Okay, the Carolina Panthers didn’t have a good season last year. I will admit that.
But the team did have two of the best young offensive talents in the whole league make a name for themselves last year. Or at least one of them made a name for himself — the other is still trying to figure out why his outstanding season didn’t earn him a spot among the league’s top 17 at his position.
The NFL’s Top 100 list is complete now, and only one person on the whole Carolina roster made the list. Christian McCaffrey put together one of the greatest seasons in NFL history and only made #6 on the list. But that’s still better than the team’s top receiver.
A year ago, the talk of training camp was Curtis Samuel, who was getting behind defenders and bringing in long passes. But once the season started, it was second-year WR D.J. Moore who broke out with a big season.
It shouldn’t have come as a surprise. Moore started shining as soon as he stepped into the starting lineup as a rookie. He had 788 yards in 2018, but in his 10 games as a starter his production was equal to a season with 955 yards.
The Panthers lost the first two games of the 2019 season, but Moore played well. Then when Kyle Allen stepped in for Cam Newton, Moore was a forgotten man for a couple of games. But it wasn’t long until the new starter clicked with his wideout.
Over a seven-game stretch, Moore had 711 yards, an average of 101.6 yards per game.
He had jumped up into the top four in receiving yards for the season and fifth in yards per game with 83.9 yards through 14 games.
Then against the Colts in the 15th game, Moore was injured early after one catch for one yard from Will Grier. He missed the rest of that game and the season finale.
He slid down to ninth in yards receiving and seventh in yards per game (thanks to that 1-yard game).
And let’s not forget that Moore had basically a rookie at QB in Kyle Allen who struggled as most rookies do. Most of the other receivers in the top 15 in yards had stellar QBs (or at least prolific) throwing the ball to them.
Michael Thomas had Drew Brees. Chris Godwin and Mike Evans played with Jameis Winston throwing for 5,000 yards. Julio Jones had Matt Ryan, and Davante Adams had Aaron Rodgers. Michael Gallup had Dak Prescott, DeAndre Hopkins had Deshaun Watson.
The Panthers were 20th in passing yards, and Kyle Allen finished with a QB rating of 80.0, down around Mitchell Trubisky, Andy Dalton, Josh Rosen and Mason Rudolph: five guys who probably won’t be starters this year.
D.J. Moore showed an ability to fight off press corners at the line, separation on routes, and great yards after the catch — living up to Steve Smith’s praise on draft night, saying that Moore was the first player to replace the talent and intensity that he once gave the team.
So if D.J. was in fifth place in production before his injury with a below-average QB, then he must have been pretty danged good, right?
Well, the rest of the league didn’t seem to take notice. The NFL players voted themselves for a Top 100 list, and 17 receivers made the list. D.J. wasn’t one of them.
What? He, Chris Godwin and Michael Gallup were the rising stars of the position last season (with all three between 22-23 years old). Wait, Gallup didn’t make the list, either?
Somehow Godwin made the list, despite the fact that he had Mike Evans on the other side of the field to draw help.
If D.J. didn’t make the list, then who did the players think was better? (remember the list is supposed to be based on what they think will happen this coming season, not past success)
Well, reputation still got some guys on the list. Aging Larry Fitzgerald made the list at 13th of 17th receivers, despite only finishing 55th in yards per game.
Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry in Cleveland also were getting votes off past production, not what they did last year with Baker Mayfield struggling with a sophomore slump. Landry was listed as 11th at receiver, but finished 17th in yards per game. Beckham was voted 10th, despite being much worse at 32nd place in production.
Russell Wilson was the #2 choice in the Top 100, and the love continued over to his receivers — which really ought to be the other way around. Russell Wilson can make an average receiver look good.
Tyler Lockett (#12) and D.K. Metcalf (#15) both made the list; but Lockett was 28th in yards and Metcalf 44th.
With the Panthers going to a whole new coaching staff and a new QB (Teddy Bridgewater), D.J. might not get a chance to prove everyone wrong any time soon. However, I wouldn’t bet against the determined young man.
We’ll see if another good season in 2020 gets him on the Top 100 for 2021.
1. Michael Thomas, WR, New Orleans Saints (No. 5 overall) — 107.8 yards per game
2. DeAndre Hopkins, WR, Arizona Cardinals (No. 8) — 77.7 yards
3. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons (No. 11) — 92.9 yards
4. Tyreek Hill, WR, Kansas City Chiefs (No. 22) — 71.7 yards (only 19th best)
5. Mike Evans, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 30) — 89.0 yards
6. Chris Godwin, WR, Tampa Bay Buccaneers (No. 38) — 95.2 yards (2nd best)
7. Amari Cooper, WR, Dallas Cowboys (No. 49) — 74.3 yards
8. Stefon Diggs, WR, Buffalo Bills (No. 54) — 75.3 yards
9. Davante Adams, WR, Green Bay Packers (No. 57) — 83.1 yards
10. Odell Beckham Jr., WR, Cleveland Browns (No. 59) — 64.7 (32nd rank)
11. Jarvis Landry, WR, Cleveland Browns (No. 61) — 73.4 yards
12. Tyler Lockett, WR, Seattle Seahawks (No. 65) — 66.1 yards
13. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals (No. 69) — 50.3 (55th rank)
14. Keenan Allen, WR, Los Angeles Chargers (No. 77) — 74.9 yards
15. DK Metcalf, WR, Seattle Seahawks (No. 81) — 56.3 yards (44th rank)
16. Cooper Kupp, WR, Los Angeles Rams (No. 89) — 72.6 yards
17. Allen Robinson, WR, Chicago Bears (No. 93) — 71.7 yards