Going into the 2018 NFL season, the Indianapolis Colts desperately needed someone to emerge as a star player on their defense. The days of Robert Mathis, Dwight Freeney, and Bob Sanders were long gone and the team needed a new player to take up that star mantle on the defense. Luckily, in 2018, the Colts had two players step up and fill that role. One was rookie LB Darius Leonard who has been one of the best linebackers in the NFL over the past two seasons and has been named an All-Pro twice. The other is the unlikely hero of the team in Kenny Moore II.
Moore is a rare story of an undrafted free agent becoming not only a productive NFL player but a really good one in his own right. After going undrafted in the 2017 NFL Draft and being waived by the Patriots, the Colts took a chance on the young corner and the chance has paid major dividends. Moore now sits as the highest paid slot cornerback in the NFL and the leader of a young and ascending NFL defense.
While Moore has always had the energy, work ethic, character, and talent to succeed in this league, his fit in Indy plays a big role into why he has been so dominant in the NFL these past two seasons. Today we will look at aspects of Moore’s game and see why his talent along with the versatility of the Colts’ scheme has birthed the league’s best slot cornerback.
Let’s start with one of the most underappreciated aspects of cornerback play. Corners in the NFL have to tackle nowadays as the emphasis on prohibiting offenses from creating big plays has increased in recent seasons. This is even more important in a scheme like the Colts as they play a zone heavy, keep everything in front of you scheme. In this scheme, players have to be reliable tacklers in space and in one on one situations or they simply won’t play on Sundays.
Moore has consistently been one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL in this area over the last two seasons. Over the past two years, he has tallied 157 tackles, 11 tackles for a loss, and 1 forced fumble. According to Pro Football Focus, he also leads the NFL in run stops among pure CBs the last two years with 33 and has a run stop percentage of over 7%. PFF has also only credited him with just 4 missed tackles in run stop opportunities over the past two years, making him one of the best and most reliable run defending cornerbacks in the NFL.
The first step to being such a great run defender is instincts and play recognition. Moore is a very cerebral player who sees things better than most cornerbacks do. The Colts’ zone heavy system also allows him to peak more frequently into the backfield and anticipate plays like this coming. Here he makes an excellent stop in the backfield for a loss on the toss play.
On top of his great instincts, he also has great closing speed and tackling form. This allows him to come downhill like a safety and wrap up and stop ball carriers from getting extra yards on most plays. Here he makes a clutch goal line stop against the Texans in a one on one situation against their tight end. How many corners in the NFL can make this play?
For a player who measures in at 5’9” and under 200 pounds, he sure loves to hit. Half the game when it comes to run defense and tackling in general is just willingness to be physical. When I talked to Colts linebacker Anthony Walker a few weeks ago, he called it the “chip on the shoulder that Kenny talks about so much.” It’s easy to see that chip on his shoulder with how hard he hits guys for being such a smaller corner. Here he crushes the Bills tight end over the middle to force an incompletion.
As I mentioned earlier, the Colts run a heavy zone defensive scheme. Lining up in the slot, Moore is able to sit back and read the quarterback with his excellent vision and make outstanding plays on the ball. His eye discipline and ability to bait quarterbacks is outstanding and the main reason why he has forced so many turnovers over the past two seasons. According to PFF, he leads the NFL in interceptions from the slot the past two seasons with 5 and has an average passer rating when targeted of around 73% the last two years which again is top five in the NFL.
Zone eyes are a big part of playing corner in the NFL and it is very noticeable on this play. Watch as Moore slides his feet in coverage while keeping his eyes on the quarterback in order to make a play on the ball. This is a play that truly elite players make.
Another great example from Moore with zone eyes and zone movement in the playoff game against Houston in 2018. On fourth down, he knows that Deshaun Watson and the Texans are desperate to get this first down. He sells that he’s playing man coverage by jamming the seam route up top then redirects and jumps the underneath hitch route for the easy interception. Beautiful play to bait a really good quarterback.
He’s involved in so many plays when in zone coverage. Here he is lined up outside as he takes the flat route. The Jaguars try to drop a corner route off behind him but he has his eyes locked in on the quarterback. He drifts back as soon as the ball is thrown and jumps the route for the near interception. Kenny Moore II is an elite zone defender.
While this one is hard to quantify like the other two categories, I just had to add this section. Whenever the Colts needed a big play to win ball games the past two seasons, which player always seemed to make a play (besides Darius Leonard)? Who made what was essentially the game sealing interception against the Titans in 2018 to clinch a playoff spot for the team? Who forced a fumble against Jacksonville to seal a victory in 2018? Who had a sack and an interception in the playoffs against Houston to help win that game? Moore has an innate ability to make big plays and force turnovers which is so crucial in an offense heavy NFL.
The Colts were in the beginning of a big winning streak come week 10 against the Jacksonville Jaguars. With the Colts up by the just three with a few minutes to go, the Jaguars were driving deep into Colts’ territory. The Jaguars completed a short pass over the middle to Rashad Greene who advanced the ball up field before being swarmed by Colts’ defenders. Just before he hits the ground, Kenny Moore II rips the ball out for the forced fumble and the Colts recovered. The offense was able to run the clock out and the Colts would go on to win six of their last seven games to make the playoffs. When you need a play on defense, Moore always steps up.
In week 17 of 2018, the Colts were in a win or go home matchup against the Titans on Sunday Night Football. Late in the game with the Colts up by just seven, the Titans had the ball for one more chance to tie it up. Quarterback Blaine Gabbert rolled out of the pocket and attempted to throw the ball back across his body before he was intercepted by the star slot corner. The Colts would go on to run the clock out and punch their ticket to the playoffs. Play. Maker.
This last clip didn’t have nearly as big a stage or importance but it was an excellent play nonetheless. Here he bites up on the run fake before dropping back into his zone coverage. As the ball is released, he jumps up into the passing lane to bat the ball up in the air. He then turns and locates the pass for the interception. Incredible play by an incredible player.
Blitzing off the edge
This is always fun to talk about as Kenny Moore II is one of the best blitzing cornerbacks in the NFL and the Colts love to utilize him this way. The Colts have blitzed Moore 44 times over the past two seasons and that has resulted in 4 sacks which is the most in the NFL among all CBs in that time frame. He is dangerous off the edge and just an absolute playmaker when he gets into the backfield.
The Colts installed a new wrinkle to their defense in week 11 of the 2018 season. We here in Indy call it "the Kenny Moore Blitz." Since that game, Moore has racked up 7 sacks and multiple hits and pressures on opposing quarterbacks as a slot corner. Here are his best rushes: pic.twitter.com/7NeJyEHrKH— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) November 27, 2019
Kenny Moore II is more than just a solid football player for the Colts. He’s an elite slot corner in this league and he has played a top tier level the last two seasons. His skillset is a perfect fit for the Colts’ defense as they ask so much out of the position. They ask him to defend the run at a high level, play zone coverage all over the field, make game changing plays, and even blitz and he does all of those things at an elite level.
Moore has been great for not only this Colts’ team but also the city of Indianapolis. On top of being a role model for so many undrafted free agents and underdogs out there, he has been in the news so many times for his good deeds throughout the city from saving a young man’s dog to befriending nine year old cancer patient Mason Garvey. Moore has been everything this team has needed and also everything this city has needed in a pro athlete.
It’s hard to think of drafting a better player for an organization but when that player comes in the form of a UDFA, waiver claim from the Patriots, it’s even better. Moore is one of the best players at his position and one of the best overall people in the entire league. Luckily, we get to enjoy him on and off the field in Indy for many many years to come.