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David Moore has become the perfect third wide receiver

New England Patriots v Seattle Seahawks Photo by Abbie Parr/Getty Images

Many of the greatest offenses to ever grace the NFL have featured exceptional wide receiver duos: Randy Moss and Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker, Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce, Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson. Like bookend edge rushers, the stress put on opponents by two complementary players who demand double teams seemingly creates synergistic value. Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett have achieved such a status yet. They’re capable. It’s week 2—we’ll leave it at that. But I think David Moore has already become every bit the perfect third wide receiver. The gravy guy who exploits the resulting easy (or easier) matchups.

People do not necessarily remember Donte’ Stallworth in 2007 or Wes Welker’s strong 2013. Welker was very near the end of his career. Stallworth was in danger of becoming a journeyman after a turbulent 2006. James Jones was a career backup in Green Bay. By 2012 he was a modest disappointment as a starter. Az-Zahir Akeem was certainly a distant fourth in importance to Marshall Faulk in the Greatest Show on Turf’s passing game. They do not make for a neat set of players. Many were past their prime vets. Hakim was primarily a return specialist. But what these guys all had in common is that in a reduced role against weaker competition, they excelled.

Consider their respective DYAR and DVOA rank (parenthesis) in those seasons:

Welker 2013: 194 DYAR (24th)

Jones 2011: 234 DYAR (3rd)

Stallworth 2007: 148 DYAR (20th)

Hakim 1999: 243 DYAR (2nd)

All were valuable. Some were exceptionally efficient, too.

After a very uneven performance as a part-time starter in 2018, and what looked like the kind of down season which precedes an exit in 2019, Moore has stacked back to back good games. Not quite, David Moore built on a workmanlike week 1 to reignite a white dwarf in week 2. Or at least for a play, but while he’s every bit a third receiver, it’s looking very possible that he is a great third receiver. For the season, Moore has converted every one of his six targets into a reception, averaged 12.7 yards per reception, converted two first downs, and, of course, caught a touchdown pass.

While the video shows the beauty of Moore’s feat, and Seth Walder of ESPN offered an estimate as to its likelihood, what hasn’t been noted to my knowledge is that Moore was third in New England’s order of coverage priority. Stephon Gilmore was in shadow coverage of Metcalf. The Pats soft double covered Lockett, assigning Jonathan Jones in man coverage and Devin McCourty deep. That left Jason McCourty in single coverage of Moore. A matchup which would seemingly favor McCourty. Until it didn’t.

McCourty ranked first in the NFL in Football Outsider’s measure of pass coverage. Just 27% of the 44 passes which targeted him in 2019 were successfully completed. According to Pro Football Reference, only 48.2% of the 57 passes which targeted him were completed at all. New England ranked first in DVOA at defending passes to #1 wide receivers and #2 wide receivers, and #1 at defending passes to all other wide receivers. While there have been more dynamic secondaries (cough), there has maybe never been a more stifling secondary. Let me not be misunderstood. Moore beat a good player with rare concentration and coordination.

He did something awesome, but he did it once, and he did it against a relatively favorable matchup. If you project Moore’s numbers through two games over a season, his performance is really not out of line with his previous performances. 48 receptions for 608 yards and 10 touchdowns would all qualify as career highs. In fact he would eclipse his previous career totals in receptions and touchdowns, but it would not qualify as a transformative breakout.

And that’s good! Because transformative breakouts are rare. Banking on Moore becoming a dramatically better player in his fourth season is banking on the improbable. But banking on Moore becoming a somewhat better player, able to achieve more because less is asked of him, is simply banking, eh, is simply expecting what has already happened to continue. That’s not improbable.

Moore had to take a pay cut to stay in Seattle. That sucks for the young man and is … humbling is a nice way to put it. Like a season in the humbler may be a more accurate way to put it. I’m not gonna give you any light a fire under his ass nonsense, because that implies Moore wasn’t previously trying. We’re awfully smug about exceptional professional athletes who are not and never can be great, like they must have some kind of moral failing. Free climbing a cliff face always seems easier for the man already atop the cliff. But that pay cut makes him even more valuable. Add in his value as a punt returner and you get the premise for this post.