themselves in pass-first comeback mode fairly often. While we can't guarantee Moore will beat out Samuel and Anderson for No. 1 WR duties, the former receiver has been a heavily rumored trade candidate, and the latter signed a relatively modest two-year, $20 million contract.
Moore is the clear-cut favorite to serve as Bridgewater's new-look Michael Thomas. Last season both Thomas and Alvin Kamara played in Weeks 3-6 and averaged 10.3 and seven targets per game, respectively. Even working under the assumption that CMC is this offense's version of Thomas, there's still a healthy chunk of targets for Moore assuming he emerges as the offense's clear-cut No. 1 WR.
Moore has displayed enough talent to believe a true breakout season could be on the horizon. The new uncertainties on offense and under center *should* be a positive, making Moore a prime WR to target outside of the top-15 players at the position. It's hard not to be infatuated with the talent here, but be wary of expecting too much production from non-No. 1 pass-game options around the league.