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DJ Moore’s impact on Maryland football is far from over

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The Terps have their highest pick of the decade, and it’s a success story they can sell for years to come.

NCAA Football: Maryland at Minnesota Jesse Johnson-USA TODAY Sports

DJ Moore is an NFL Draft first-round pick. The Maryland wide receiver was selected 24th overall Thursday night by the Carolina Panthers. He was the first wideout off the board.

The numbers might make this seem unsurprising. Moore hauled in a school-record 80 receptions in his junior season, tallying 1,033 yards and scoring eight touchdowns—all with four different quarterbacks throwing his way. He won Big Ten Receiver of the Year. At the combine in March, he ran a 4.42 40-yard dash, posted a 39.5-inch vertical and an 11-foot broad jump; all of these marks were at or toward the top of his wide receiver class. Of course a guy with all those achievements would be taken this high.

But Moore’s ascension to this point has been several years in the making. He was a high three-star recruit out of Imhotep Institute in Philadelphia. Penn State didn’t even extend him an offer. He chose Maryland over Temple. In three college seasons, he played under two head coaches and an interim head coach and caught passes from an unfathomable eight different quarterbacks. Moore was a bright spot in a dismal 2015 season, and by his sophomore year he was unquestionably the Terps’ best receiver. Then he broke program records as a junior and had nothing left to prove at the college level.

The draft process was simply a continuation of Moore’s meteoric rise. When he declared in December, there was no consensus on his stock—some had him as one of the best receivers in the class, while other sites didn’t have him as a top-100 prospect. But he kept turning heads in workouts, and his combine performance vaulted him to the top of positional draft boards. Becoming a member of the Panthers is the culmination of this process; now it’s time to make an impact in the NFL.

Comparisons between Moore and Stefon Diggs have been inescapable. Both went to Maryland, wore No. 1 and produced despite an avalanche of injury and inefficiency at quarterback. But Diggs was the No. 8 prospect in the entire country and the No. 2 wide receiver; even if a combination of factors led to him being overlooked as a pro prospect, he always had NFL-caliber talent. Moore wasn’t supposed to be a star—he made himself into one.

That’s why Moore going in the first round is something Maryland can point to for several years going forward.

All across the country, receiver prospects just saw a three-star recruit become the first wideout taken in the draft. They saw him do it in a three-year span. They saw him do it at Maryland, of all places. And they’ll think to themselves that it’s possible they could do the same thing.

DJ Durkin’s recruiting pitch has plenty ammunition. He can sell recruits on playing in the Big Ten, and playing in a metropolitan area with loads of opportunities outside of football. He can play up the academics, with several programs ranked among the best in the nation. He can show targets the monstrous new practice field in Cole Field House and tell them it’s only the first of many top-notch facilities on the way.

And now he can tell recruits that, if they work hard and everything falls into place, they too can hear their name called on the NFL Draft stage in primetime.

It won’t be easy to become the next DJ Moore, but Maryland has no shortage of candidates. The label has been thrown around with freshman Jeshaun Jones, but there will be several more wideouts coming in the summer; Darryl Jones rose to four-star status by the end of the recruiting process. Maybe it’ll be Ahmarean Brown, a 2019 commit with blazing speed. Maybe it’ll be someone who’s just now seeing Moore complete his meteoric rise and putting Maryland on his radar.

There are now four Terrapin receivers in the NFL, as Moore joins Diggs, Torrey Smith and Darrius Heyward-Bey. As Durkin tells Moore’s story recruits and current players alike as something to aspire to, another wave should be coming soon.