CHARLOTTE – Carolina and Atlanta had similar interests entering the 2018 NFL Draft, so much so that wide receiver DJ Moore and cornerback Donte Jackson easily could have become Falcons instead of Panthers.
Moore was taken with the 24th overall pick, two spots ahead of Atlanta, which selected a different wide receiver: Calvin Ridley.
Jackson was taken with the 55th overall pick, three spots ahead of Atlanta, which selected a different cornerback: Isaiah Oliver.
Let’s first revisit the Moore-Ridley debate that continued throughout the pre-draft process. Opinions were split on who was the top receiver in the class.
“At some point, I knew me and Ridley were going to be one and two,” Moore said. “We met in high school, so we’ve known each other and we still talk. The draft process just blew it all up comparing me and him.”
Moore won out and became the first receiver drafted when Carolina submitted its pick. It’s something he takes pride in.
“Yeah, you could say that,” Moore said. “That’s just the competitiveness to be number one. It was a good feeling.”
Had the Panthers not taken Moore, the Falcons might have had a tough decision to make between him and Ridley.
“(Assistant coach) Raheem Morris went up to Maryland, worked (Moore) out. I knew the coach at Maryland well and he spoke highly of him,” Atlanta head coach Dan Quinn said in a conference call. “The thing I really admire about both DJ and Cal was, although they were young, these guys really compete, and I thought they really established that.
“The tape looked like a physical style, whether it was with or without the ball in their hands, so both guys were explosive. We're able to use Cal to return some, and we were looking at DJ in the same way so he was definitely somebody that was on our radar.”
Jackson was another prospect the Falcons were high on. Atlanta has had a lot of recent success with LSU products, and Jackson’s style fits the mold Quinn has put in place defensively.
“We liked Donte coming out,” Quinn said. “We were down at LSU, had a workout down there with him, had him up here for a visit, so I could see why they like him. He's got the speed to be explosive.
“I remember meeting him at the combine. He wanted to have the fastest 40 time. He said, ‘Oh, well I'm doing it.’ You could sense it wasn't coming across in a fake way or a fake tough guy. He was really trying to compete and battle, so I liked the energy that he played with. Donte's competitiveness probably was the thing that helped me understand who he was. He certainly wasn't backing down from anybody.”
When the second round was getting underway, Jackson thought Atlanta was a likely destination. Turns out Carolina was fortunate to be a few picks ahead.
“I was really high on Atlanta’s board. They really liked me,” Jackson said. “But the Panthers had the pick before them in the second round. I’m happy to be here.”
Added head coach Ron Rivera: “I’ll be honest, I wasn’t sure they needed a corner. But we felt we needed somebody like Donte, and that’s why we drafted him… We need to be able to cover their guys – that’s why we went after a guy like Donte.”