Throughout the course of the 2019 college football season and the 2020 offseason, any conversation of the Beg Ten's best NFL draft prospects eligible for the 2021 class would have had to include Purdue wide receiver Rondale Moore. Moore, who is diminutive in stature but a very big presence on the football field, has some of the most explosive qualities of any of the 2021-eligible wide receivers.
His frame, which is built low to the ground, is difficult to upend in the open field—he almost runs more like a running back with the ball in his hands than he does a wide receiver. But his production isn't "cheap" either, he's been schemed looks at time but this is by no means just a gadget player. He's the real deal, as he so emphatically declared when he exploded on Ohio State back in 2018. Moore has played in 17 football games in his college career and he's accounted for 1,861 yards from scrimmage and 16 touchdowns along the way. Add in some superhuman strength and eye-popping athletic testing numbers from his high school recruiting profile:
- 40-yard dash: 4.33s
- Vertical jump: 42.7"
- Short Shuttle: 4.01s
And your end result is a buzzy prospect who has all the makings of a potential game-breaking player at the NFL level. Which makes what I'm about to say even more painful to admit:
I can't justify drafting Rondale Moore in the first round of the 2021 NFL Draft.
At least not right now. And it has nothing to do with his qualifications as an athlete or a football player. But the intrigue and mystery that the Purdue football program has left Moore encased in this fall is, well, odd. This is a prospect who has endured his fair share of durability issues in the past and, at 5-foot-9 and 180 pounds, that narrative and concern may never go away completely. The 2018 season saw Moore play in 13 games but a "lower-body injury" did call his availability into question later in the season. That's perfectly fine. It happens. Then, in 2019, Moore played in four contests as was excellent early on before a hamstring injury hamstrung his health and explosiveness. He played three full games, a quarter of the fourth, and never touched the field again.
That absence for the final two-thirds of the 2019 season made it all the more exciting for Moore to decide to opt back in to the 2020 college football season after initially deciding to opt out amid the uncertainty of the Big Ten's season due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. But when the Big Ten and Purdue returned to action, Moore did not. And he still hasn't.
We still don't know why, as the Purdue program offers little clarity regarding the issue. Given the lower-body injuries that have either lingered or derailed portions of Moore's first two seasons in college, not getting onto the field after opting back into the season is going to do little to alleviate the concerns around league circles and in the eyes of executives regarding whether or not he has the durability to stay healthy. Moore certainly could have used this season to play, stay healthy from wire to wire, and show that he's at 100%. Instead, here's what we currently know about Moore's status courtesy of Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm:
"He was out...he was just out, and we'll — whenever he's ready to play, he will play," said Brohm after the season opener.
"That's all I can tell you," Brohm said. "I apologize."
Okay then. Fast forward to just this past week and Brohm did suggest that he still feels we'll see Moore this season, but offers no clarity on the situation.
"I do think he's going to play. every situation is different; he's just not ready to go yet but I do think it'll happen this year," said Brohm.
And this is why, as things currently stand, NFL teams may have a hard time getting on board with the idea of drafting Moore inside the top-32 selections. At this point, even if he comes back to play against the Minnesota Golden Gophers Friday night for Purdue's fourth game of the season, he's missed about half the season already. And the most important thing Moore could have done this year was to provide more clarity that he can withstand a significant workload each and every week and play a full season. That's out the window.
Is he hurt now? If he is, the apprehension about his resume will only expand. Alternatively, if Moore is not currently hurt (and other conditions are contributing to his absence), this spring could still provide him the lofty draft status he's so deserving of between the white lines. But we're going to need an explanation and some clarity at some point. Because the one thing NFL teams hate about drafting players is the unknown. And there's currently not a top prospect we know less about than what the hell is going on with Rondale Moore.
Meanwhile, across the rest of the country, you're seeing a slew of other playmakers budding in 2020. Florida's Kadarius Toney is one who comes to mind as a potential alternative to fill a similar role as Moore. South Carolina's Shi Smith is making the most of his 2020 season as the featured player in the Gamecocks' offense. And, of course, Alabama's Jaylen Waddle should still expect to be a top-20 selection despite a season-ending injury earlier this season after posting 557 receiving yards in just four games and the opening kickoff against the Tennessee Volunteers.
Waddle will come with a higher price tag, where as Toney and Smith could come as thrifty alternative options with a lower price point than Moore if he ends up living up to the first-round hype. There's a fair chance Moore still ends up being worth it. And based on the unknown circumstances of his 2020 absence thus far, skeptics will have the right to buy back in once we get the clarity we need on what's holding him out of the lineup in 2020.
Think of former Colorado wide receiver Laviska Shenault as an example. Shenault was also a prodigy in 2018 as a true sophomore, logging 1,011 receiving yards in just nine games. And, unlike Moore, Shenault had freakish size to go with his explosiveness at 6-foot-1 and 227 pounds. But a torn labrum in 2018 cut that season short. Then, in 2019, Shenault battled turf toe and missed time to further fuel the questions of his own durability. Shenault did his best to test at the 2020 NFL Scouting Combine but ran a 4.59s 40-yard dash due to running through a core injury that required surgery after the fact.
Shenault, like Moore, was a jack of all trades but also a game-breaker in college and a legitimate first-round prospect based on his on-the-field resume. His durability issues tanked that and he was ultimately drafted 42nd overall by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Contrast Shenault's path with Moore's, who is four inches shorter and 45-plus pounds lighter than Shenault, and you can see where the lack of time on the field can begin to be seen as problematic. The more games he inexplicably misses, the more opportunity is lost. And the longer we wait to find out why, the greater the apprehension will be to embrace Moore for what he can be as a top prospect in the 2021 NFL Draft.