It had been about a month since the Arizona Cardinals last talked to their now-second-round draft pick. The front office clearly saw all they needed to in Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore.
Using the 49th overall pick of the 2021 NFL Draft on the wideout, the Cardinals feel they took the best available talent on either side of the football.
“He’s a really articulate guy. He’s serious, he’s all about business. This guy … when we go back to mentality, he’s a receiver that plays like a defensive player,” Cardinals GM Steve Keim said Friday. “He plays angry, he’s competitive.
“To be around 5-foot-8, 185 pounds and to be as successful as he is and to be able to win against bigger players in that conference and to be as physical as he is, you have to be a guy who loves the game and is as passionate as he is. Just our interactions with him, [wide receivers] coach [Shawn] Jefferson’s reactions, we felt very confident that he was a guy that would fit in perfectly here.”
Moore, who Keim said has a chip on his shoulder due to his stature, undoubtedly left a lasting impression on the organization during the offseason, especially on Jefferson and special teams coach Jeff Rodgers.
While he played just seven games over the last two season due to COVID-19 and injury, Moore strung together an impressive 2018 where he caught 114 balls for 1,258 yards and 12 touchdowns, most of which was done in the slot. He rushed 21 times for another 213 yards and two scores.
He was also utilized in the return game, taking back 13 kicks for 662 yards and 12 punts for 82.
For his efforts, he was the first true freshman consensus All-American in Big Ten history.
“You look back at the 2018 tape and you see all the production, then because of the COVID stuff and because the injury the prior year, there are some obstacles in terms of the evaluation,” Keim said. “But as we spend more time with him and we Zoom called with him multiple times, to see the football IQ … it’s so important nowadays in the evaluation process and getting these guys in here with a limited offseason. To be able to get them acclimated and to get them up to speed.”
The Cardinals gave Moore an A-grade in both character and football character, Keim said.
“This is a guy who is a football junkie, loves it. … He is true student of the game, continuing quizzes coaches on the defensive side about running routes and how to read coverages, Keim said.
Moore only made himself that much more intriguing to the Cardinals with a stellar pro day that included a 4.29-second 40-yard dash time.
“When you see his body type, you see a guy whose on the shorter end but really thick and muscled up,” Keim said. “Really explosive. … [His pro day] numbers were off the charts. Very similar measurement-wise, height weight and speed and you look at those numbers, guy like Tyreek Hill is sort of in that form.
“He’s explosive enough to play outside, play inside, reverses, screens, all the different things. You want to get the ball in his hands and let him create on the perimeter. Not only that, you see his return ability … and think he’s a guy that can help us immediately.”
Moore now figures to compete for the fourth wide receiver spot on the roster in 2021, setting up a battle with Andy Isabella and KeeSean Johnson for playing time.
The two 2019 draft picks remain largely unproven, with Isabella holding the upper hand on Johnson with 413 yards and three touchdowns on 21 catches over the past two seasons (28 games). Johnson has played in 18 games in two seasons, recording 360 yards and one score on 36 receptions.
“I thought we were gonna have great competition before this pick,” head coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “You got DeAndre, you got A.J., then you’ve got some younger guys that are all kinda battling it out. This guy jumps right into the middle of it in that group. The good thing is we believe all of them can play and start and contribute at a high level. Competition only makes that room better.”
Kingsbury sees Moore as much more than a slot wide receiver, noting he could be a do-it-all type player who could also see time outside.
“We’re gonna move him around and make sure he gets his fair share of touches,” Kingsbury said. “When you watch the film that’s what jumps out more than anything … he’s a smaller guy in stature but he’s really, really strong and he’s really, really explosive. Any time he gets it, that first step, it’s hard to keep up with.”