The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season: D.J. Moore

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Editor’s Note: This profile is part of our annual Path to a Fantasy WR1 Season series. For our methodology and an outline of the process, make sure you read the 2021 Path to WR1 Series Primer.

In this next article for our “Path to a WR1 Season” series, I will look into Carolina Panthers star wide receiver D.J. Moore. The hype for Moore to finish as a WR1 was high last season, but unfortunately, it didn’t work out in 2020 as Moore finished as the WR22 in half-point PPR scoring. Will Moore be able to take that next step in 2021? Let’s take a look at his 2020 season and what will need to happen in 2021 for him to get that WR1 finish.

2020 Season Recap

Many analysts predicted the 2020 season to be a big one for D.J. Moore. Everything was coming together seemingly perfectly. He was coming off of a WR18 finish in half-point PPR scoring and was heading into his 3rd year in the league. The Panthers acquired Teddy Bridgewater, and many thought it would be a breakout year for Moore since he would surely receive better quarterback play to go along with the Panthers’ new offensive coordinator, Joe Brady. Unfortunately, things didn’t go that direction for Moore as he finished as the WR22 in half-point PPR scoring.

The Panthers’ addition of Robby Anderson proved to be a thorn in the side of those who had shares of D.J. Moore. Anderson finished as the WR24 in half-point PPR scoring, just 1.8 fantasy points behind Moore. Anderson also led the team in targets with 136 to Moore’s 118.

2021 Path to a WR1 Season

The Carolina Panthers wanted to move on from Bridgewater and made a move to acquire Sam Darnold from the Jets before the NFL Draft. Whether or not this is an upgrade will take time to figure out, but this should still be a solid offense in Joe Brady’s second year. If Darnold cannot turn it around in this offense under Brady, then it just wasn’t meant to be. I want to give Darnold the benefit of the doubt since he was coached under the “B-Hole” himself and didn’t have the best supporting cast the past few seasons. PlayerProfiler.com has Darnold as the 6th highest Clean Pocket Completion Percentage at 77.5%. The hope is that he will have better protection, regain some confidence, and maybe stop seeing “ghosts.”

The Panthers seem to think this is an upgrade, as you can tell by their actions in acquiring Darnold and trading away Bridgewater. I believe that the worst-case scenario would be around the same level of production from the quarterback position as they had last year, which is good news for the weapons, such as D.J. Moore. We shouldn’t see any drop-off in production but may see an improvement for Moore if the Panthers get the most out of Darnold.

We said “this year may be the year” for him last season, and if you were burned, you might not want to give Moore another shot. Let’s dive into what the offense may look like and how Moore may get that WR1 finish that many believe he can.

Target Share

The Panthers were 22nd in the NFL in passing attempts in 2020, with D.J. Moore getting a target share of 24.1% (18th), per PlayerProfiler.com. Christian McCaffrey was injured for most of the season, so he only received 19 targets. When McCaffrey was out, Mike Davis stepped up and received 70 targets. Combined, you’re looking at 89 targets between the two at the running back position. If healthy, McCaffrey will receive over 89 targets, but I do not expect McCaffrey to impact Moore’s target share in 2021.

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The Panthers supported two WR2’s while being 22nd in the NFL in passing attempts. For Moore to become a WR1, it would help if the Panthers can get closer towards the middle of the league in passing attempts. If the Panthers had 25 more passing attempts, they would have tied for 15th in the NFL. We may see them in the middle of the pack for 2021 if they decide to throw a little more with Darnold at the helm.

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In 2021, I expect Moore to get more targets than the 118 targets he received in 2020. Darnold may have familiarity with Robby Anderson, but I believe Moore is the better player. There were plenty of instances where Moore was wide open, and Bridgewater didn’t look his way. Either way, Moore has the talent to outproduce Anderson even if Anderson gets more targets. In my opinion, 125 targets would be his floor, with his ceiling set to around 140 targets.

Yards & Air Yards

D.J. Moore has been dominant through the air in his first 3 seasons in the NFL. He finished 9th in the NFL in receiving yards among wide receivers in 2020. Moore was also 11th on a per-game basis at 79.5 receiving yards per game. He was a great deep threat and was 3rd in the NFL in yards per reception at 18.1 yards. Moore has excellent ball skills and demonstrated those skills in many plays where Bridgewater would throw it up for Moore to come down with the ball. According to pro-football-reference.com, Moore had an aDOT of 13.2, which would tie for 14th among receivers with at least 50 targets. He should continue seeing those deep targets in 2021 and have a similar aDOT.

Historically, Moore is a part of some good company when you look at receivers total career receiving yards at age 23 or younger where he comes in at 5th among names like Randy Moss (1st), Mike Evans (2nd), DeAndre Hopkins (3rd), and Larry Fitzgerald (6th).

D.J. Moore managed to finish 9th in the NFL in receiving yards by a wide receiver while also being 8th in unrealized air yards (757 yards), per PlayerProfiler.com. In 2020, Moore was 5th in Air Yards and 2nd in Air Yards Share, which PlayerProfiler defines as the total team target distance percentage.

I expect Moore to finish in the top 10 in receiving yards once again in 2021. He has posted back-to-back seasons of at least 1,150 receiving yards, and I think that is closer to his floor than his ceiling. I would put his range of outcomes for receiving yards in 2021 between 1,100 and 1,400 yards, especially with the extra regular-season game this year and the 757 Unrealized Air Yards that Moore had in 2020. With all of that said, I expect massive production through the air in 2021. The Panthers were 18th in the NFL in passing yards in 2020. We should expect them to be in the range between 15th to 18th in passing yards in 2021.

Touchdowns

If there were an “Achilles Heel” for D.J. Moore‘s potential to finish as a WR1, it would be the fact that he is not a frequent visitor to the endzone. He has finished with only 4 touchdowns in both of his last two seasons. With only 9 targets within the 20 and 7 targets within the 10, per pro-football-reference.com, Moore could only score 1 touchdown in the RedZone. That 1 touchdown was a designed play where Moore seemed to be running a sweep, but Bridgewater pitched it to him, which counted as a passing touchdown. All of Moore’s other touchdowns were on big plays, and that is kind of what he’s relied on to score. The Panthers tied for second-to-last in the NFL with 16 passing touchdowns. Moore’s 4 scores would be 25% of the team’s passing touchdowns.

For D.J. Moore to take that next step in fantasy production and finish as a WR1, he will need to score more. If he can get in the endzone 7 times or more this season, I think he can end up as a WR1. The Panthers took plenty of deep shots at Moore last season, which resulted in some big touchdown plays. Moore had a couple of deep shots that he almost took all the way but ended up getting tripped up or tackled. He will have immense upside if he can get a couple more of those long touchdowns and an uptick in RedZone targets. If the Panthers can throw for 25 touchdowns this season and give Moore a 20% share, we can estimate he gets 5 scores. I think 7 touchdowns is well within the range of outcomes for Moore.

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Strength of Schedule

The Carolina Panthers have a juicy schedule when it comes to wide receivers. The Ultimate Draft Kit has the Panthers with the #1 schedule for wide receivers in 2021. While this is just a prediction and defensive rankings will surely change throughout the year, it’s good to see that Moore has an excellent path to scoring many fantasy points against some potentially weak defenses.

WR1 Probability for 2021 (Maybe 25-49%)

The Twitter poll that I posted asking for a percentage chance for D.J. Moore to finish as a WR1 finished with 49% of voters choosing “Maybe (25-49%)”. I agree with this selection, and it would have had my vote. I would personally put his percentage chance of being a WR1 at 35%. My percentage chance would have been a lot higher if it wasn’t for the lack of touchdowns in his situation. The next highest vote was “Unlikely (10-24%)”, drawing a 31% vote. See below for full poll results.

Conclusion

D.J. Moore has a solid WR2 floor with WR1 upside. The main thing holding back Moore from a WR1 season is his touchdown upside. If he gets that corrected and starts scoring touchdowns consistently, then watch out. If he can do that and manage to out-target Robby Anderson, then he has a high chance of getting that top-12 WR finish. He just turned 24 and has dominated through the air so far in his career, so we know the talent is there. As of writing this article, Moore’s current ADP, according to Sleeper, is 4.10 as the WR23 off the board. The perfect target for a WR2 with a safe floor and WR1 upside!

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