CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Coach Ron Rivera received a text from Cam Newton immediately after the Carolina Panthers selected Maryland wide receiver D.J. Moore in the first round of the NFL draft that read: “Thank you!”
The Panthers gave Newton more help on offense Thursday night by selecting Moore 24th overall in hopes of upgrading a passing game that finished 28th in the league last season.
Moore was the first wide receiver taken in the draft.
Panthers general manager Marty Hurney said Moore’s best quality is his ability to make plays after the catch.
“When he has the ball in his hands he turns into a running back,” Hurney said. “He breaks tackles and makes big plays. And still he has the speed to stretch the defense and go deep. He runs good routes and has a lot of strengths.”
Newton apparently took notice.
“Cam stays up on all of this stuff and he came right to us with all of the offensive guys,” Rivera said. “He pays attention to it.”
Newton isn’t the only one high on Moore.
Steve Smith Sr., the Panthers all-time leader in most receiving categories, said he likes the toughness with which Moore approaches the game and thinks he can be a big time player.
“To be truthful, they have never been able to replace me” said Smith, now an analyst for the NFL Network.
Smith thinks Moore might finally be the receiver that can.
“You get that guy and you’ve got instant grits all day long,” Smith said.
“For Steve to say that is high praise,” Rivera said. “I’m pretty fired up. I believe D.J. is a guy who can come in and play all three of our wide receiver positions.”
Moore is the latest skill position player selected early by the Panthers in the hopes of giving Newton more to work with on offense. Last year Carolina selected running back Christian McCaffrey in the first round and wide receiver Curtis Samuel in the second to take some of the pressure off Newton after he had a down season statistically in 2016.
“It was nice to know that whatever I did in college did not go unnoticed,” Moore said.
Moore joins what is becoming a crowded wide receivers room in Carolina.
The Panthers traded with the Eagles for Torrey Smith and signed free agent Jarius Wright from the Vikings earlier this offseason. Devin Funchess returns as Carolina’s No. 1 receiver after a breakout season in 2017 and Samuel hopes to battle back following an injury-plagued rookie season.
Moore said he had a good idea the Panthers were going to select him.
“It was a sigh of a relief when I saw North Carolina (area code) come up on my phone,” Moore said. “I was like, ‘OK, this my pick.’ They told me when I was on my draft visit they were going to (draft me), so they kept their promise.”
Moore was the 2017 Big Ten Receiver of the Year and first-team all-conference selection. He had a school-record 80 receptions for 1,033 yards and eight touchdowns in 12 games last season for the Terrapins. He also led Maryland in receiving as a sophomore with 41 receptions for 637 yards and six touchdowns.
Rivera said Moore could also contribute right away as a returner in addition to playing wide receiver.
The 6-foot, 210-pound Moore said he feels like he can be a week one starter at wide receiver “if I put the work in.”
Moore is the first draft pick chosen by Hurney’s since 2012. Hurney was fired by the Panthers that year after conducting 11 drafts as GM, but returned to the team on an interim basis last summer and was hired full time in February.
Hurney said he didn’t think Moore would drop to No. 24.
He said Moore reminds him a little of Smith.
“He has that play strength and that ability to break tackles and make yards after the catch,” Hurney said. “That is a pretty high bar to set (comparing him to Smith) but there are a lot of things we liked about him.
The Panthers have made the playoffs in four of the past five seasons, but were knocked out in the first round last season by division foe New Orleans. The Saints swept all three games from Carolina, which made finding ways to match up better with them an offseason priority.
Carolina’s offense stalled most of the season in 2017 and it was often the defense that had to bail them out.
The move comes on the same day the Panthers gave three-time Pro Bowl tight end Greg Olsen a two-year contract extension.
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