Even in his best game of the season, Carolina Panthers wide receiver DJ Moore was inconsistent.
In the second half of the Panthers’ 36-21 win Sunday over the Ravens, the former Maryland standout was targeted once. He did not make the catch. It did not matter. For all that he had done in the first half, the team could endure another stretch of rookie absenteeism.
Against the local team that twice passed on picking him in the first round of the NFL draft, Moore finished with five catches on six targets for a career-high 90 yards. He added two rushes for 39 yards, including a wayward toss from quarterback Cam Newton he ably recovered and jetted around the corner with for 28 yards.
“It feels great just to know that we went out and executed the game plan,” Moore said. “Just to know that we could go out and do it throughout the game and end it how we did, it was awesome.”
Two weeks earlier, Moore had fumbled twice in a 23-17 loss to the Washington Redskins, and fans were quick to criticize, lamenting that he had been picked so high. Atlanta rookie Calvin Ridley, taken two spots after Moore, was blossoming in the Falcons’ passing game; why couldn’t they have taken him instead?
After Sunday, those same Panthers diehards could not be blamed for imagining a future full of Sundays like this one, when he appeared to be the smoothest player on the field.
“He just has to keep learning, and something that’s so important for young guys: The game is never over,” Panthers quarterback Cam Newton said. “DJ is such an exceptional talent and dynamic player with the ball in his hands. We have to find ways to get the ball in his hands. From running the football to toss sweeps to chucking the ball downfield, he’s ready for it.”
“This young man needs to play football,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “These young players need to be on the field. That’s how they develop.”
The Ravens had their chances to make the reigning Big Ten Conference Receiver of the Year one of their own. On draft day, they traded their No. 16 overall pick, along with a fifth-round selection, to the Buffalo Bills for the No. 22 overall pick and an early third-round slot. Then they traded the Bills’ top pick and a sixth-round selection to the Tennessee Titans for the No. 25 slot and a fourth-round pick.
At No. 25, the Ravens took tight end Hayden Hurst, who caught his first career touchdown Sunday. One pick before, the Panthers took Moore.
In his four games since returning from foot surgery, Hurst has eight catches for 36 yards and a touchdown. In Moore's seven appearances, he has 24 catches for 281 yards and a touchdown.
“I think he's pretty good with the run after catch,” Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith said. “My first time seeing him, he's kind of built up as a receiver, but he looks like a running back, kind of. But I was impressed with his runs after [the] catch.”