2021 NFL Draft: Why Ole Miss’ Elijah Moore is the most overlooked of the SEC’s stellar wide receiver class

This is what it’s been like recently for SEC wide receiver on draft day: In the last decade, the Strength Everywhere Conference has seen more first-round picks at receiver (11) than any other league. In this week’s NFL Draft, the conference record for wideouts taken in the first round could fall — easily.

Basically, it good to be Elijah Moore. The Ole Miss receiver isn’t the highest rated coming out of the SEC. That is more an indication of the talent ahead of him, fellow pass catchers his team competed against weekly.

As it stands, there may be five wide receivers from the SEC ahead of Moore, all of whom could be selected among the first 32 picks. That would be a conference record.

Moore doesn’t care. He was asked where he ranks among those wideouts.

“Probably [ahead of] all of them,” he said.

He means it. Never mind that Moore is currently projected to go late in the first or early in the second round. That he is positioned that high on draft boards is a tribute to the depth of the conference, the position and the man himself.

“Definitely a blessing knowing that all your work is actually being shown,” Moore said. “A lot of kids are good out there, their work isn’t always shown.”

TV doesn’t miss many games these days, but it does emphasize what happens in the SEC. To sum it up: Get yourself a quarterback and some receivers these days in the SEC, and you’ve got a chance. The league might be the best combined at both positions nationally. 

Alabama’s Mac Jones could be the second quarterback taken a year after the SEC had the first two quarterbacks drafted in 2020 (Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa). The last two Heisman Trophy winners have also come from the SEC (Burrow and WR DeVonta Smith).

You don’t have to be told about the wideout gold standard at Alabama — three first-round draft picks since 2018, seven taken overall since 2011.

The SEC record for first-round receivers is three, tied most recently last season when Henry Ruggs and Jerry Jeudy from Alabama joined Justin Jefferson from LSU as Day 1 selections.

Whether Moore is taken in the first round this week is of little consequence to the record being surpassed. There are five other SEC wideouts projected for the first round this week. In some order, that list includes Smith, Ja’Marr Chase (LSU), Jaylen Waddle (Alabama), Kadarius Toney (Florida) and Terrace Marshall (LSU).

Moore would be the sixth Ole Miss receiver alone taken since 2014.

At under 5-foot-10 and 178 pounds, Moore quietly led the country in average receiving yards (149) while finishing second behind Smith nationally in catches (86) and total yards (1,193). Those numbers could have been higher if Moore hadn’t opted out prior to Ole Miss’ final two games to concentrate on the draft. Still, not bad for a slot receiver who has been critiqued by some draft analysts because he hasn’t played outside enough.

“People say the sky’s the limit,” Moore said. “That’s actually wrong. I don’t have any limits.”

That’s a debate for war rooms. Meanwhile, Moore’s head is somewhere in the clouds. Odell Beckham Jr. shouted him out in a tweet last month.

Moore certainly is not Smith, the Alabama Heisman winner who as a deep threat was able to take the top off of so many defenses he could have accused of decapitation. But who is?

“I didn’t realize I was ready until after the season,” said Moore, a junior. “… Also coach saying, ‘What else in college do you need to show?’:

Moore’s story basically starts at the bottom. His famous “dog pee” stunt at the end of the 2019 Egg Bowl cost Ole Miss the game, Matt Luke his job and had reverberations around the state (see Mike Leach at Mississippi State).

When Lane Kiffin replaced Luke as Ole Miss coach, he sat down the receiver and just told him to produce.

“Amari Cooper was his dude,” Moore said.

Cooper became the No. 4 overall pick in the 2015 draft after catching 124 balls for 1,727 yards and 16 touchdowns in Kiffin’s first year as Alabama offensive coordinator.

“I wanted to smash that,” Moore said. “I wanted to change [Kiffin’s] mind and make that me. The first meeting I had with him, I told him, ‘I don’t want to be just another receiver. I want to be the best receiver you’ve ever seen.’ … At the time, he was telling me, ‘If I have Amari Cooper on my team, Amari Cooper is getting the ball.’ I took that to mean, ‘If I have Elijah Moore on my team, Elijah Moore is getting the ball.'”

And so he did, catching 36.1% of Ole Miss’ completions. That percentage was slightly better than Smith at Alabama. Moore was also fifth nationally in yards after catch, seventh in tackles avoided, and he did it all while dropping just two passes, according to Pro Football Focus.

“I didn’t have any drops,” Moore contended. “You’re going to have to show me that.”

By the end of his three seasons, Moore had caught 189 passes. That’s more than every SEC receiver rated above him this week, except for Smith.

“Were all on one level,” Moore said. “I even talk to those guys — DeVonta, Waddle, Ja’Marr. We’re all close. We’re all competitors. There have been games going in the week before I see something they do and say, ‘OK I’m going to try that.’ Football is a game of learning. I have all respect but nobody works like how I work.”

While training for the draft in Phoenix at the EXOS facility, Moore said he lowered his 40 time from 4.56 seconds to 4.35 at his pro day. He produced 20 reps on the bench press (17 on pro day) training with the likes of Rashod Bateman and Tre Nixon.

NFL teams have tried their best to upend him in their usual crafty ways. Moore told the story of teams asking him to sing his ABCs with corresponding numbers. Example: “A-1, B-2, C-3”.

“I wasn’t expecting them to ask me that at all,” Moore said. “I wasn’t expecting to sing my ABCs to them. It seems like it’s very easy, but once you got to like 20 or 21, it’s hard. It’s hard. It’s how you process information. They want to see what kind of person you are, to see if you think it’s funny.”

The tweener label cuts a couple of ways. These are the days when Moore reminisces about when he got his first offers from a couple of MAC schools as a ninth grader. By the time he came out of St. Thomas Aquinas high school in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, everyone wanted him as a four-star top-300 prospect.

That process had to be explained.

“My brother told me, ‘They’re basically telling you you can go their school for free,'” Moore said.

Now, Moore is much more aware of his surroundings. This is the week they annually build prospects up like Moore only to tear them down.

The question remains whether a smallish slot receiver is worth a first-round pick.

Maybe it’s that immense talent and ability to fight through traffic in the nation’s deepest receiver conference that created the question in the first place.

“I don’t see how I can lose,” Moore said. 

Published: 2021-04-30 23:28:25

Tags: #NFL #Draft #Ole #Elijah #Moore #overlooked #SECs #stellar #wide #receiver #class

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