RENTON, Wash. — Pete Carroll was laughing when he said it, but he wasn’t joking.
“The first thing I remember is the film was really grainy,” Carroll said. “It was.”
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But on that grainy film, Carroll saw how Moore would run away from defenders after the catch and how he would outmuscle them for the ball in the air. Moore did a lot of that while setting school records with 35 touchdowns and 2,776 receiving yards.
But even with all that production and Moore’s impressive measurables, no one could be sure how his skills would translate to the NFL given the caliber of the competition he faced at the tiny college based in Ada, Oklahoma.
“We didn’t know how much that would carry over because he looked like he was bigger than the guys he was playing with,” Carroll said.
Moore’s emergence as Russell Wilson‘s newest weapon is answering that question. He’s second on the team with 413 receiving yards and five touchdowns, with all 22 of his receptions coming since Week 4, when he started to supplant since-released veteran Brandon Marshall in the receiver rotation. And his biggest moment so far came when Moore helped the Seahawks rally to beat the Carolina Panthers with catches, 103 yards and the game-tying touchdown.
Moore’s yards-per-catch average of 18.8 is second best in the league. Eight of his catches have gone for at least 25 yards, including a 54-yarder against the Panthers and a 35-yard touchdown that tied the score late in the fourth quarter.
His recent breakout and Tyler Lockett‘s career year have helped make up for the production the Seahawks haven’t gotten from Doug Baldwin while the long-time No. 1 receiver has dealt with one injury after another this season.
After Moore topped 100 yards against Carolina for the first time in his career, Baldwin was asked if he’s surprised by what he’s seeing.
“Not at all,” Baldwin said. “He’s a savage. He does that every day in practice, in games when he gets his opportunities. He’s a baller.”
The Seahawks built some of their most successful teams in franchise history with just as many unheralded prospects as early draft picks. But of all the mid- to late-round gems unearthed by general manager John Schneider and his scouting department, none came from a school quite as small and obscure as East Central — which Carroll jokingly called “Directionally Oklahoma” earlier this season when he couldn’t remember the actual name.
Moore grew up about 100 miles away in Gainesville, Texas, and ended up at ECU when he didn’t receive any Division I offers.
The university’s website lists an enrollment of 3,600 students. The school is located in Ada, Oklahoma, which has a population of about 17,000 — less than a quarter of what the Seahawks pack into CenturyLink Field on game days.
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ECU’s list of NFL alumni include New York Jets pass-rushing great Mark Gastineau, a linebacker named Cliff Thrift who made two starts for the 1985 Chicago Bears and … not much else. It’s not the type of program that regularly produces enough NFL talent to warrant holding an annual pro day, which left Moore in a bind as he was preparing for the 2017 draft. After some lobbying, he was able to attend the pro day at nearby Central Oklahoma.
The UCO pro day is strategically scheduled between those of Oklahoma and Oklahoma State so that NFL scouts can stop by the campus in Edmond, Oklahoma, on their way from Norman to Stillwater. The night before Moore was set to work out, a group of scouts took guesses over beers as to how fast he would run.
Those who hadn’t seen him up close figured that at almost 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, the best he’d do was in the 4.6 range. Those who had seen him told the others they were in for a surprise.
Moore had been on the Seahawks’ radar since his junior season thanks to a connection between his then-offensive coordinator Rashad Jackson and one of the team’s area scouts, Aaron Hineline, whose territory at the time included Oklahoma.
Hineline timed Moore’s best run at 4.37. Moore also put up 26 bench-press reps at 225 pounds, which, for reference, was more than any receiver had done at the scouting combine since 2011.
Those physical traits plus Moore’s mental makeup and coachability helped convince them that he could handle the massive adjustment in competition and scheme in the NFL. They spent a seventh-round pick to find out.
Moore was at home with family and friends on draft day, playing basketball, barbecuing and doing whatever he could to avoid watching it on TV.
“I was just waiting for something, just anything,” he said. “I was getting ready [to go] undrafted.”
When the Seahawks made the surprising move to cut veteran pass-rusher Dwight Freeney last season, Moore was part of the decision.
He had spent almost the first three months of his rookie season on the practice squad and his promotion was the corresponding move. Carroll explained that the Seahawks had brought him up because another team had tried to sign him. That team, according to a source, was the Indianapolis Colts, who had tried to sell Moore on a future with Andrew Luck, who would be back the next season from his shoulder injury.
“It wasn’t hard at all, honestly,” Moore said of the decision to stay in Seattle.
When he was inactive for his first five games, it showed how highly the Seahawks thought of Moore’s potential. They wanted to avoid losing him enough to use a roster spot on him while he wasn’t even contributing.
He wasn’t ready to.
Carroll mentioned former Seahawk Golden Tate as a receiver who was similarly slow to blossom. Tate had also played baseball at Notre Dame, which kept him from participating in spring ball and thereby stalled his development.
“There was a lot to be desired about scheme and technique and style of play and all that kind of stuff,” Carroll said of what he saw from Moore in college.
But for all the justifiable concerns about how raw Moore was, he showed what Carroll described as “natural instincts” on his touchdown catch late in the game against the Panthers. Moore beat a press off the line of scrimmage, and as the ball was in the air, he waited until the last moment to bring his hands as to not tip off the cornerback that it was about to arrive.
“That’s big-time savvy and he pulled it off great,” Carroll said.
It was another instance of the receiver with the small-school pedigree showing his big-play ability.
“There is nothing that David Moore can’t do,” Wilson said.