The NFL game is changing. Good play-callers are prioritizing the pursuit of “layup throws” for their quarterbacks. Whether it be by spread formations, play design or route allocation, the NFL is waking up to the idea that offensive minds can help make their quarterback’s life easier by design. The obvious example from last season was the evolution of the Rams offense under Sean McVay. The former Washington offensive coordinator designed a diverse offense that opened wider windows for Jared Goff and incorporated a variety of concepts.
All these changes should also alter the way we evaluate prospects and the pro-level projections. We aren’t scouting for players to fit archaic, low-percentage, early 2000’s passing offenses. The focus should be on the new-look NFL, which is all about creating “layup throws” for quarterbacks.
At the wide receiver position, we should place more of a premium on the quick separators who are going to win underneath and intermediate. These players present a quarterback with a reliable target on specific throws. It might not be the highlight-reel stuffing approach, but those plays accrue production in bulk and keep a scoring attack. It’s hard to see in today’s NFL why we’re still desperately chasing hulking wideouts who only win at the catch point while creating minimal separation.
If there’s one wide receiver in this class that can help an NFL offense create those type of layup throws for their quarterbacks better than any of his peers, it’s Maryland prospect D.J. Moore. One of the risers during the draft process, Moore’s Reception Perception profile reveals he was always a top-flight prospect. He is an ideal fit for the way the game is going.
Alignment & Target Data
Penn State, Texas, Ohio State, Northwestern, Wisconsin, Michigan
The consensus opinion holds that D.J. Moore will primarily be a slot receiver in the NFL. Indeed, he would be a tremendous fit as an interior receiver but we have tangible evidence of him thriving on the outside in college.
Moore took 79.3 percent of his snaps over the six games sampled for Reception Perception from the left wide receiver position. He lined up on the line of scrimmage on 77.7 percent of his snaps, as well. While he can do damage on the inside, for sure, Moore was an X-receiver in college. When I spoke to Moore last month, he indicated he intends to play both outside and in the slot at the next level.
While operating as Maryland’s top outside receiver, D.J. Moore was the engine of the passing offense. As multiple quarterbacks cycled in and out of the lineup, he remained a constant. Moore drew a target on 36.5 percent of his sampled routes. His 1.5 percent drop rate speaks to the reliability those passers grew to adore from their trusted receiver. However, that description applies to other areas of his game beyond just his hands.
Success Rate vs. Coverage
D.J. Moore has plenty of fans out there, and you can count me among them, so his success rate vs. coverage scores is something of a Rorschach test. What the reader sees in them depends on how they view and classify players at the wide receiver position.
Checking in with a 70.9 percent success rate vs. man coverage, Moore fell at the 65th percentile among prospects charted over the last three seasons. While that’s not an elite score, it’s an above average mark. Generally, any time you’re clearing 70 percent, it’s a good mark. However, it doesn’t completely squelch the notion that his future NFL home will be inside as a slot receiver.
Furthering that notion, some evaluators have noted an issue with contact on Moore’s film. Perhaps they have a case here, as his 65.4 percent success rate vs. press coverage just cleared the 40th percentile. He saw a press attempt on 52 of his 181 sampled routes, a reasonably high amount for a college receiver as the prospect average is 45. While Moore lined up as an X receiver in college, his lack of overwhelming success against press casts doubt on that position being his ideal spot in the NFL. It’s much easier to imagine this player as someone used as a flanker in two wide receiver sets to get a free release from the line of scrimmage who moves into the slot on 60-plus percent of his snaps.
If moved inside, Moore is brimming with all the tools needed to sift through the middle of the field coverage. His 81.7 percent success rate vs. zone coverage finished above the 81st percentile. That’s ideal for a future interior receiver.
As mentioned, much of the feel for Moore’s success rate vs. coverage scores are in the eye of the beholder. He beat man and zone coverage at a rate above the prospect average while operating as his team’s X-receiver and passing game engine. However, there were struggles with press coverage. It’s worth wondering what that means for his NFL projection, especially if you’re bullish on your views about what “type” of wide receiver should go in the first round. Of course, as always, more truths are revealed when you parse out his success rates on a route-by-route basis.
When we examine D.J. Moore’s collegiate usage, we return to the idea of the receiver who creates “layup throws” for his quarterback. A receiver in this mold functions well on the short and intermediate patterns that NFL passing games are based on primarily in the middle of the field. This is good news for Moore as he’s well-versed at running those routes.
Outside of the screen, the routes that Moore ran at a rate above the prospect average were the curl and dig. Almost a quarter of his charted routes were curls, checking in at 22.5 percent. Curls and slants make up a bulk of the allocated patterns for NFL wideouts.
Maryland didn’t just make use of Moore in the short area of the field. He checks in at the charted average for the nine, corner and out routes. It’s unlikely executing on these patterns will be his primary assignment at the next level but the experience is good to see, especially in conjunction with his success rates.
Moore scored incredibly well on the in-breaking short to intermediate patterns. The athletic receiver showed explosion and stellar technique on routes like the slant, curl and dig in his Reception Perception sample. Moore told me that the curl was his favorite route to run, as a receiver is able to work zone or man in the effort to present a reliable target to the quarterback. Moore’s 80.5 percent success rate on the curl, which is quite impressive considering how often he ran this route, quantifies that skill.
Whichever quarterback ends up paired with Moore in the NFL will soon come to favor the receiver as an ideal “layup” target. It’s not worth overcomplicating this much: where Moore wins and the routes on which he thrives is all right along the direction in which the league is headed.
Going beyond the short areas, Moore checked in with average success rates on the nine and corner route, which remember, he ran at an above average rate. While his primary value will be his ability to create quick separation and present a reliable target to his quarterback for chunk yardage, Moore showed some ability to separate in the vertical game when asked to.
Beyond his ability as a route runner and how he’ll be used, D.J. Moore’s ancillary metrics in Reception Perception can take the discussion of his issues with contact in either direction. With his ability to create crisp separation, you don’t see Moore dealing with defenders in his hip pocket too often. Throughout the games sampled, just 15.2 percent of his targets registered as a contested catch attempt. Most of these instances either occurred because the team went to him in high-leverage situations as the passing game engine or one of the members of Maryland’s band of subpar passers threw him into a contested situation. Moore came down with just 50 percent of those contested catch attempts, falling below the three-year prospect average. Moore showed with his measured athletic testing at the combine he has the physical traits to win at the catch point but left some questions on the field.
On the other hand, Moore tested out incredibly well after the catch. His role saw him out in space on 13.3 percent of his sampled routes and he went down on first contact on just 29.2 percent of those plays. The average prospect goes down on first contact at a near 50 percent rate. There’s no doubt Moore brings a physical and combative play-style with the ball in his hands, ala Golden Tate. In combination with his explosive athleticism, it makes for a dangerous player who can thrive after the catch. If a play caller marries those abilities with a role that’s designed to create easy throws for a quarterback, Moore can make the most of his spot in the NFL.
D.J. Moore’s Reception Perception results bring plenty of reason to be excited but also reveals questions along the way that should invite us to wonder where he best fits at the NFL-level.
His subpar results against press coverage, low contested catch numbers and average success rates on deep routes will make those looking for the traditional No. 1 receiver sheepish. Yet, his ability to separate on patterns that a bulk of NFL passing games are based on is key. Moore should be a plus-player on routes like the curl and dig, while racking up high reception totals. He can offer something beyond just a replaceable slot receiver skill set.
Heading into the 2017 season, you have to imagine most people would have asserted that Robert Woods offered an entirely replaceable skill set. And yet, we saw Woods progress into a remarkably efficient player in his first season with the Rams, becoming a key figure in the NFL’s highest-scoring offense and ending the year with a dog-walking of Falcons top corner Desmond Trufant in the playoffs. Paired with a similarly progressive play caller who finds the right roles for his pass-catching talent, Moore could have a similar impact. No quarterback saw a greater increase in layup throws from 2016 to 2017 than Jared Goff and Woods’ play was one of the reasons why. Goff had to be pleased with his arrival and Moore’s future quarterback will soon have the same appreciation.
The 2017 NFL season seemed to show that the success of an NFL offense can be just as much decided by the play callers and designers as it is by the quarterback executing them. Some of the best offenses are those sprinkling in a healthy dose of layup throws. Drafting D.J. Moore in April will be a major step in a team accomplishing that goal.
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