Last night, old/new Panthers general manager Marty Hurney inaugurated his second official tenure as the team’s Roster-Maker-In-Chief by selecting Maryland wide receiver D.J. Moore in the first round of the 2018 draft. A fast riser in recent mock drafts, Moore is a speedy, gifted receiver who thrived in his last season in College Park despite being forced to catch passes from four separate quarterbacks due to a rash of injuries at the position.
For Hurney, the pick is a recognition of the team’s pressing need to find more help at the skill positions for Cam Newton. It is also a move that comes with significant risk, as the Panthers elected to make Moore the first receiver selected, over the longtime consensus number-one player at that position in Alabama’s Calvin Ridley. The fact that the division rival Falcons took Ridley two picks later only raises the stakes. If Moore fails to deliver on his promise and Ridley turns into a lethal bookend to fellow Alabama product Julio Jones in Atlanta, the Panthers will be reminded of their folly twice a year for the foreseeable future.
That’s the worst-case scenario, however, and it’s easy to see what Hurney and the Panthers like about Moore. A scrappy competitor with top-end speed, the wideout has been compared to former Panthers great Steve Smith for his balls-out, pedal-to-the-metal playing style.
At just six feet tall, he lacks the elite size of a Julio Jones or an A.J. Green, but like Smith he plays with the attitude of a much bigger man. He should fit well alongside newly acquired speedster Torrey Smith and reliable possession receiver Devin Funchess, and his 4.4 speed will provide opposing defenses another puzzle to solve in combating new offensive coordinator Norv Turner’s downfield passing scheme.
With Moore and Smith as vertical threats, combined with Christian McCaffery’s pass-catching ability out of the backfield and Greg Olsen and Funchess as bigger, chain-moving targets, Cam Newton and company suddenly have a lot of ways to beat you. This should, in theory, prevent Newton from having to put the team on his shoulders and reduce the number of punishing hits he takes on off-schedule plays. If the quarterback can restrain his impulse for hero ball and learn to trust his newfound surfeit of weapons, it could quite literally add years to his career.
Whether or not Moore ultimately pans out, it’s a good sign that the Panthers are committed to finding help for their franchise QB. As the draft progresses, they would be well-advised to find a replacement for departed free agent guard Andrew Norwell, who parlayed an All-Pro campaign into a vault-busting contract with the Jaguars earlier in the off-season. Auburn’s Braden Smith would be a good fit as a pro-ready interior lineman who spent his college career facing elite defenders in the SEC, although it would likely require committing the Panthers’ second-round choice (fifty-fifth overall) to procure him.
Elsewhere, the team could use a replacement for the departed Jonathan Stewart as a complementary back to McCaffery, with gifted runners like Kerryon Johnson and Nick Chubb possible acquisitions in the second round. Chubb especially would be a minor coup if they were able to draft him without trading up. In addition, the team will need to spend draft capital to address their secondary, after the departure of cornerback Daryl Worley and the aborted attempt to sign a replacement in Bashaud Breeland.
We are now fully into the teeth of Hurney Mach II, and while there is no way of knowing how the Panthers’ best-laid plans will play out, everything so far makes reasonable sense on paper.