The Carolina Panthers did the inevitable on Tuesday, trading a conditional fifth-round pick for quarterback Baker Mayfield. This obviously has huge fantasy football implications for Mayfield himself, but it notably impacts wide receiver DJ Moore. Moore has been one of the more consistent options in the fantasy world over the past few seasons, but his poor quarterback situation has prevented him from reaching his ceiling. Now that Mayfield is in town, can Moore take the next leap and become a top-10 receiver for fantasy football?
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D.J. Moore Fantasy Football Outlook: Is Baker Mayfield An Upgrade?
D.J. Moore Himself
As is always the case with these profiles, we need to analyze Moore himself before we get to his surroundings. Last year, the receiver played in all 17 games, recording 93 receptions for 1,157 yards and four touchdowns. This made him the WR18 on the season, which means that he was a good-but-not-great option throughout the season.
However, his underlying metrics imply that he should have had a much better season. According to PlayerProfiler, Moore finished the year ranked fifth in target share, fifth in air yard share, 11th in target rate, and seventh in route participation. Based on his usage alone, he should be a top 5-10 receiver in the fantasy world.
The reason for the relative underperformance stems from his quarterback situation. Moore spent the year catching passes from Sam Darnold and the washed-up corpse of Cam Newton, as the two combined to form arguably the worst quarterback room in the NFL. The two quarterbacks both ranked at or near the bottom of just about every metric of quarterback play, and it’s impossible for any receiver to reach their ceiling with those two throwing the ball.
Most incomplete targets that were deemed to be the quarterback's fault (PFF)
1. D.J. Moore (26)
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) January 4, 2022
Unfortunately for Moore, this was not an isolated incident. The former first-round pick has had the same elite usage metrics over the past few seasons, but he has yet to have a quarterback that deserves to start in the NFL. Since 2019, Moore has caught passes from Darnold, post-surgery Newton, Kyle Allen, Teddy Bridgewater, Will Grier, and P.J. Walker.
How Baker Mayfield Can Help
Baker Mayfield is no Hall of Famer, but he is easily the best quarterback D.J. Moore has ever had. Last year, the former first-overall pick played through a serious shoulder injury that could have easily ended his season. Despite this, he still finished the year with a higher PFF grade and EPA/play than Darnold or Newton.
Despite being in the league for over five years, Mayfield is still something of an enigma. The last time we saw him with two working shoulders, the quarterback led the Browns to their first playoff birth in forever and was widely seen as a top 10-15 real-life quarterback. Mayfield also hit the ground running as a rookie in 2018, showing plenty of promise under then-offensive coordinator Freddie Kitchens. That being said, his 2019 season was ugly, and he didn’t have an injury to blame for that.
Given that he’s fully healthy again, it’s safe to project Mayfield as a top 15-20 real-life quarterback heading into the 2022 season. While he’s not going to singlehandedly drag any individual player to greatness, he’s not going to actively prevent someone like Moore from reaching his ceiling.
Stylistically, D.J. Moore is a much, much better version of Jarvis Landry. While Mayfield had his troubles connecting with Odell Beckham, he never struggled to feed Landry. In 2019, the wideout finished as the WR12 in PPR leagues. This proves that Mayfield can support strong fantasy finishes, and Moore is a much more talented player than the 2019 version of Landry.
D.J. Moore Projection With Baker Mayfield
The Carolina Panthers claim that Mayfield and Darnold are going to battle for the starting job, but Mayfield should easily win this competition. For the sake of argument, we’re going to assume the former Cleveland Brown is completely healthy and starts all 17 games.
The Panthers love to run the football, and Mayfield is at his best when he isn’t in obvious passing situations. Because of this and a strong defense, the Panthers will probably finish the year on the lower end of passing attempts. Assuming a below-average rate of 32 pass attempts per game, this gives Mayfield 544 pass attempts on the season. From 2019 to 2020, Mayfield averaged 7.2 yards per attempt with a 4.7% touchdown rate. Based on these numbers, Mayfield should finish the season with roughly 3,920 yards and 23 touchdowns.
Over the past three years, Moore has a combined 25.7% target share and a 21.5% red zone target share. Moore has never eclipsed four touchdowns in his NFL career, but I blame most of that on his quarterback situation, rather than his inability to find the endzone. With a competent quarterback under center, Moore’s red zone woes should go away.
Based on his rolling target and red zone shares, I project Moore to finish the season with 88 receptions for 1,251 yards and six touchdowns on 139 targets. This would give Moore 249.1 PPR fantasy points, which would have made him the WR12 in 2021, while his 14.65 points per game would have been good for WR18
While this projection might not seem too impressive, keep in mind that my process assumed that the Panthers will run the ball early and often thanks to a healthy Christian McCaffrey and a strong defense. Defensive performance is notoriously volatile on a year-to-year basis, and McCaffrey hasn’t exactly been the picture of health over the past two years.
Projections are good for getting a rough idea of a player’s upcoming performance, but nobody claims it to be an accurate science. Personally speaking, I believe that my projection comes closer to capturing Moore’s floor, rather than his ceiling. At worst, he should be a solid weekly WR2 with consistency. If, however, the Panthers let Mayfield air it out, then he was the potential to finish as a top 5-10 receiver.