CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- When the Carolina Panthers drafted wide receiver D.J. Moore in 2018, Steve Smith, by then an analyst for NFL Network, made it clear that he was impressed with the selection.
He looked directly into the camera and said: "They have never been able to replace me ... until today."
It was a huge compliment from Smith, who throughout his career was known for his competitiveness and desire to prove he was one of the best.
Moore, 23, has been solid for the Panthers in his first two seasons. He led the team in receiving yards in 2019 and was top 15 in the NFL in catches (87), receiving yards (1,175) and receiving yards per game (78.3).
But Moore has not been recognized as one of the best receivers in the league. He wasn't voted to the 2019 Pro Bowl, nor was he voted by his peers as one of the NFL's Top 100 players. Oftentimes, that comes with consistent production over multiple seasons. It also comes with winning, something the 5-11 Panthers struggled with in 2019.
"I think D.J. has got to take another step this year and go be like that dominant, physical, go-to receiver, that on third-and-5 in the red zone, you're going to," Panthers coach Matt Rhule said last week. "Take the matchup of the other team's best corner and just dominate it."
Moore said Tuesday that he had the same conversation with Rhule this offseason. He said it was a challenge he was willing to accept.
"I'm going to try to be the best me, best receiver on the field that I can be for the team and help get the win," Moore said.
Moore, who was forced to work out in his garage and backyard because of the coronavirus, said he tried to work on all areas of his game this offseason. Now with two years left on his rookie deal, it's time to show what he's capable of.
To be compared with players like Julio Jones, Michael Thomas, Mike Evans and DeAndre Hopkins, and even Smith, there are a number of areas Moore must improve.