Maryland wide receiver DJ Moore has started 25 consecutive games dating from 2015, which means he is the team’s longest-tenured offensive player by a wide margin and the authoritative witness to the Terrapins’ perpetually unstable quarterback situation over that span. The junior has played with seven quarterbacks in just more than two seasons, including three true freshmen, a dizzying statistic that easily could’ve left him disgruntled or looking for another program.
But Moore has instead fashioned himself into a powerful common denominator through all of that turnover, a loyal and steady presence in the locker room who has worked to develop unique relationships with each quarterback, no matter their age or standing on the depth chart. He has simply seen too much not to.
If Maryland’s offense finally seems fully mature — it opened the season with back-to-back 50-point performances for the first time in program history in wins over Texas and Towson — then Moore’s ability to adapt to constant change is a key reason.
“Even with those changes, he just wanted to give them a chance to prove who they were, so when he was able to get the ball or help out in any way that he could, he was still fine with it,” said Moore’s mother, Cookie Ridley. “Everyone he comes in contact with, I don’t know if it’s the smile, the way he responds with people, he gets along with everyone.”
He has helped shepherd freshman quarterback Kasim Hill, who appears to have finally brought stability to the position even though he will make just his second career start Saturday against Central Florida. But more than establishing himself as a locker-room leader through constant change, Moore has established himself as one of the most productive wide receivers in the country.
He has caught at least one pass in 23 consecutive games (tied for most in the Big Ten), has nine touchdown catches over his last 15 games and leads the Big Ten with 115 receiving yards per game. He’s quietly entering the conversation to be among Maryland’s best wide receivers of all time — his reception streak is the longest since Torrey Smith’s 30-catch run from 2008 to 2010, and Moore’s 12 career touchdown catches are one short of Darrius Heyward-Bey and two from Stefon Diggs, who is No. 4 on the program’s career list. Moore is also arguably the best perimeter blocker on his team, helping fuel a running attack that is averaging a Big Ten-best 315 yards per game.
“Just my teammates just having faith in me to just make plays,” Moore said.
It was Diggs who handed off the No. 1 jersey to Moore after declaring for the NFL draft following his junior season in 2014, and Moore quickly elicited comparisons to the former Maryland star with deft cutting ability in the open field. Moore might not have Diggs’s top-end speed, but he compensates with violence. At 5 feet 11, 215 pounds, Moore is built bigger than Maryland’s top three running backs and plays with the mentality of a safety.
According to Pro Football Focus, Moore led the Big Ten in forced missed tackles last year with 13, and he’s averaging a national-best 6.03 yards per route run, which is more than a yard better than Oklahoma State’s James Washington (5.0), a preseason all-American who receives passes from Heisman Trophy favorite Mason Rudolph.
“When I was at Oklahoma State, Dez [Bryant] and [Justin] Blackmon were both special players. And DJ is a special player too,” Maryland offensive coordinator Walt Bell said. “But along those same lines … they were big, strong guys. DJ Moore is bigger than [Maryland running back] Ty Johnson. DJ Moore is a big guy. He’s been as heavy as 220-something pounds.”
Moore also handles the team’s return duties on kicks and punts. He learned to invite the punishment on youth football fields in Philadelphia, a shy and reserved boy who came out of his shell when he delivered hits as both a running back and defensive back.
By the time he reached high school at Imhotep Charter in Philadelphia, Moore was not only a blossoming wide receiver, he could also play quarterback in a pinch and was the team’s kicker, at which he set a city record for most career point after attempts with 101.
“He was just that good,” said Albie Crosby, his high school coach.
Maryland’s wide receivers find unbridled joy in charting their knockdowns on blocks in the open field, so much so that the group formed a contest and began charting the collisions earlier this season. Moore is aggravated that he is not leading the competition, but he did score a highlight knockdown with the ball in his hands in the second half of a 63-17 win over Towson this month. Moore took a jet sweep around the corner and bowled over a Towson defensive lineman before breaking six more tackles for a 21-yard touchdown run.
“We watched the film … I was like, I can’t use the word that I said, but I was like ‘Okay, that was kind of special,’ ” Moore said.
But maybe the play that more encapsulated Moore’s mentality was the 43-yard catch and run on a third-and-19 call in the fourth quarter in the season-opening win over Texas, in which he bailed out Hill with an acrobatic catch and dragged two Texas defenders to the goal line to set up the decisive score.
He talked with Hill before that play to help settle the rookie’s nerves, but his mere playmaking ability has been critical in helping Hill acclimate to the starting role. Moore is continuing to build his relationship with Hill, just as he is with the other quarterbacks on the depth chart, who make up less than half of the players who have thrown balls his way during his career.
During his freshman season, four Maryland quarterbacks threw 18 or more passes. Last season, Maryland had four quarterbacks throw 30 or more passes. That Moore has endured that constant flux is a testament to his patience, but also accentuates his production.
“What makes him special to me is how he works,” Maryland Coach DJ Durkin said, “and just what he does.”
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