Wide receiver D.J. Moore was selected 24th overall by the Carolina Panthers in the NFL draft Thursday night, becoming the first Maryland football player selected in the first round since Darrius Heyward-Bey was taken seventh overall by the Oakland Raiders in 2009.
Moore was also the first player at his position to come off the board in this year’s draft.
It was a culmination of a rapid rise after an attention-getting performance at the draft combine in March and a strong month of individual workouts. Rapid enough, in fact, that Moore’s mother, Cookie Ridley, who planned on watching the draft with her son and other family members at a Dave & Buster’s in his home town of Philadelphia, said she was never sold on celebrating on the draft’s first night.
“It was crazy enough to believe he was going to the NFL, so I was never thinking about first round or anything like that,” Ridley said a week before the draft. “It was always just D.J. playing football, something he loved to do. We never put stock in his future. We never talked about it until this all started happening.”
Moore, listed at 6 feet and 210 pounds, declared for the draft in December, forgoing his final year of college eligibility. He was selected to the all-Big Ten first team in his junior season after leading the conference and setting a program record with 80 receptions to go with 1,033 yards and eight touchdowns. He also had a rushing touchdown. He ended his Maryland career with 35 consecutive starts and at least one catch in 33 straight games.
That was all the more impressive given the Terrapins’ quarterback situation, as their starting and backup signal callers missed most of the season with torn anterior cruciate ligaments. He caught passes from four QBs last season and was the first player in major college football since 2008 to eclipse 1,000 receiving yards on a team that did not have a 1,500-yard passer.
Now he will try to continues a tradition of modern Maryland receivers making the jump to the NFL, joining Heyward-Bey, the Vikings’ Stefon Diggs (a fifth-round pick in 2015) and the Panthers’ Torrey Smith (a second-round pick in 2011).
After shining in college and posting strong numbers at the combine, Moore had to convince teams during the pre-draft process he could run a full NFL route tree. Maryland’s “multiple” offensive scheme asked Moore to play in a variety of spots, but most of his routes did not translate to pro-style offenses. Moore focused on running a wide range of routes at his Pro Day and in workouts with various teams. That was enough to convince the Panthers.
“The team that drafts me is getting a guy who can hurt defenses in a lot of different ways,” Moore said Monday. “Maybe I wasn’t asked to run a ton of different routes in college, but I did show that I can make things happen with the ball in my hands. I think that’s the most important thing.”
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