It’s no surprise that Packers outside linebackers coach Kevin Greene is raving about one of his rookies. The surprise is that the player getting all the accolades is Dezman Moses. While first-round pick and projected starter Nick Perry made minimal noise at last month’s minicamp, the undrafted free agent from Tulane was making plays all over the practice field.
“I think Moses has a natural feel for the position,” Greene said recently. “He does things that just absolutely look natural in his movement for the position. He sees things at an early stage. In the scheme implementation of our defense, he’s starting to see things early, and that’s always a positive. He was a linebacker (in college), so he’s not making too far of a transition playing this position. He has some good, natural feel about him.”
And Green wasn’t the only one raving about Moses. Some of his teammates were just as enthusiastic. ”He’s been earning all his playing time,” said Pro Bowler Clay Matthews, who knows a thing or two about playing the position. “Obviously, this is OTAs, but he has shown some athleticism out there. He’s shown he can get after the quarterback, drop into coverage, be a natural athlete. He’s got good size and strength. We’ll see when the pads come on, but he’s been doing well. He’s shown the coaches everything he needs to at the outside linebacker position.”
After reading all these superlatives, I wouldn’t be surprised to find out that Moses was last seen parting Lake Michigan. But seriously, while all this sounds promising, it’s way too soon to get excited. Analyzing a football player during a minicamp practice is akin to critiquing an actor during a dress rehearsal. Neither makes a lot of sense. There’s a reason Moses wasn’t drafted. He’s not very big (6’2, 248) and he’s not very fast (4.82 and 4.85 at his pro day in March). Does that mean he can’t play in the NFL? Of course not. What it means is that the odds are very much stacked against him. And to his credit, he seems to know it. He also doesn’t seem to care.
“Even in high school, I wasn’t the fastest. I wasn’t the biggest player, but I worked the hardest, and it’s gotten me to where I am now,” Moses said in an interview with The Times-Picayune. “So even when people say, ‘Oh well, he’s just not big enough, or he’s just not fast enough,’ I say I work hard enough, and that’s always my answer. That’s the answer for anything, really.”
Moses does appear to be one of those guys who plays bigger than he looks and faster than he times, but after watching a few Tulane games, I just don’t see a future NFL starter. While he may have looked like Superman in shorts last month, he looked more like Clark Kent in pads. Moses plays hard on every snap, but I didn’t see a particularly explosive first step off the ball. That, along with his below-average speed, makes me question how effective a pass rusher he’ll be at the next level. I also saw a player who lacks take-on strength, stands too tall at times and can be run at.
That’s not to say I didn’t see some positive things. Along with giving maximum effort at all times, Moses has quick feet, fluid hips and good body control. Because of these traits, I can see him developing into a pretty effective cover linebacker. He also shows the ability to locate the ball.
I feel kind of silly contradicting experts like Greene and Matthews, but I just don’t see anything special about Moses. That said, I could definitely see him making the final 53-man roster. He’ll be competing with returning veterans Erik Walden, Frank Zombo, Vic So’oto, D.J. Smith, Robert Francois, Brad Jones and Jamari Lattimore and fellow freshman Terrell Manning for what figures to be five or six backup spots. Green Bay kept 10 linebackers last season.
I like Moses’ chances against that competition. Based on what I’ve seen on video, he has more upside than Walden, Zombo, Francois and Jones and he’s a more natural fit at linebacker than So’oto and Lattimore. So if I had to pick which backup linebackers will make the final 53-man roster, I’d probably go with Moses, Zombo, Smith, Jones and Manning. And if he makes the team, who knows what the future will hold. Maybe he’ll be the next Matthews. Or maybe he’ll be the next Cyril Obiozor. Or maybe he’ll fit somewhere in between. That would be my guess.