GREEN BAY – It’s the job interview of a lifetime, the starting line of the NFL combine’s 40-yard dash, and J’Mon Moore doesn’t feel right. His alignment is off. His sprinter’s stance is wobbly.
Moore gets a bad jump. His first few steps are slow, and he never catches up. When he throttles down 40 yards later, the stopwatch shows two numbers he’s never seen together side by side: 4.6.
As in a 4.6 seconds.
“I had never ran 4.6 in my life,” he said.
In the time it takes for a punt to land, weeks of preparation felt wasted. Never mind his back-to-back 1,000-yard seasons at Missouri. Moore knew that 4.6 had the power to stain his draft stock. For a receiver hoping to be drafted, 4.6 is a scarlet letter.
But if Moore showed nothing else in college, it’s that he can handle adversity. “I’m a player,” Moore explained, “who definitely knows how to respond when I’m being tested.” Did it early in his career when he arrived on campus expecting to catch passes, only to be handed a redshirt. Did it after temporarily losing his starting job as a junior.
This is his career pattern: When J’Mon Moore’s path goes sideways, he finds a way to course correct.
“When I ran that at the combine,” Moore said, “I actually was glad that I did because not only did it put a fire underneath me that I needed, but it just made me go that much harder at the combine for the rest of the day. So I ran 4.6, I know I don’t run 4.6. I come out and play fast. I know I can run. So me running 4.6, that’s fine. I had to bite that bullet, and I had to move on.”
The Green Bay Packers drafted Moore with their first pick Saturday, No. 133 overall in the fourth round, in part because of how he moved on from what could have been a disastrous job interview.
They drafted him because when he toed the 40-yard dash start line at his pro day, Moore was ready. He ran a 4.49-second 40 that day, a time Packers college scouting director Jon-Eric Sullivan confirmed Saturday. It was the athleticism Moore showed at other phases during the combine — his 38-inch vertical leap ranked fourth among receivers — and also the speed he flashed on film.
“Because he plays fast on tape,” Sullivan said. “Forty times are great, and obviously we all covet speed. But when you watch him play the game on film, there’s never a time when you say, ‘Well, this guy looks like he can’t run.’ It’s actually quite the opposite.
“I was surprised that he only ran 4.49.”
Moore was among three receivers the Packers drafted Saturday, similar to last year when they took a trio of running backs after the third round. The hope, perhaps, is to find a No. 2 receiver who can eventually replace Jordy Nelson, who they released earlier this offseason.
Ever since, general manager Brian Gutekunst has searched for Nelson’s replacement. It started in free agency, where the Packers were close to signing Allen Robinson. Gutekunst took that search to the draft’s third day. After Moore, the Packers drafted South Florida’s Marquez Valdes-Scantling in the fifth round (No. 174 overall and Notre Dame’s Equanimeous St. Brown in the sixth (No. 207).
Moore never doubted he’d get drafted. He arrived at Missouri with thoughts of Sunday afternoon on his mind. “He’s always seen himself as an NFL guy,” longtime Missouri receiver coach Andy Hill said. His path to the league was a little more indirect.
Determined to maximize every reception in his first year as a starter, Moore developed a nasty habit of not watching the football through the catch. Before it hit his hands, Moore’s eyes often were already turned upfield.
“It was mostly focus drops,” Hill said, “in a sense that he was trying to do something with the ball before he caught it. He was trying to make a big play. Sometimes, it’s just great to take a 14-yard curl route, versus trying to score every time you get it.”
Hill said Moore dropped 12 passes as a junior. Against 62 catches, his 5-to-1 ratio was well below the 15-to-1 standard Missouri sets for receivers. He lost his starting job against South Carolina in 2016, staying on the sideline through the opening possession.
In his next three games, Moore caught 23 passes for 407 yards and two touchdowns.
“Your job as a receiver is to catch the ball,” Moore said. “You might have a few drops here and there. But me losing my starting spot to that, I’m a competitor and I don’t really get too emotional when it’s competition within the room. I like competition. So when I lost my job because I had a few drops, that made me get more into it. I didn’t hang my head or give up or hurt my feelings because I felt like coach turned his back on me.
“Coach is going to play whoever he feels like is going to make plays. So all I did was continue to go hard. I went harder making plays. When I got my opportunity, I had to prove to him again that I’m going to catch the ball and make plays, which was fine with me. I don’t mind doing that. So it humbled me, definitely, and I’m glad it was something I went through. Some players don’t know how to bounce back from that, and I’m one of them.”
Hill said Moore’s struggles with drops disappeared as a senior. He was more reliable catching the football, and more efficient with his production.
Moore said he needed to learn how to “humble my eyes,” taking the sure catch over the big play. He believes highlights can come naturally, without constantly searching for them. The Packers can see big plays in his future, too.
On film, he’s shown the speed to pick up a lot of yards.
“He plays fast,” college scouting director Jon-Eric Sullivan said. “I think we had him at 4.49 at his pro day. When you watch him come off the ball, he can close space, close the cushion. He’s got a really natural, pretty gait. We were not concerned with his play speed at all, and when he ran that 4.49 at his pro day that kind of solidified what we saw on film.”
A brief overview of the Packers 4th round selection in the 2018 NFL draft. Aaron Nagler, USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
J’Mon Moore file
Position: Receiver. School: Missouri. Pick: Round 4, 133 overall.
Height: 6-2⅝. Weight: 207. Age: 22. Hometown: Missouri City, Texas. Lowdown: Big, physical receiver who was ultra-productive in final two college seasons. Exceeded 60 catches and 1,000 yards as junior and senior, combining for 18 touchdown receptions in the two seasons. Averaged more than 16 yards per catch each year. Benched 21 reps at combine. Followed a disappointing 4.60 40 at the combine with 4.49 at his pro day. Impressive jumping ability, his 38-inch vertical leap ranked fourth among receivers at the combine. Arms are 32 7/8 inches, hands 9 3/8 inches. I think he plays closer to what he ran at his pro day. “He plays fast,” college scouting director Jon-Eric Sullivan said. “I think we had him at 4.49 at his pro day. When you watch him come off the ball, he can close space, close the cushion. He’s got a really natural, pretty gait. We were not concerned with his play speed at all, and when he ran that 4.49 at his pro day that kind of solidified what we saw on film.” Too often hunted the big play in college, leading to issues with drops. Dropped 12 passes as a junior. Temporarily lost his starting job that season because of drops. Quickly regained job, and drops were not an issue in his senior season. “I have to learn how to humble my eyes,” Moore said. “That’s how I’ll say it. I have to learn how to humble them. Because a lot of the problems I had was, I dropped easy balls. Which you’re not supposed to drop. It’s me trying to do something with the ball before I even have it in my hands, or me trying to figure out where the ball is coming before I can get it all the way in. it’s just something I’ve had to work on, something I’ve developed and something I work on every time I go out and work on my craft. So that’s a small hiccup that I’m over.” Ryan Wood