2. Kenny Moore II, Indianapolis Colts
Who is Kenny Moore II, and why is he second on this list? If you’re not a Colts fan, you may well wonder. But in his second NFL season, the undrafted Valdosta State alum became a star slot defender in many ways. Moore was targeted 68 times in the slot in 2018, allowing 54 receptions for 429 yards and 265 yards after the catch. He gave up one touchdown to four interceptions, and allowed an opponent passer rating of 73.3.
Moore is nimble when asked to mirror routes, he’s efficiently aggressive at the line of scrimmage, and he’s got a knack for peeling off and jumping routes that makes him an asset in zone coverage. He’s also a highly effective blitzer, with five sacks and 13 pressures in the 2018 season—including two sacks of Patrick Mahomes in the divisional playoffs. If this is the first you’ve heard about Kenny Moore II, he’s officially a name to know.
Of course, Moore’s story of how ‘he made it’ is pretty remarkable.
He was signed by the New England Patriots as an undrafted free agent out of unheralded Valdosta State in 2017 before being waived as part of their final 53-man roster cuts.
The Colts claimed Moore off waivers shortly thereafter—even though general manager Chris Ballard initially needed some convincing from his fellow football operations staff (via Colts.com’s Andrew Walker):
“Kenny didn’t meet the height standard,” Ballard said. “No. I mean, we’ve told that story numerous times. It’d be two o’clock in the morning in here, and when you’re watching those (waivers) guys, now, that’s not like watching draft tape. You’re digging for a needle in the haystack on that claim day to try to claim players. So here I’m looking at the numbers, and I’m just looking at 5’9”, 185 pounds, and you’ve seen a good player on tape, but you’re saying, ‘5’9”, a dime a dozen.’ And I think it was Ed (Dodds) who said, ‘Look Chris, he’s got 32 1/2-inch arms; it equals out to be taller than what he is.’ And Kevin (Rogers) had been beating me up all night on him. Finally I just relented; I was like, ‘Just take him. … He’s better than what we got.’ And he ended up being a really good player.”
Moore has made major strides since then, and is now set to enter his 3rd NFL season. His ‘sophomore leap’ last year, from his rookie season, was very impressive.
Considered ‘undersized’ at 5’9”, 190 pounds for NFL cornerback standards, Moore certainly doesn’t play like it, with his long arms, overly physical play, and exceptional coverage.
He recorded 77 tackles, 1.5 sacks, a forced fumble, and an interception in 15 starts for the Colts defense last season.
Not only did he have incredibly clutch plays for the Colts defense in 2018—including this postseason interception of the Texans' Deshaun Watson, but he also went on a pass rushing tear with 3.0 sacks in the playoffs by disguise blitzing as the nickel cornerback.
The Colts have really found a diamond in the rough with Moore. Covering out of the slot, he was only ranked behind Denver Broncos All-Pro veteran cornerback Chris Harris Jr.—who is elite company, to say the least.
Still only 23 years old, Moore has quickly become one of the best young players on the Colts defense, and it’s great to see that national media members are starting to take notice.