Three years after coming to Maryland as a mostly overlooked three-star prospect, wide receiver DJ Moore will leave College Park as the first Terp picked in the opening round of the NFL draft in nearly a decade.
Moore, who set a single-season school record with 80 receptions last season despite playing with five quarterbacks on a 4-8 team, was chosen by the Carolina Panthers with the No. 24 overall pick Thursday night.
Moore was the first wide receiver picked, two spots before Alabama's Calvin Ridley was chosen by the Atlanta Falcons.
"I'm thrilled to be a Carolina Panther," Moore said in a statement released by the Maryland football team. "When that phone rang and I knew I was being selected, it was a special moment for me and my family.
"So much hard work and sacrifice from so many went into this becoming a reality. I want to thank God, my family, especially my mom, my coaches and teammates for helping me along this journey. I'm going to enjoy this moment, but can't wait to get to Carolina to start preparing for the season."
Moore, who was also named the Big Ten's top receiver last season, is the first Maryland player to be selected in the opening round since Darrius Heyward-Bey (McDonogh) was taken No. 7 overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2009.
Moore, who last season became the first Maryland receiver since Torrey Smith in 2010 to go over 200 yards receiving in a game, joins the former Terps star who signed with Panthers as a free agent after helping win a Super Bowl in Philadelphia.
Told by the NFL's college advisory board to return to Maryland for his senior year, Moore was thought to be a second- or third-round pick when he went to the NFL scouting combine in early March. In the course of a couple of days in Indianapolis, Moore's stock rose dramatically.
After running the 40-yard dash in 4.43 seconds, as well as recording a vertical jump of 39 1/2 inches and a standing broad jump of 11 feet, Moore moved ahead of nearly other receiver available, with only Ridley mentioned in the same class.
"Those are unbelievable numbers — freakish numbers," ESPN analyst Mel Kiper Jr. said on the telecast after Moore was chosen.
ESPN college football analyst Kirk Herbstreit called Moore a "need pick" for the Panthers. Devin Funchess was the team's leading wide receiver with 63 receptions last season, with no other Carolina wide receiver finishing the season with more than 17 catches.
Former Panthers star Steve Smith Sr., who recently called Moore his "spirit animal" for their similar playing style, applauded the pick.
He's a playmaker," Smith said on NFL Network. "I think he can run every route on the route tree. A Ph.D. in route running. He can line up in the slot. He can line up outside. He's elusive. He'll run through you, he'll run around you and he'll run away from you."
Smith said that Moore will fill a void left when the future Hall of Famer signed with the Ravens as a free agent in 2014.
"You want to know the truth of how I feel?" Smith said on the NFL Network. "They have never been able to replace me. Until today."
It was the longest a wide receiver had to wait to be drafted since Donnie Avery of Houston and Devin Thomas of Michigan State were taken early in the second round in 2008, at No. 33 and No. 34 by the St. Louis Rams and Washington Redskins, respectively.
Two years later, the Denver Broncos took Demaryius Thomas of Georgia Tech with the No. 22 overall pick. Still, it was certainly a remarkable rise from obscurity for Moore, who took advantage of an otherwise lackluster class of receivers to become a No. 1 draft choice.
Albie Crosby, who coached Moore during his last three seasons at Imhotep Charter Institute in Philadelphia, said that his normally stoic former star "shed a couple of tears" after receiving a phone call from the Panthers.
Crosby said that the large group of Moore's family and friends who had gathered at a Dave & Busters in downtown Philadelphia grew quiet after two teams believed to be interested in drafting Moore went in different directions.
"We thought it was going to be Dallas [at 19], that didn't go, and when Baltimore traded down [from 16 to 25], the energy kind of left a little bit," Crosby said. "When he got the call from Carolina, everybody was jumping."
Cookie Ridley, Moore's mother, called the night "very emotional."
Though recruited by then-coach Randy Edsall and then-offensive coordinator Mike Locksley, Moore becomes the first player taken in the opening round during coach DJ Durkin's two-year tenure. The Terps are also hoping that cornerback JC Jackson gets drafted, likely in the fifth round or later.
"The Panthers are getting a special player and person," Durkin said in a statement. "I couldn't be more proud and excited for DJ and his family. I've seen first hand how much hard work he's put into becoming a great player and teammate. We're thrilled to have him representing the Terps on Sundays."