The New England Patriots addressed their need for improving the pass rush with their first round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft by selecting defensive tackle Dominique Easley. However, the Patriots defensive line needs were not just along the interior. Prior to the draft the Patriots signed free agent and former New Orleans Saints defensive end Will Smith to add some much needed depth.
The Patriots continued to add depth to the defensive end position later on in the 2014 NFL Draft selecting Zach Moore from Division II school Concordia University in the sixth round with the 198th overall pick. Moore was actually the first player ever drafted by an NFL team from the 3,600-student school in St. Paul, MN. For Moore it was a common small school story as he overcame academic struggles that rendered him academically ineligible for Division I competition and saw him drop out of school for a semester.
The Patriots have a definite need for depth at defensive end that could be filled by Moore. The Patriots invested a seventh round draft pick in 2013 for Illinois defensive end Michael Buchanan and a 2012 third round draft pick on Arkansas defensive end Jake Bequette. Both players have been incapable of carving out any significant playing time. Buchanan was a sub interior rusher for the first half of 2013 but was replaced by veteran Andre Carter. Bequette has played a grand total of 43 insignificant snaps with the defense over two seasons (per ProFootballFocus.com).
In 2013 the Patriots were forced to keep both defensive end Chandler Jones and defensive end Rob Ninkovich on the field for nearly 99% of the defensive snaps.Per ProFootballFocus.com Ninkovich played 1,114 and Jones played 1,142 of the defensive snaps during the regular season. This included a four game stretch (Week 4 to Week 7) in which they both played every snap on defense (again, per ProFootballFocus.com). It is no wonder they both appeared out of gas in the AFC Championship Game against Denver and neither player laid a hand on quarterback Peyton Manning.
At this point, either Buchanan or Bequette is likely to lose their roster spot to the free agent veteran Smith, and another roster spot could be Moore’s for the taking. Moore looks the part of a defensive end standing 6’5″ and weighing 269 pounds. His tape shows he is an explosive athlete but the competition was Division II. Until training camp and the pre-season he is squarely in the “project” category.
With his length and athleticism Moore could compete for a third-down pass rush specialist position on the roster as he is a versatile player who could also slot to outside linebacker if necessary in a 3-4 front. While likely a developmental project for 2015, Moore has the athleticism that the team may be able to mold into an effective contributor going forward.