ASHBURN, Virginia — D.J. Moore will step onto the grass at FedEx Field on Sunday when the Carolina Panthers take on the Washington Redskins, miles away from where the 21-year-old established himself as one of the top Big Ten receivers at the University of Maryland.
His productivity at College Park helped Moore become a first-round pick in this year’s draft, with the Panthers selecting him 24th overall.
But so far in the NFL, Moore is experiencing the tough learning curve most rookie wide receivers face when adapting to the league. In four games, Moore has six catches for 103 yards and a touchdown and 28 yards rushing on three attempts.
“Explosive football player,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said of Moore. “A guy that we’re trying to figure out ways to get the ball in his hands so that when he does get the ball in his hands, he makes plays.”
Moore has been up and down as the Panthers try and figure out the best plan to get him the ball. He was held without a catch in his debut and then caught just one pass in each of Carolina’s next two games.
Last week against the Giants, Moore did show signs, catching four passes for 49 yards.
Carolina, too, has used Moore’s speed as a weapon. Moore, who ran a 4.4 40-yard dash at the scouting combine, returns punts and has been used in jet sweeps and end arounds in the Panthers’ rushing attack.
Through four games, he has been on the field for just 35.29 percent of Carolina’s offensive snaps. He’s behind Devin Funchess, Jarius Wright and former Maryland standout Torrey Smith on the depth chart.
That being said, there’s no reason to hit the panic button about Moore just yet. Wide receivers, in particular, face challenging rookie seasons. Since 1970, only 17 wideouts have earned at least 1,000 yards as a rookie.
Among first-round receivers like Moore, just 23 percent (36 of 156) of players since 1970 finished their rookie season with at least 50 receptions.
Rivera said the Panthers drafted Moore because of his route running and his “terrific hands.”
“He doesn’t wait for the ball to come to him,” Rivera said. “He’s tough to bring down once he gets the ball in his hands.”