Editor’s Note: As outlined in the Path to WR1 Primer article, The Path to a WR1 Fantasy Season article series will showcase WRs who are currently ranked outside of the top-15 receivers in Andy, Mike, and Jason’s initial PPR rankings. We are identifying players that possibly have a shot at finishing the year as a WR1. We are NOT projecting a WR1 end of the year total but merely giving the high-end range of outcomes for players to show what type of ceiling is in the realm of possibilities.
D.J. Moore was recently mentioned on the Explain Yourself! podcast as Jason (D.J.’s twice-removed cousin) fought off his colleagues’ doubts and explained why he believed in a 2nd-year jump. Moore is currently the consensus WR28 in the Ballers WR rankings propped up by Jason’s 19 and plummeted by Andy and Mike’s sub-30 ranking.
Aside from familial ties, projecting Moore’s outcomes for 2019 is integrally tied to how he fits into the team’s offensive plans and the health fortunes of Cam Newton. Curtis Samuel has also received lots of off-season buzz and could compete for No. 1 wideout status in Charlotte. Regardless, the fun part is using the offseason to examine a range of outcomes to see if the draft price Moore currently possesses (ADP of 6.04) is worth the payoff.
Let’s recap Moore’s rookie season, project what a WR1 season would look like based on the most important fantasy categories, and finally give the percentage likelihood of a WR1 campaign in 2019.
2018 Season Recap
D.J. Moore was the first WR drafted in the 2018 draft. The Panthers saw a prospect who dominated the yards after the catch game at Maryland. According to Matt Harmon in Moore’s Rookie Reception Perception profile, he added that “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.”
His athletic profile was off the charts on a number of metrics including burst score (94th percentile) and SPAR-Q (98th) according to PlayerProfiler. Moore was brought along slowly and didn’t become a full-time player until after the Panthers’ Week 5 bye. He eventually showed some upside as the WR10 from Weeks 11-14 and finished 13th among WRs in YAC. Moore’s WR34 finish in PPR was encouraging considering he’s a receiver that will only see more volume moving forward. For rookie WRs with 80+ targets, D.J. Moore posted the 9th best yards per target rate (9.6) over the last 25 years. In other words, there were some numbers that have us looking towards 2019 with some rose-colored glasses.
The Path for 2019
In order for Moore to ascend to the WR1 territory in 2019, there are a number of statistical benchmarks he must meet to become truly an elite fantasy option.
Target Share– A major piece of the projection puzzle is forecasting Moore’s volume which changed significantly as the season progressed. As many rookie WRs go, Moore he played less than 50% of snaps through first seven games and at least 85% in 7 of the final 9 weeks. During that final stretch, he saw just north of seven targets per game.
When looking at the Panthers from a team perspective, the distribution of the team’s targets in 2018 was not incredibly WR-friendly.
Moore had the 2nd lowest WR1 target share (15.1%) in the league last year behind only the lowly 49ers. In other words, there’s room for someone in this offense (Moore or Samuel) to develop into a WR1 with volume especially with nearly 26 percent of the targets going to the “other” ancillary/non-fantasy relevant options.
We also cannot ignore Christian McCaffrey and his 22.8 percent share as this team’s No. 1 target. Many of those targets are dump offs of the short yardage variety but they eat into Moore’s overall PPR ceiling. Gone from Carolina is Devin Funchess and his 79 targets. If we give Moore the second half pace (7.1 per game) he was on in 2018, we’re looking at 113+ targets which would’ve been 20+ percent of the Panthers’ adjusted passing attempts.
That type of target share is not elite by any means but is certainly enough to return WR1 levels of production. However, only 6 players have finished with less than 110 targets and a WR1 finish in PPR leagues over the last 11 years. That means roughly 95% of the WRs needed that type of volume to see WR1 production. For context, Andy, who is the lowest on Moore among the Footballers, has him at 99 targets in the Ultimate Draft Kit.
Catch Rate– In 2018, Moore caught 55(!) of his 82 targets for a 67.1 percent catch rate, which is solid for a rookie. However, we must take into context the type of routes he was running especially the short area screens and drags. For an in-depth look at Moore’s route tree and his success at different levels of the field, you’ll have to see Matt Harmon’s Reception Perception breakdown in the Ultimate Draft Kit.
As discussed in The Path to WR1 series guide, catch rate is a relatively volatile statistic to project year-to-year. Moore showed soft hands in his first year in the league and according to PlayerProfiler, his “true catch rate”, which divides his total receptions by his catchable targets, was 84.6 percent. Cam Newton is known to air-mail a throw or two, but even if we give Moore a slight regression and he catches 64 percent, that’s still above the league average, where he belongs.
Receptions– Moore is most interesting in PPR formats if he develops into a target hog. While McCaffrey is essentially a cheat code moonlighting as a WR while propelling your fantasy teams forward as a locked-in top-five RB, there is an opportunity for Moore to see high-end reception totals. Remember what we’re looking for in this series is the high-end range of outcomes for a player. We cannot project injuries for CMC or Curtis Samuel nor should we assume Cam Newton improves upon his career-high completion percentage of 67.9, an almost 10 point jump from his career average.
The Panthers had 544 adjusted passing attempts in 2018 which was the most in the Cam Newton era. I expect that number to slightly shrink to somewhere near 525 which would’ve placed them 19th in the league. If Moore sees roughly 20+ percent of that passing pie at a 64% catch rate, you’d be looking at 67 receptions on the season. That total is nowhere near enough volume to warrant WR1 fantasy production. He would need to see somewhere north of 85 receptions based on his skill set to get close to top-12 territory.
Yards– Moore racked up 788 receiving yards on the year and actually had a second-half pace of over 1,000 yards. Hitting that millenial mark should be well within the realm of possibilities given a full season workload. However, we’re most interested in seeing what would happen if this Panthers offense was hitting on all cylinders and Moore’s elite after-the-catch ability is showcased.
Despite not being a full-time player until Week 8, Moore ranked 13th among WRs in YAC with 406 and 19th in Yards per Target. Think of Golden Tate in his early years in Detroit with dependable hands and being tough to bring down after the catch. On the high-end, Moore could reach 1,200 yards if he’s utilized more on crossing routes and post patterns where he’s able to take a few to the house.
TDs– As always, this is the toughest category to predict each year. Moore saw only 11.8% of the Panthers’ total RZ targets (8 total) and only 2 total end-zone looks on the season. There’s massive room for improvement but how many TDs is Cam Newton going to throw for? His 35 TDs in his MVP season is a massive outlier. For his other seven seasons in the league, Newton has averaged 21 passing TDs per season. That’s simply not enough to support a high-end WR1.
In 2011, Steve Smith Jr. had seven TDs (and finished as the WR7) with Newton and Funchess has been a constant TD monster when utilized correctly. As a possession receiver, Moore needs to find the end-zone at least seven or eight times to enter into the WR1 conversation. Since 2001, the lowest receiving TD total for a WR1 with under 120 targets in 0.5 PPR leagues was Percy Harvin with six in 2011. How did he become a top-12 WR?… His added rushing ability added another 342 yards and 2 TDs on the ground. I mention this as Moore had 172 rushing yards in his rookie season, the 2nd most among WRs in 2018 and 7th most in history for a rookie WR.
While sneaking in close to double-digit TDs is a lot to ask, consider how many rushing yards Moore needs to essentially “add” a TD. Those 172 rushing yards were worth the same as 2.86 TDs. For context, consider that only five WRs crossed 100 rushing yards and elite WRs Antonio Brown, Davante Adams, T.Y. Hilton and Mike Evans combined for ZERO rushing yards on the season. DeAndre Hopkins finished with -7 yards on one attempt. If the Panthers get Moore involved on end-arounds and pitch plays as frequently as they did in 2018, asking for another two “rushing yards-aided” TDs could be in the cards.
WR1 Possibility: Low Chance (Less than 20%)
This percentage was based upon a recent Twitter poll combined with the average of the Fantasy Footballers writing staff. 20% is essentially saying Moore would hit WR1 numbers 2 out of 10 times if we were to simulate 2019. In other words, he’s a dart throw at best. To put this in perspective, DeAndre Hopkins would probably something be more like 90% given his consistency, team, and a mostly scratch-free medical record. Danny Amendola looks more like 1%.
While Moore’s prospective WR1 outlook looks rather dim, it still remains that he has the best chance to assert himself as the Panthers predominant passing weapon this side of Christian McCaffrey. He is an ascendant talent with elite after-the-catch ability and a team that should be in contention for an NFC South division. Fantasy owners who grab him in the sixth round can bake in some upside especially if he’s taken as a WR3/FLEX type.