D.J. Moore Can Be Fantasy Football’s Top WR for 2020 (and Beyond)
D.J. Moore is quickly climbing fantasy rankings this offseason. He’s an obvious candidate for a third-year breakout and many analysts across the industry are projecting him to jump a few spots from his WR18 finish last season and finish as a WR1 in 2020. I don’t think that’s enough, which is why I chose not to write about him in our recent Path to a WR1 article series. I believe he could finish as the WR1 in 2020.
No really, hear me out.
Let’s start with the obvious. After catching passes from a broken-down Cam Newton, Taylor Heinicke, Kyle Allen, and Will Grier in his first two seasons, he should finally get consistent quarterback play from Teddy Bridgewater. He may not be the flashiest quarterback in the NFL, but he can support an overall WR1. In the six games that Bridgewater threw the majority of the Saints passes in 2019 Michael Thomas averaged 10.8 targets, 8.6 catches, and 101.8 receiving yards per game. That translated to 18 fantasy points per game, slightly lower than the 18.8 he averaged over the entire season but still better than the next highest mark, 16.6 fantasy points per game by Chris Godwin. Bridgewater doesn’t appear to have any problem locking in on a favorite target and, at the risk of getting lambasted by Thomas on Twitter, I believe Moore has the tools to be as good as Thomas. In fact, according to NFL Next Gen Stats, the two wideouts averaged the exact same 2.6 yards of separation.
As a team, the Panthers probably aren’t going to be very good. They have an extremely young, unproven defense in a division with arguably the most offensive firepower in the NFL. Unlike running backs, however, it isn’t atypical for elite fantasy wideouts to come from losing teams. Last year’s WR2 (Chris Godwin) and WR3 (Julio Jones) came from other losing teams in this division. In 2017, DeAndre Hopkins was the WR1 on a 4-12 Houston Texans team. Simply put, teams pass more when they’re trailing and the Panthers are likely to be trailing often in 2020. This bodes well for Moore.
We haven’t seen how new head coach Matt Rhule and offensive coordinator Joe Brady will run an offense in the NFL, but Brady is known to utilize playmakers in space. Another perfect fit for Moore. Christian McCaffrey will get his touches, but it’s unrealistic to expect him to break the NFL record for running back targets again under the new coaching staff. Curtis Samuel and Robby Anderson can be big air yard players that stretch the field but shouldn’t be expected to be high volume receivers. There are simply too many offensive weapons for defenses to focus on all of them. The threat of McCaffrey out of the backfield and the field-stretching of Samuel and Anderson can open voids in the short-to-intermediate range, the perfect space for Moore to gobble up targets and rack up YAC. In fact, it wouldn’t be all that different than Michael Thomas’s path to being the WR1 in 2019, except that Moore is arguably better than Thomas after the catch.
At 6’0”, 210 lbs, Moore isn’t the most physically imposing receiver in the league, but he is one of the most talented. His combination of speed and run after the catch ability give him the opportunity to turn any short screen, slant, or dig into a big play. As noted in Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception (part of the Ultimate Draft Kit), Moore broke at least one tackle 50% of the times that he caught a ball in space, the highest percentage of any receiver with at least 25 catches in space. Once tackles are broken his top-end speed allows him to rack up the YAC and turn average plays into huge ones.
Touchdowns can make or break a fantasy season, and Moore has underperformed in the TD category in his first two seasons. In fact, he’s underperformed so much that it would be somewhat shocking if we don’t see some positive regression in 2020. For his career, Moore has averaged one touchdown for every 327 receiving yards. That’s extraordinarily low. For reference, Julio Jones, known for his lack of touchdown production, has averaged a touchdown for every 213 yards. For Keenan Allen, it’s every 188 yards. DeAndre Hopkins, every 159 yards. Fellow third-year wideout Calvin Ridley, every 99 yards! Given that context, Moore’s touchdown production has been absurdly low and is primed for positive regression in 2020.
So the narrative above is all well and good, but can Moore really put up WR1 numbers?
Last year the Panthers quarterbacks combined for 630 pass attempts. There no reason to believe it will be any less in the high powered NFC South this season, so let’s stick with that.
Moore had a healthy 23% target share last year, just ahead of McCaffrey’s 22% target share. Let’s be reasonable and take 2% away from McCaffrey and give it to Moore, bumping him up to 25%. That would translate to 154 targets for Moore. While competition from fellow WRs Robby Anderson and Curtis Samuel is clearly a factor, Moore has the makings of a target machine and seems likely to be the one peppered in the neighborhood of 8-to-10 targets a game.
Now let’s factor in catch percentage. Moore caught just over 67% of his passes as a rookie and saw that drop to just above 64% last year. Remember, however, that he wasn’t exactly getting high-quality targets from his cast of quarterbacks. Let’s give him a slight bump over his rookie year to 68% catching balls from Teddy B. That puts him at 105 receptions.
How about yards per catch? Moore was at 14.3 yards per catch as a rookie and 13.5 last season. Let’s just keep him at the 13.5 number from last year. Given 105 receptions, that puts him at 1,414 receiving yards.
The Panthers have also given Moore a handful of carries each season. He’s totaled 212 yards on 19 rush attempts over his two-year career. Let’s use the average of the two seasons and give him 10 carries for 111 yards.
I already mentioned positive touchdown regression. If the pendulum swings far enough, Moore could reach the end zone ten times. It’s not a safe projection, but it’s within the realm of possibilities.
Given everything above, Moore’s 2020 stat line would be:
154 targets, 105 receptions, 1414 receiving yards, 111 rushing yards, 10 touchdowns, 264.8 fantasy points
No, that wouldn’t be enough to bypass Thomas’s WR1 last season, but Thomas smashed NFL records along the way. It would have handily topped Chris Godwin‘s 233.1 as the WR2 last season. It would only have been WR6 in 2018 but would’ve been WR1 in both 2017 and 2016. It’s safe to say that finishing as the WR1 is statistically possible.
I’ll wrap this up with a brief dynasty spin.
Moore is entering his third professional season and he’s younger than JuJu Smith-Schuster, Terry McLaurin, Diontae Johnson, and Deebo Samuel. Teddy Bridgewater is only 27 years old and was just paid to be Carolina’s quarterback for at least the next three seasons. If the two click, the pair could be racking up fantasy points for much longer than that.
Of all of the wideouts drafted since Moore came into the league in 2018, he may have the best chance of remaining the top wideout on a pass-happy team with a quality quarterback for the long term. Several other young studs (Calvin Ridley, Chris Godwin, DK Metcalf, Courtland Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, CeeDee Lamb, A.J. Brown) can stake a claim at one of these factors, but Moore could have it all.
D.J. Moore has a realistic path to becoming the WR1 in 2020 and beyond.