- The Washington Times - Monday, September 3, 2018

Torrey Smith reached out to fellow Maryland Terrapin wide receiver DJ Moore to offer support during Moore’s NFL Draft preparation. Little did they know they would soon become teammates.

The Carolina Panthers double-dipped on Maryland wideouts over the offseason by acquiring Smith from the Philadelphia Eagles, then drafting Moore 24th overall. Smith was the first person to greet Moore when he arrived for his first Carolina press conference.

“It’s gonna be good because he’s coming in new, so we could learn the playbook together,” Moore said that day.

Moore was the first Terrapin taken in the first round since 2009, when yet another receiver, Darrius Heyward-Bey, went that early. He will play in his first regular-season game Sunday against the Dallas Cowboys, lifting off an NFL career that, if successful, could further establish Maryland as a modern-day “Wide Receiver U.”

Five Maryland receivers have been drafted in the last 10 years, more than any other position from the school, but they’ve had varying levels of success upon making it to the league. Smith is about to suit up for his third team in three seasons and has only eclipsed 1,000 yards once. Former seventh-rounder Kevin Dorsey is out of the league, and Heyward-Bey, the 2009 seventh overall pick, is now low on the Steelers’ depth chart.

Then there is Stefon Diggs, who has established himself as a top home-run threat entering his fourth season with the Minnesota Vikings. The Vikings took Diggs in the fifth round and have received a pretty solid return on investment, considering he is now their No. 1 wideout.

Moore has brushed off comparisons to Diggs, but being a first-rounder, the rookie will certainly start out with higher expectations. He was the first receiver selected in 2018, and the selection earned mostly grades of A and B+ from draft analysts. Panthers legend Steve Smith rhapsodized about the rookie, saying his old team had never been able to replace him “until today,” the day Moore was drafted.

All of this is impressive not only because he was not projected to be a first-rounder until late in the draft process, but also because few Division I programs wanted Moore coming out of high school at all. Penn State thought Moore would be a better safety than receiver, and a connection on Duke’s coaching staff could not convince their head coach to work Moore out, said Albie Crosby, who coached Moore at Imhotep Institute Charter High School in Philadelphia.

But Moore made his college career at Maryland and was the brightest part of the Terrapins’ rough 2017 season. Maryland rotated through quarterbacks who kept going down with ACL injuries, but Moore still caught 80 passes for 1,033 yards and eight touchdowns and eventually won the Big Ten Conference’s award for wide receiver of the year.

Quarterback play will be more consistent for Moore in Carolina. Cam Newton is known to sometimes throw his passes too hard, but he is still a former Heisman Trophy winner in his prime.

Crosby likes Carolina as a fit for his former pupil, who has a propensity for gaining yards after the catch on screens and slant routes.

“The things that Carolina does, in regards to Cam being a dual-threat guy, they’re really good in the screen game,” Crosby said. “That’s one of DJ’s main strengths, what he does in regards to screens. Between (Christian) McCaffrey, DJ and Cam, I think he’s in a very, very ideal spot.”

Crosby used to compare Moore with Detroit Lions wide receiver Golden Tate, before deciding a better NFL comp was actually the Green Bay Packers’ Ty Montgomery, a receiver who converted to full-time running back.

Moore joins Smith and No. 1 receiver Devin Funchess to form Carolina’s group of starting receivers. Fans can expect to see Moore line up in the slot, but not solely there; he said after his first day of rookie minicamp that the team wants to use him like a “chess piece.”

“Once the ball gets in my hands I just become a different person, like a playmaker,” Moore said at the NFL Scouting Combine. “Just go out there and make the plays that are out there, find the seams in the defense and just go make a play out of it.”

It was not the best August for Moore leading up to this moment. He led the Panthers in receiving in his preseason debut with 75 yards on four catches, but did not record a reception in the three games after that. He was also cited last month for speeding at 113 miles per hour in a work zone, but besides that, he does not have a reputation for getting into trouble.

“I think he’s a better person than he is a football player, to be frank with you,” Crosby said, “and I think he’s an amazing football player.”

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