For the fifth time in seven picks, the New England Patriots have beefed up the trenches, this time with Concordia-St. Paul defensive end Zach Moore in the sixth round. Though his small-school pedigree might make him anonymous to many, Moore has enough pass-rushing talent to potentially emerge as a significant steal.
Between Moore and Dominique Easley, the Pats have illustrated their desire to add more pass-rushing depth behind defensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. Digging deeper, Moore looks like a high-ceiling lottery ticket who could contribute in 2014.
Moore (6'5", 269 lbs) possesses the frame to play defensive end in the NFL. With long 33.75" arms, per NFL.com, Moore is an athletic and flexible athlete who can bend off the edge and make disruptive plays in the backfield. Moore is among the most explosive players in the draft, as 123-inch broad jump was fourth best among defensive linemen at the combine.
Division II prospects typically have excellent production to warrant a draft selection, and Moore fits that mold. At Concordia, he compiled 14.0 sacks in 2012 after 7.0 sacks and 9.5 tackles for loss in 2013.
Unlike many of those prospects, however, Moore did not transfer to the tiny school because of character or eligibility issues. Moore is a two-time team captain with excellent intangibles, as his relentless motor should endear him to Patriots fans immediately. Indeed, even pegged as a likely Day 3 prospect, Moore had his fair share of suitors, including New England:
ESPN Boston's Mike Reiss highlighted Moore as a possible late-round selection before the draft. In the piece, Reiss noted that Moore's well-rounded tool kit made him an intriguing developmental prospect:
The 6-foot-5 1/2, 269-pound Moore has an ideal physical makeup and other tools to work with as he enters the NFL after playing at the Division II level. The NFL team willing to be patient with him could ultimately be rewarded in the end.
Moore can immediately contribute in sub packages, ideally on clear passing downs. With an explosive get-off, Moore possesses the most critical and unteachable trait for a pass-rusher. If the Pats can harness the rough edges of his game, Moore could reward their investment with double-digit sacks.
However, those rough edges should prevent Moore from seeing significant playing time in 2014, as he is an unrefined technician.
Every pass-rusher needs a speed-to-power "hump" move to keep the offensive lineman off balance, but Moore currently does not have that kind of changeup in his arsenal.
Moore is also has undeveloped instincts and occasionally loses track of the ball-carrier. Failing to set the edge cost Michael Buchanan, a seventh-round pick last year, playing time in 2013 despite his pass-rushing skill, and it is not difficult to imagine a similar scenario unfolding next season with Moore.
In addition, Moore needs to gain strength if he hopes to become a three-down lineman. His burst off the snap should give him an advantage on nearly every play, but his poor hand usage often nullifies whatever initial edge he wins.
Typically, taking time to develop a rookie is no issue, especially with a late-round investment. However, Moore will be a 24-year-old rookie, meaning that there is less room for projection than with most prospects. When Moore plays older and more athletic NFL opponents, the jump in competition will lessen his physical advantage.
The Patriots do have some insurance now after signing veteran defensive end Will Smith, but either Moore or Buchanan will likely need to play a fair amount of snaps in 2014. If Moore is thrust into the fire, he may not have the refinement to hold up on an every-down basis.
Pass-rushers are an invaluable commodity, one that typically requires a high investment for a meaningful payoff. However, in Moore, the Patriots may have gotten a steal with minimal investment.
Let's not get carried away—Moore is far away from being a pass-rushing terror, and he has a long ways to go before the Pats can rely on him for regular snaps. However, with sterling character and mental toughness, Moore has the makeup New England desires.
Moore also continues a trend of high-character selections. In the wake of last offseason's Aaron Hernandez debacle, it appears the Patriots have placed a premium on high-motor team captains this draft.