The Indianapolis Colts 2017 defense was bad. One of the weakest links of that defense was the linebacker corps. With a new coaching staff comes a new defensive scheme and a chance for undrafted free agent linebacker Skai Moore to make an impact.
The Indianapolis Colts defense in 2017 was bad. The Colts gave up the third most yards and points in the league last season. Also, according to the Football Outsiders, the Colts had the fifth-worst defensive DVOA in 2017. DVOA is the measure of the outcome of every single play versus league average based on situation. One of the Colts’ major weaknesses was at linebacker. The Colts then lost their best PFF graded linebacker in Jon Bostic in free agency to the Pittsburgh Steelers. The returning inside linebacker, Antonio Morrison, was not good in 2017. Despite his 108 tackles, he was given a 35.8 grade by PFF, struggling in both pass coverage and stopping the run. Moore also struggled in his rookie season.
New Colts LB Antonio Morrison was one of our buyer-beware prospects. Negative grades in run defense and coverage: https://t.co/BHSrr4lXnL
— PFF (@PFF) April 30, 2016
In the 2018 offseason, the Colts shook up their coaching staff, bringing in new head coach Frank Reich. Among Reich’s staff is defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus who deploys a 4-3 base scheme. Former defensive coordinator Ted Manchino ran a 3-4 base. This change in scheme displaces some of the Colts returning defensive players, specifically Morrison. All three linebacker positions in a 4-3 scheme are expected to be fast and at least a non-liability in pass coverage. The Colts felt that he was a poor enough fit that they traded him to the Green Bay Packers.
The #Packers have traded CB Lenzy Pipkins to the #Colts for LB Antonio Morrison, sources told The Athletic. Pipkins had been running with the third- and fourth-string corners during camp after a strong end to last season.
— Michael Cohen (@Michael_Cohen13) August 26, 2018
The Colts seem to agree as they drafted three linebackers in the 2018 draft as well as signed three undrafted free agent linebackers. Before he joined the IDP Guys, the IDP Tipster (@Hbogart27) wrote about the Colt’s linebacker situation for Cleat Geeks. The Colts second-round pick Darius Leonard is a relatively well-known name and will likely start at weakside linebacker. Likely starting alongside Leonard at strongside linebacker is former Philadelphia Eagle Najee Goode. Returning linebacker Anthony Walker Jr. was the presumed starter at middle linebacker, but he has struggled with a groin injury and has been unable to participate in training camp or preseason games. Walker was also graded as below average by PFF in 2017in limited snaps. Enter undrafted free agent Skai Moore.
After becoming a full-time starter in his sophomore year, Moore’s lowest combined tackles in a season were 93. Over his career, he accumulated 20 tackles for loss, 5 sacks, and most impressively, 14 interceptions. Unfortunately, Moore lost a season in 2016 with a herniated disk. He came back strong in 2017 with 93 combined tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 2 sacks, and three interceptions.
As if the interceptions weren’t enough evidence towards Moore’s prowess in pass coverage, he was also an analytics darling. Moore had the highest coverage grade for linebackers in the 2018 draft class. He also earned an elite coverage grade of 88.9 in 2015.
South Carolina's Skai Moore led the 2018 NFL Draft class at LB in terms of coverage grade
— PFF College (@PFF_College) February 20, 2018
Skai Moore with big boy play. Stone back 1v1 on goal line and then strips the ball out pic.twitter.com/P4T68CL0Zu
— Jon Ledyard (@LedyardNFLDraft) February 14, 2018
Moore surprisingly went undrafted despite being one of the best linebackers in the draft. PFF graded more as the fifth best linebacker in the 2018 draft class. Moore fell ultimately went undrafted for two reasons. First is his injury history. Despite returning to play an entire season after losing a season to a herniated disk, teams still seemed to have questions about Moore’s recovery.
Second is his size and athleticism. Moore is undersized for a prototypical inside linebacker and lacks the athleticism for a weakside linebacker. Also, much like Denver Broncos linebacker Josey Jewell, who I wrote about here, Moore finished below average in most athletic metrics for linebackers. Regardless, Moore consistently produced in the SEC.
Sticking around for rookie practice today. A couple takeaways…
1. Kemoko Turay’s first step is ridiculous. Lower competition level, yes, but still.
2. Skai Moore looks like a possible playmaker at MLB. Legit in coverage.
3. CB Lashard Durr has a nose for the ball. Has an INT
— Stephen Holder (@HolderStephen) May 12, 2018
Moore got his first chance to “turn heads” in OTAs. At the beginning of training camp, Walker injured his groin which has kept him out for a few weeks. While unfortunate, this has allowed Moore to take first-team reps at middle linebacker for most of training camp. He has been making the most of his opportunities.
Frank Reich said Anthony Walker will be out “a few weeks” with his groin injury. Skai Moore has made “a good impression” with his opportunities.#Colts
— George Bremer (@gmbremer) July 31, 2018
NFL Game Action
Moore played the second most snaps out of the linebackers in the Colts’ first preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks. He had is struggles, taking bad angles of pursuit and shedding blocks, as any rookie does in his first NFL action. Moore also showed his best trait coming out of college and why he can make an impact in the NFL, his pass coverage. Covering tight end Nick Vannett, Moore was able to stick with Vannett and break hard on the ball to break up the pass.
Great read and break on the ball by Skai Moore here. I like him at Mike to be honest. Really solid as a pass cover linebacker pic.twitter.com/4MDiQKUJv3
— Zach Hicks (@ZachHicks2) August 10, 2018
To see what players are rising and falling, including Leonard and Moore, after preseason week 2, check out Tyler Joseph’s (@ONUtyjo) article. In the Colts’ second preseason game against the Baltimore Ravens, Moore was given the green dot. The green dot signifies the players whose helmet has the ability to communicate with the coaches on the sideline. Effectively the green dot signifies the leader of the defense. This is a huge step towards Moore becoming the starting middle linebacker for the Colts.
— Mike Woellert (@Mike_Woellert) August 21, 2018
While there wasn’t anything of note from the second game when it comes to Moore outside of the green dot. However, there seems to be some good news for Moore coming after two preseason games. With Moore impressing and Walker still on the mend, it seems more and more likely that Moore is the starter at middle linebacker to begin the season.
The Colts defense was extremely poor last season. With a new coaching staff comes a new defensive scheme. With this change, the Colts need new personnel to fit the scheme. Rookies Darius Leonard and Skai Moore look to be on track to start at linebacker. While these two will have a major impact, like my friend the IDP Tipster (@HBogart27) says, you shouldn’t be relying on your rookies. Draft Moore late or pick him up off of waivers and follow closely.