Who is the Most Underrated Player in the NFL?

James Dudko@@JamesDudkoFeatured ColumnistApril 5, 2013

NEW ORLEANS, LA - DECEMBER 16:   Lance Moore #16 of the New Orleans Saints reacts after making a first down against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on December 16, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
Chris Graythen/Getty Images

New Orleans Saints wide receiver Lance Moore is a strong candidate for the NFL's most underrated player. Rarely does a discussion about the Saints' high-powered offense include the eight-year-veteran.

His name is usually left off the list of quarterback Drew Brees' best weapons. That conversation is often limited to Marques Colston, Jimmy Graham and Darren Sproles.

That barely does justice to Moore, a crafty wideout defined by two characteristics: versatility and production. In 2012, that production translated to the first 1,000-yard season of his career.

When watching any series of plays from Moore, you see some of the smoothest route-running in the league, along with a tenacious appetite for making big plays.

In this first example from Week 13 against the Atlanta Falcons, Moore showcases his proficiency from the slot. He is lined up at the top of a three-receiver, bunch formation.

The Falcons have matched up with three defensive backs in coverage and a linebacker able to outnumber the bunch look. Moore will run a typically precise route to beat this coverage.

He'll first use a subtle move to outwit the defender directly over him. Then he will aim for the void in the coverage, inside his defender and between the linebacker and deep safety.

Breaking down his initial move, Moore will start to the outside, before quickly and sharply breaking back inside his defender.

The key to the move is clever body positioning and shifty footwork. He uses it to gain inside leverage on the first defender and leave him struggling to keep up.

Moore turns his shoulders to the outside and leads with his outside foot. This makes an outside move seem obvious.

That turns the defender outward. Moore is then able to use his inside foot to drift back to the inside.

Once he's past the initial defender and into the coverage void, Moore's knack for the spectacular produces a big play. He makes a highlight-reel grab, snatching the ball from between two defenders.

This play was part of a seven catch, 123-yard effort. It shows everything great about Moore's game.

His route-running is subtle and precise, while his excellent hands and big-play ability can expose a defense on any play.

At just 5'9" and 190 pounds, it's easy to class Moore alongside the likes of Wes Welker and Danny Amendola. However, he is not just restricted to the slot and offers a far greater big play threat.

This play from Week 12 against the San Francisco 49ers is a prime example.

This time Moore is aligned on the outside of the formation. He is positioned to stretch the 49ers defense deep.

Again Moore sets up the defender in front of him with a sneaky first move. He takes an obvious outside step, toward the sideline.

This forces cornerback Tarell Brown to backpedal to keep outside leverage. Moore again sets up his move with clever footwork.

His outside foot plants toward the sideline. This starts to turn Brown and also positions Moore perfectly to cut back inside.

From this position he can simply shift his inside foot and turn his shoulders, giving him a free run inside Brown.

Notice how Brown's feet are still planted and turned to the outside after following the initial move. Moore's route-running is intelligent, but is also executed at surprising speed, leaving defenders little time to recover.

Once Moore is away from Brown he attacks the void in the deep zone. Unfortunately, Brees' pass is a little behind him.

However, Moore's talent for the big play again serves him well. He out-jumps his defender and produces a spectacular catch, while turning in mid-air.

Moore used his deceptive quickness and superior technique to beat the 49ers' coverage deep. He created the opening for a 43-yard reception.

He has averaged over 10 yards per reception in five of his eight pro seasons. That's ample evidence of his proficiency as a big play weapon.

This play also proves Moore's versatility to attack defenses from the outside, as well as the slot. The Saints have found plenty of ways to utilize his combination of smarts, speed and excellent hands.

A play from Week 10 against the Falcons shows one way the Saints use Moore's complete skill set to undermine coverage.

Moore actually begins this play lined up as the fullback in an I-formation look.

The Saints then bring him across in motion to the slot.

From here Moore has to find a way to split the Falcons' coverage. He will again rely on a series of subtle and crisply executed moves.

The first will be a sudden break to the outside. Moore will bend his break inward, aiming for the spot in between the cornerback and the safety.

This break to the inside, will draw the cornerback inside.

However, this is merely a feint by Moore, designed to set up his outside cut.

With the corner turned infield, Moore suddenly shifts and breaks to the outside.

The cornerback is completely turned the other way, with his back to Moore. He has no chance to prevent a completion.

The play resulted in a 19-yard gain. Moore had created the gain, via three distinct moves. His initial outside break forced a gap in the coverage.

His turn to the inside made the cornerback reverse his outside angle and follow. That perfectly set up the break to the outside.

Moore doesn't just showcase these moves simply when he has room to work. His versatility extends to being a very useful red-zone target.

A scoring play from Week 16 against the Dallas Cowboys reveals how dangerous Moore is near the goal line.

Moore is lined up in the slot on the weak side. However, he will soon motion across to the opposite slot.

From here he will target one of two safeties aligned in the end zone. Moore will use three moves to gain separation from his coverage.

The first move takes Moore to the outside. This draws the safety over in that direction.

Moore then sharply turns back to the inside. This move causes the safety to fall flat on his face.

With the safety tasting turf and struggling to recover, Moore spins back to the outside and along the end-zone line.

All that's left is for Moore to execute a nice catch to complete a beautiful scoring play.

Moore snatches the ball out of the air, relying on his hands, instead of simply waiting for the ball to hit his body as many receivers might.

Moore didn't just use a double-move to get free. He used a triple-move to make his defender look foolish and give Brees an easy target.

This was one of Moore's six touchdown catches in 2012. He has 22 in the last three seasons, a respectable tally for a player often not a regular starter.

Moore's name won't come up often in discussions about the Saints' offense. However, he was the key to last season's top-ranked passing game.

No matter what role he is given, or where he is aligned, Moore consistently produces big plays. His slight frame houses a crafty football brain and accomplished playing technique that few receivers in the NFL can match.

Certainly no defense can risk underrating Moore's considerable talents.

All screenshots courtesy of Fox Sports, NFL Network and NFL.com Gamepass


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