Pro Football Focus put out a list of 10 undrafted free agents who can make an impact in 2018. Gracing the list is Indianapolis Colts rookie linebacker Skai Moore.
Moore was expected to be drafted — personally, he was one of my favorite linebackers, and I would’ve been fine taking him in Rounds 3-4. However, he had a herniated disc in his neck that required surgery before the 2016 season and missed all season because of it. He returned in 2017 and played in every game game, leading the Gamecocks in tackles once again — something he did all four years that he played.
So, you saw Moore rebound from his neck surgery to play like himself again. However, one of the main tie-breakers in deciding between draft picks is pre-draft measurables/metrics. Moore’s were just okay this spring. For a 226-pound player, you probably would’ve liked to see him run faster than a 4.73 forty, but he plays faster on the field.
The pre-draft testing may have only partially contributed since it was neither bad or good, but the neck probably was the deciding factor for most teams. The Colts have another player on their defense who had surgery for a herniated disc in his neck in Clayton Geathers, and that’s their starting strong safety. The Colts obviously trust a player’s ability to come back from that injury, dependent on their individual medical report.
After setting the background there, let’s look forward to Moore now as an NFL player on the Colts.
In order for undrafted free agents to stay on the roster, many things have to break their way. For the Colts, they are changing their defensive scheme from a hybrid 3-4 over to more of a 4-3 Tampa-2 defense. That includes completely overhauling their linebacker corps. They have been looking for linebackers like Moore — undersized against traditional standards, but the speed to cover the field and toughness to stay on it and impose their will on the opponent.
Moore (6-2, 226) is a MIKE/WILL linebacker — having played both spots in South Carolina’s 4-3 — and the Colts don’t have many definite starters at either spot. At MIKE, they signed Najee Goode this offseason, they drafted Anthony Walker last year, and Antonio Morrison has started there for the last season and a half.
In my opinion, Goode is decent but is an insurance policy in case no one else steps up as a starter at MIKE. Walker is the preferred starter, and Morrison doesn’t have the mobility to stick at MIKE, likely having to be a run-stopping SAM. The problem for Moore is that he has never shown much of the power required to be a MIKE in the NFL. That can change, but it’s not been his game to this point. He is much more likely to be a WILL.
The Colts just drafted their new starting WILL in the second round in Darius Leonard. Moore stands a good chance at being Leonard’s backup, as Jeremiah George is his only main competition, but George also provides MIKE and special teams depth.
Outside of Goode, Walker, Morrison and George, the lower ends of the linebacker depth chart at MIKE/WILL feature seventh-round picks Matthew Adams and Zaire Franklin as well as Tyrell Adams and William Ossai. Adams and Franklin should very much be considered a threat to Moore’s ability to stay on the roster — Adams at MIKE and SAM, and Franklin at MIKE and WILL.
The key for Moore to land on this roster as an undrafted free agent who stands little shot at starting as a rookie will be standing out on special teams. With his speed, agility and ability to bring down ball carriers at a high volume, he may a perfect fit as a special teamer for the Colts.
Some things to watch for this summer in training camp and the preseason:
As I mentioned before, power isn’t really Moore’s game. He’ll hand battle with blockers, but he wins blocking matchups with agility. NFL blockers will be able to lock him up if he doesn’t hit the weight room and work on his technique. Adding strength will also help him in the scenarios where he does miss tackles, which is usually attributed to trying to bring ball carriers down with arm tackles.
His great movement skills (especially in his hips) is what helps him dip past blockers as well as change direction quickly in pursuit and cover sideline to sideline.
Moore is excellent in coverage, between sticking with his assignment, closing quickly and actually intercepting the ball — he had 14 in college as a linebacker! — that may be his calling card if he ever earns defensive snaps in the NFL.
Moore is fast, but he’s also an instinctive player against the run and pass. Often times he has already identified the main short read in the passing game and closes in on them, taking them out of the equation.
Here are a couple examples of Moore keeping the play ahead of him and using his movement skills to get to the ball carrier.
I always like to include this one when discussing Moore because he just totally punks the quarterback who thinks he can just run up the middle like that.
Last up is a display of Moore’s abilities in coverage. The second clip is a replay of the interception made in the first clip. The third clip is a completely different play, and it iced the game for South Carolina. The final clip is a pass breakup in last season’s Outback Bowl vs. Michigan. Some of Moore’s interceptions were opportunistic like this, but at the end of the day you have to make the play that’s staring you in the face, waiting to be made.