CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- Carolina Panthers wide receivers coach Lance Taylor began researching college wide receivers as soon as the 2017 season ended, well before the team’s draft process began.
One player stood out more than the rest.
One play stood out more than the rest.
It was a simple screen pass. The player lined up wide to the left and ran horizontally to the line of scrimmage at the snap. He caught the ball near the left hashmark with a defender staring him square in the eyes.
He juked out of the grasp of that defender, then turned upfield and immediately slipped two other converging players. Ten yards farther, he slipped another tackle. Another 10 yards, he avoided three other defenders as he followed blockers and weaved through traffic.
Then it was off to the races.
Maryland WR zips around Nebraska defense for 92-yard TD
Maryland WR D.J. Moore catches a pass and scampers evasively around Nebraska's defense, racing downfield 92 yards for a touchdown.
“Amazing," Taylor said as he described Maryland wide receiver D.J. Moore's 92-yard touchdown against Nebraska in 2016. “That play was unbelievable. He should have been tackled at least 15 times and there’s only 11 defensive players.
“There were a couple of guys that had multiple misses on the same play. For him to score on that play was one of those 'wow' moments."
The play showed the versatility, power and speed that -- for Taylor and the Panthers -- elevated Moore above Alabama’s Calvin Ridley and other top receivers in the 2018 draft.
The only concern after follow-up research was whether Moore would last to Carolina at No. 24.
"From the time I started watching his film right after our season was over, he checked all the boxes," Taylor said. "It worked out perfectly for us to get the guy we liked for a long time. He fits what we do and want to do. He’s a great complement and asset and weapon to the other weapons we have."
The Panthers lacked a great weapon at wide receiver last season. Rookie running back Christian McCaffrey led the team in receptions with 80. Cam Newton’s 120 yards passing a game to wide receivers were the fewest of his NFL career, which began in 2011.
Adding Moore -- in addition to trading for Philadelphia wide receiver Torrey Smith and signing former Minnesota wide receiver Jarius Wright in free agency -- to go along with Devin Funchess, Curtis Samuel and Damiere Byrd gives Newton potentially the best nucleus he’s had at this position.
"He’s so dynamic with the ball in his hands," Taylor said of Moore, who will make his Carolina debut at a rookie minicamp on Friday and Saturday. "He’s a great runner and he’s elusive enough to run around you, fast enough to go by you. He’s strong and powerful to run through or over you.
"He can beat you in multiple ways. That was one of the first things that jumped off the tape."
Stay in school
The NFL college advisory committee told Moore he should return to Maryland for his senior year, suggesting he needed more seasoning after playing with more than half a dozen different quarterbacks and in numerous systems.
Moore didn’t listen.
"I didn't really think too much about it," Moore said with no semblance of cockiness. “I knew I wanted to come out. I talked to the staff at Maryland and just made a decision from there."
Taylor wasn’t aware of Maryland's advice until Moore told him the day after the draft. All Taylor knew is what he saw on film, which warranted a first-round grade.
"It was surprising in one sense that the evaluation was that wrong," Taylor said. "It's also not surprising because talent evaluation is not an exact science. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder."
Maryland coach D.J. Durkin, who coached Moore the past two seasons, had no doubt Moore was NFL-ready.
"He didn’t start out being heralded as a first-rounder when the season was over, certainly not the first receiver to be taken," he said. “But as people did more research and homework and seeing him, he’s the guy the more you know about him, the more you like him."
Moore’s strength was that he accomplished so much despite playing with average quarterbacks. He caught 80 passes for 1,033 yards and eight touchdowns last season for a 4-8 team whose quarterback (Max Bortenschlager) completed only 51.9 percent of his passes.
“For him to be that productive and accomplish what he did in college was really amazing in and of itself," Taylor said.
Former Maryland linebacker Jermaine Carter, selected in the fifth round by Carolina, agreed.
"There's nothing on the football field that he can't do," he said of Moore, who ran a 4.42-second 40-yard dash at the scouting combine.
Steve Smith revisited?
Moore was listed as 6-foot and 210 pounds in his draft profile. He is listed as 5-11, 215 pounds by the Panthers, even more compact than what former Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith (5-9, 195) was during his playing days.
The comparisons to Smith, Carolina's all-time leading receiver, began as soon as Carolina selected Moore. Smith didn't discourage the comparisons, saying the Panthers hadn't been able to replace him since he was released following the 2013 season -- "until now."
"I thought that was a great assessment and also a great compliment from Steve, who as we know doesn't give out many compliments," said Taylor, who was an assistant wide receivers coach at Carolina in 2013.
Like Smith, Moore can beat you in many ways, particularly after the catch. Moore also appears to have the same mental toughness and work ethic that made Smith great.
Where Moore is unlike Smith is in his personality. He's quiet off the field and not flamboyant on it in terms of theatrics after a big catch or trash-talking.
"I flip the switch, but I don't talk," Moore said. "I just let my play do the talking."
Smith's fiery attitude often got him into trouble with opposing players -- and sometimes his own teammates. He once was sent home after hitting teammate Ken Lucas during a training camp practice.
There's nothing to suggest that is part of Moore's DNA.
"He's a really good person," Durkin said. "He'll always represent the Panthers the right way. He'll always represent his family and teammates and organization the right way. He leads by example."
The lack of flash often left Moore overlooked. His high school coach at Philadelphia's Imhotep Institute, Albie Crosby, once took 15 players to a 7-on-7 camp in New Jersey, and Rutgers offered 11 scholarships.
Moore wasn't among them.
Penn State recruited Moore as a defensive back, not a receiver.
But Moore doesn't lack for confidence, and that shows in his toughness.
"We had a game this year where he got rolled up pretty good on his ankle," Durkin said. "He had to come out to the sideline. Most guys would have missed the rest of the game and for sure the next week. He missed about two plays, grimaced, grabbed his leg for a bit and went back in the game.
"He caught about six more passes and his standard of play never dropped."
'Lit it up'
Moore isn't a man of many words, so when he said he "lit it up" for the Panthers during his Maryland pro day, it spoke volumes.
Taylor, along with new Panthers offensive coordinator Norv Turner, attended the pro day. They were impressed with how relaxed Moore was doing everything they asked during drills.
"We walked away saying, 'Yeah, he is who we thought he was,'" Taylor said.
The Panthers haven't penciled Moore in as a slot or wide receiver because they expect him to play everywhere. They want to take advantage of his versatility the way they did with McCaffrey a year ago.
"There's nothing on the football field that he can't do." Carolina LB Jermaine Carter
"When he has the ball in his hands, he turns into a running back and he breaks tackles and big plays and he still has the speed to stretch the defense and go deep, runs good routes," general manager Marty Hurney said. "He just has a lot of strengths as a receiver."
Moore never played running back on the way up, although he was a running quarterback for a brief time. He doesn't mind doing the dirty work such as blocking.
That's key for a team that depends on the running game.
"Whatever is needed of him, he'll do," Durkin said. "The biggest compliment a coach can give a guy is every week you got the best effort out of this guy, no questions asked. That was D.J."
In the wee hours of the morning after the Panthers selected him -- and after a brief FaceTime conversation with Newton -- Moore settled in to watch cartoons before going to sleep.
"SpongeBob SquarePants" and "The Fairly OddParents," to be exact.
It wouldn't surprise anyone if Newton, who calls himself Carolina's sensei of nicknames, played off the cartoons when deciding what to call Moore, who's expected to be like a sponge soaking up all that'll be asked of him.
Newton definitely liked the pick. He texted "thank you" to coach Ron Rivera shortly after the pick was made.
For Taylor, it was the second straight year he got the player he wanted the most, having coached McCaffrey during his final year at Stanford before returning to Carolina. He also got Samuel in the second round.
Some of the other position coaches jokingly have told him he's not allowed in the draft room next year. If Moore turns out as good as McCaffrey, nobody will complain.
"Some of D.J.'s plays with the ball in his hands reminded me of Christian in that highlight reel of playmaking ability," Taylor said.
None stood out more than the 92-yard touchdown against Nebraska.
"If you can sum up a guy in one play, that's one of the things that we identified him on," Taylor said. "That’s a great example of what he can do and bring to us."