ATLANTA – Former wide receiver and current NFL Network analyst Steve Smith made headlines – and made Panthers fans giddy – when he said this moments after Carolina selected wide receiver DJ Moore in the first round of the 2018 draft:
"You want to know the truth of how I feel?" Smith said. "They have never been able to replace me. Until today.
"He's a playmaker. He can run every route on the route tree. A Ph.D. in route running. He can line up in the slot. He can line up outside. He's elusive. He'll run through you, he'll run around you and he'll run away from you."
So, with Moore's rookie season now complete, what does Smith have to say?
For one, he was impressed with Moore's ability to consistently create yards after contact, something Smith did so well during his illustrious career. It's a big part of why Smith referred to Moore as his "spirit animal."
But as is the case with all young players, there is a lot to learn coming off a year in which Moore recorded 55 catches for 778 yards and two touchdowns (he also rushed 13 times for 172 yards).
"I saw a guy with a lot of skill. He's a great player," Smith said during media obligations ahead of Super Bowl LIII in Atlanta. "He's going to make a name for himself, and that's what he's doing. I love what he did. He has a lot of room to grow and improve. It's an adjustment coming from college. Until you get out there and you start to see it, you are going to experience some things that just aren't in the book. You have to figure that out.
"It's baptism by fire, and you are not going to know how to adjust to things in the comfort of an air-conditioned room. It has to be on the field, it has to be with a DB draped over you, grabbing you, it has to be with a coach telling you how good you did one day and that you're terrible tomorrow. All of that you have to experience hands-on."