Is D.J. Moore Poised for a Fantasy Football Breakout as Cam Newton’s Top WR?

Is D.J. Moore Poised for a Fantasy Football Breakout as Cam Newton’s Top WR? article feature image

Credit: Jeremy Brevard-USA TODAY Sports. Pictured: D.J. Moore

  • D.J. Moore enters the 2019 season as Cam Newton's No. 1 WR, but what does this mean for Moore's fantasy football value?
  • Ian Hartitz looks at the potential of a Year 2 breakout from Moore and whether you should draft him.

Our experts are constantly refining their rankings and projections in the run-up to the 2019 season. Build custom cheat sheets featuring their latest updates with our Draft Kit.

The Carolina Panthers have been good more often than they’ve been bad in the Cam Newton era. Overall, Newton is 68-53-1 since entering the league in 2011, and the Panthers’ average of 24 points per game over that span is the ninth-highest mark in the league.

Still, Newton’s dual-threat style hasn’t always enabled the most consistent performances from his marquee skill-position players.

Greg Olsen and Christian McCaffrey have found a way to thrive just fine with Newton under center, but having a quarterback who has (deservingly) demanded 7.6 rush attempts per game throughout his career will always be a “burden” that backs and receivers on teams with less mobile signal callers don’t have to worry about.

Enter: 2018 first-round pick D.J. Moore.

The team has moved on from de facto No. 1 receivers Kelvin Benjamin and Devin Funchess in consecutive seasons, paving the way for Moore and 2017 second-round pick Curtis Samuel to add a new speedy dimension to the offense.

Let’s break down what to expect from Moore in 2019 and estimate just how high of a ceiling he has in fantasy football.

D.J. Moore Already Looks like a Marquee Playmaker

The 2018 draft’s 26th overall pick managed to ball out at Maryland despite catching passes from a revolving door of quarterbacks for most of his collegiate career. This ultimately didn’t impact Moore’s stock all that much, as his athleticism (92nd-percentile SPARQ-x score) and big-play ability (13.2 yards per touch in college) helped make him the first receiver selected in last year’s draft.

Moore’s ability to thrive as a ball carrier after the catch was immediately apparent in 2018. Very few receivers in today’s NFL possess his combination of size (6-foot and 210 pounds) and elusive tackle-breaking ability.

The man pretty much turns into a running back once the ball is in his hands.

Most yards after catch per reception over the past 10 years (PFF, min. 50 catches)

2012 Percy Harvin (8.7)
2014 DeSean Jackson (8.5)
2018 D.J. Moore (7.9) 👀
2013 Golden Tate (7.9)
2011 Julio Jones (7.7)

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 27, 2019

Only five receivers averaged more than two yards after the catch above expectation in 2018 (per Next Gen Stats). Basically, George Kittle (3.2), Moore (3), Josh Gordon (3), Evan Engram (2.9) and Vance McDonald (2.1) were exceptionally good at making plays with the ball in their hands.

Moore is clearly special after the catch, which makes his contested-catch ability on downfield passes even more difficult to fathom.

The only thing working against one of the league’s bright young talents is a not-so-great track record of receiving production in Carolina’s offense.

Cam Newton’s No. 1 WR Hasn’t Always Been Dominant

The Panthers have never made a habit of surrounding Newton with a plethora of high-end options in the passing game. They’ve tried by selecting Benjamin and Funchess in the first and second rounds, respectively, but nobody other than Olsen has achieved consistent fantasy impact.

Panthers WR1 Fantasy Finishes

  • Steve Smith in 2011: WR8
  • Smith in 2012: WR20
  • Smith in 2013: WR37
  • Kelvin Benjamin in 2014: WR17
  • Tedd Ginn in 2015: WR33
  • Benjamin in 2016: WR28
  • Devin Funchess in 2017: WR22
  • D.J. Moore in 2018: WR35

The good news for Moore’s chances of snapping this trend is the very real possibility that he’s the best No. 1 receiver Newton will have ever consistently targeted. (Smith was already 3 by the time Newton joined the Panthers.)

D.J. Moore and Cam Newton are destined for great things

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 1, 2019

The only “problem” with Moore’s potential in 2019 is that…

The Panthers Have Plenty of Capable Playmakers

It’s a bit ridiculous how much Newton and Co. have fed McCaffrey the ball over the past two seasons. The running back is firmly in play as the No. 1 overall fantasy selection in PPR season-long drafts.

Most receptions in NFL history during the first two seasons of a player's career:

1. Michael Thomas (196)
2. Jarvis Landry (194)
T3. Odell Beckham Jr. (187)
T3. Christian McCaffrey (187) 👀

— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) May 3, 2019

There’s also the possibility that Moore won’t be featured as the Panthers’ No. 1 receiver despite his top-tier rapport with Newton.

We saw Samuel (42 targets) barely work behind Moore (43) over the team’s final six games of 2019 once Funchess was delegated to a backup role. Of course,  McCaffrey (53) continued to lead the way over that stretch.

Samuel (WR60 Average Draft Position) is a fantastic fantasy value, particularly in best ball formats, due to the possibility that he gets triple-digit targets in 2019.

Samuel is certainly talented enough to warrant this type of usage.

Both Moore (13 rushes in 2018) and Samuel (eight) offer a bit of hidden value as true ball carriers in a Panthers offense that regularly utilizes receivers as the pitch man in option schemes.

Ultimately, I’m betting on Moore to emerge as the offense’s No. 1 pass-game threat. He converted 82 targets into 55 receptions for 788 yards and two scores last season, demonstrating a higher yardage floor than Samuel, who has caught 54-of-91 career targets for 609 yards and five scores.

Newton’s ongoing recovery from shoulder surgery needs to be monitored, but Moore’s ability to rack up yards after the catch should still make him a dangerous threat for any defense, regardless of his eventual average target depth.

Moore and Samuel are worthwhile fantasy investments at their current ADPs.

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