Zack Moss has been a divisive prospect (on Twitter, anyway) since everyone started to turn their attention to the 2020 rookie class. Sites like PFF have him ranked as their top running back while he’s outside of the top-5 for others. What’s all of the hubbub about and what can we take away from Moss’s game? Let’s dig into the Zack Moss rookie profile.
According to the 247Sports Composite rankings, Zack Moss was a three-star recruit but ranked outside of the top 1,000 high school prospects nationally. He was listed as the 68th running back and the 150th recruit in his home state of Florida. Moss initially verbally committed to the University of Miami until their then-head coach Al Golden was fired. How do you go from “The U” to Utah? Have two of your high school teammates (quarterback Tyler Huntley and wide receiver Demari Simpkins) already headed west for Salt Lake City. Moss would also add he felt the offense was perfect for him and was drawn by the ability to get on the field early.
Moss started three games early on in his freshman year before being sidelined for two games with a toe injury. He wouldn’t start any more games that year, but he would finish with the second-most rush yards for Utah behind Joe Williams (yes, the Joe Williams who Kyle Shanahan “pounded the table for” during the 2017 draft). The rest, as they say, is history.
The accumulation of Moss’ career stats lands him as Utah’s all-time leader in carries (and touches), rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, scrimmage yards, and total touchdowns. His senior campaign in 2019 ended with him being named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year.
The one thing which sticks out in the College Football Reference stat image above is the two seasons where he played fewer than 13 games. At a position where wear and tear and injuries can mount and lead to deterioration of play rather quickly, Moss’s injury wrap sheet is at least a pause for concern, especially given his physical play style. According to Dr. Ethan Turner’s prospect injury database, Moss has suffered the aforementioned toe injury (2016), two shoulder injuries (2017 and 2019), sprains to both ankles (2018), and a knee injury which required surgery (2018). On top of all of this, Moss apparently tweaked a hamstring during his vertical jump a few weeks ago at the NFL Combine. The severity (and even legitimacy to some) is in question, but he ran the 40-yard dash afterward and also participated in the onfield drills. Side note: don’t let Moss’s 40-yard dash bother you. He should have never been expected to have a great time. Honestly, I would have been quite impressed with anything around a 4.55. Speed isn’t his game and it shouldn’t be held against him.
When you watch Moss, his playstyle and the way he succeeds is simple to see. He’s a one-cut runner who’s at his best when he can just get upfield and limit the amount of time behind the line of scrimmage going east-west. Moss is a no-nonsense, physical runner with good contact balance to shed tackles. Per PFF, he’s second in the class in missed tackles forced with 87 which tends to be one of the more predictive statistics for projecting NFL success (go buy David Montgomery). He has enough wiggle and lateral agility to where his success and production in the NFL won’t be hampered, but it’s also not his game. Moss has the ability to be proficient in the passing game and not be a liability, but he isn’t exactly a “weapon” either, a la Leonard Fournette in 2019.
In this clip from his 2019 game against BYU, Moss displays his contact balance and ability to shed tackles. On this clip alone he breaks three tackles on his way to a 7-yard run, which should have been a negative play.
From the same game, watch as Moss approaches the line of scrimmage with patience. Once he sees his lane, he shows decisiveness and good initial burst to hit the hole. As is common with many of his runs, he bounces off the first tackle attempt and proceeds to pinball his way through the defense.
One of the biggest questions I have with Moss is his vision at the line of scrimmage. The amount of times he runs into the back of his offensive linemen is frustrating to watch, especially when there is an open lane one gap over. Too often, you’ll see Moss just drop his head and try to bulldoze his way through whatever happens to be in front of him. Here, against Washington (2019), I’ve slowed down the clip to make this easy to see. You’ll notice both of the defensive linemen have inside leverage on the linemen blocking them and Moss runs directly into it. To make matters worse, the gap to Moss’s right is wide open with a lineman out in front.
Moss currently carries a rookie ADP of 15.2 according to DLF’s March mock drafts. His range on these mocks, however, is between 9th overall to 21st, giving him one of the biggest disparities amongst the top 24 rookies. Moss seems like a prospect certain NFL teams will love because of his toughness and physicality, so I wouldn’t be surprised to see him off the board by the end of day 2. If he receives that type of draft capital and lands with an above-average offensive line, he has to at least be considered at the end of the first or beginning of the second round in your 1 quarterback rookie drafts.