DJ Moore; Star or Bust?
Andrew Woodruff / @ff_awwoodruff33
Back in mid-April, I started looking at the future outlook of DJ Moore from the Carolina Panthers. He impressed last season, but this offseason has changed some viewpoints. The dynasty community splits on where they view him among the wide receivers. Some people believe he is the most over-hyped receiver this year, but others think Moore is a great buy. To analyze the situation, I break down the coaches, his quarterback, and Moore's talent.
Coach Tendencies of Past:
The team hired Matt Rhule as head coach and Joe Brady as offensive coordinator this year. Both coaches are longtime offensive-minded coaches showing the potential direction of the team. Each coach had high levels of success creating successful offenses of various types. Let us start by looking at Matt Rhule’s past.
Rhule had several stops getting experience until he arrived at Temple in 2006. In the first two years, Rhule worked defense and saw little results on offense. In 2006 with a record of 1-11, the offense averaged 10.9 points. In 2007, the team improved some as they went 4-8 with 16.4 points per game. In 2008, Matt Rhule became the offensive coordinator of Temple Owls. He ran the offense from 2008 to 2011 showing some skill in getting better results in a rocky situation.
The key takeaways from this are that Rhule was able to produce points on his offense. While the passing game was not great, Rhule adapted by relying on rushing. This success helped create a new opportunity. Rhule spent a year in 2012 as the New York Giants assistant offensive line coach under Coughlin. That was the same year the Giants beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl. For 2013, he was hired as the head coach of Temple to help turn the program around. The stats stand out during this time as he took the program and completely changed the culture. In 2017, Baylor lured Matt Rhule away from Temple to revive the program at Baylor and showed similar results. The stats below show each year and then two different averages. The first average is for the first year on each new team. The other is the average of all years.
Start with the first average since this will be the head coach’s first year with the Panthers. The first thing to notice is his points per game were lower during his first year but improved over time. Both years are losing records though which is for context. The team’s pass attempts were the highest during their first year compared to the rest with the team. That is attributed to playing from behind, but it allowed an increase in yards and passing TDs per game. Another factor is that the running game seems very balanced in a near-perfect split. With Christian McCaffrey in the backfield, expect that to stay true for the Panthers in 2020. Past 2020, the team should see the volume of plays down with better efficiency in scoring.
Another component for DJ Moore will be his new offensive coordinator, Joe Brady. Brady worked with Sean Payton and the Saints for the 2017-2018 seasons. Before that, he worked under offensive mind Joe Moorehead at Penn State. After the Saints, he spent 2019 running the LSU offense with offensive guru Steve Ensminger. It is important to see how those two stops played out to see what he may look to do with his new offense.
For fantasy, it is reassuring to see Brady work with offenses that were among the best scoring at each level. Each season, the team slightly favored the passing game which is a plus if he has control over the plays. He became a proponent of using tempo to push the opponents which favored three to five receiver sets. With talented backfields, Brady kept the running back in for fewer substitutions. Brady brought on DJ Mangas who helped create plays at LSU to do the same with the Panthers. Included with the worries of a new defense, the offense needs to keep making plays and scoring to win.
I went and charted the past three seasons for Joe Brady to further look at his passing tendencies. Looking first at the position groupings, we see receivers range from over fifty percent to high sixties at LSU*. Considering he has experience utilizing Kamara, McCaffrey will be highly involved. It appears though his play groupings favor receivers so Ian Thomas may not be as much of a threat as initially considered.
With the second column, note that outside the top two options the other players see much less. The top two players make up about fifty percent of the production for the team. That only bodes well for DJ Moore as the only other big threat is McCaffrey. These coaching tendencies show the team should favor the pass slightly. They will see a higher than normal of attempts this season with a weak defense at the moment. Finally, the past shows the top two players will see a target share of around half the attempts.
The next part we will look at what the slated starting quarterback may do. I know the team acquired PJ Walker who has a history with Temple, but Teddy Bridgewater worked with Brady. That background should give him more familiarity with Brady’s offense. For that reason, I am focusing on Bridgewater as the starter and how he has performed in the NFL.
Bridgewater started in Minnesota where he played twenty-nine of thirty-two games. Over that period, he spent 2014 and 2015 in a system that relied on running and managing check downs. He had an average depth of target of 7.7 because of that behind a line that ranked 25th by PFF pass-blocking metrics. The better takeaway is the fact that Bridgewater is smart with his passing by PFF’s ranking.
He is smart with the ball and often avoided costly turnovers. In 2019, Bridgewater finally saw extended starting time again and did well. His completion percentage if maintained a full season would have been top eight for quarterbacks. Again he gets knocked for his average depth of attempt, but that is not quite the whole truth. Comparing him with Brees with Pro Football Reference data shows more.
(Photo Credit: Player Profiler)
Bridgewater was able to run the offense almost like Brees did throughout 2019. A better stat then is the fact that he was on average or better in completion percentage compared to the league. That is useful for Brady who may throw deep more. PlayerProfiler also supports by showing how efficient he is except facing pressure. Expect Brady to set up plays that will utilize his accuracy in all levels of the passing game. They will also use McCaffrey to force defenses to respect the play-action. Based on the quarterback presumed to be starting, things look to be set up well for all level passes. Bridgewater is smart and will help the offense move with Brady's play-calling. The final part will now look at what Moore brings to the table and what hurdles he will face.
Talent of DJ Moore:
DJ Moore has firmly established himself as the top receiver on his team after last season in only 14 games! With 82% of the snaps last season, he turned 135 targets into 87 catches for 1175 yards and 4 TDs. 384 yards were after the catch showing talent to create in space. Looking deeper, Player Profiler showed that DJ Moore’s 15.4 fantasy points per game were 14th among receivers. That is amazing based on the context of his situation with Kyle Allen and Will Grier for most of the season. In the same areas of efficiency as Bridgewater, Allen ranked in or near the thirties in every category, and Grier was even worse. Because of that, Moore can improve.
(Photo Credit: Player Profiler)
Looking at DJ's efficiency shows that he is capable of "Moore". He excels with contested catches and has a higher catch rate than the casual stat shows. That is exciting with Bridgewater at quarterback. A bonus is the majority of the work Moore did is underneath routes which is what Bridgewater is superior.
Now we need to shift focus to the other playmakers around Moore. To start, we know McCaffrey should be heavily involved. Brady already worked with Kamara and Clyde Edwards-Helaire so he has plenty of ideas. Next we have Ian Thomas who is the top option at tight end. While with the Saints and LSU, Brady did use the TE position some, but it has limits in the number of targets. So while Ian Thomas has some talent, do not expect him to be much of a threat besides taking a few touchdowns away. Robby Anderson and Curtis Samuel are going to be heavily featured with Brady’s preference for three-receiver sets. Knowing the top options though, Brady has not shown the ability to make another player stand out. Both of these receivers will be schemed open and used for deep throws, but neither should garner targets over Moore's talent. The path is open for Moore to fully breakout.
To summarize, both coaches improve offenses to help the offense in snaps and scoring. They show a tendency to favor the passing game and will need it to keep up for their defense. Both coaches will use the three-receiver sets often to spread defenses to exploit. With Bridgewater, the team has an accurate quarterback which gives Moore opportunities to catch the ball and make plays. He also is better in the red zone which can give opportunities at positive TD regression. Last season, he saw top ten targets for receivers and should maintain it this season based on history from the coaches and his talent.
Had Moore stayed healthy for the other two games, his stats show that he could have finished around WR6 for PPR. Even with more three-receiver sets, defenses will struggle with DJ utilizing his talent after the catch. I recommend acquiring him in any deal possible. Owners may be convinced to sell with this strange offseason, new quarterback, and new offense being installed. Those are great buy low points while also using the rookie pick hype to help in trades. For example, I traded my 1.04 rookie pick for DJ and some later picks. He may not quite reach the top five at his position this season, but he should be a WR1 level player this season. His floor is top 13 at his position. With a draft price of around WR8 in startups, that is perfectly acceptable for dynasty teams. Pair the young man with another receiver like Golladay or Julio for your 1-2 combo in the starting lineup.