Coaches who stem from the Andy Reid tree rely on production from the tight end position.
Travis Kelce has been an extremely high-volume tight end for essentially his entire tenure with the Chiefs. Zach Ertz has put up great numbers in Philadelphia under Reid protégé Doug Pederson, while Dallas Goedert has also been productive as a No. 2 tight end in the offense. Before Reid joined Kansas City, his offenses with the Eagles relied on the likes of Brent Celek and L.J. Smith to produce.
The Bears struggled mightily on offense under former Reid assistant Matt Nagy in 2019, and while numerous factors can attribute to their underwhelming play, a lack of reliability from the tight end position played a role in that.
Six tight ends caught a pass for the Bears in the span of this past season, with five of them having at least one start under their belt. Of those six, none of them managed to top 15 receptions or 100 yards.
Trey Burton’s production was nonexistent before he was placed on injured reserve in November. Adam Shaheen did next to nothing prior to his meeting the same fate. By the time December rolled around, the motley crew of J.P. Holtz, Ben Braunecker, Jesper Horsted and Eric Saubert were rotating snaps in meaningful football games for the Bears.
The lack of certainty surrounding the tight end position has many draft analysts tying some of the position’s top prospects in the 2020 draft to Chicago. Among a very talented group of players is LSU’s Thaddeus Moss.
The son of Hall of Fame wide receiver Randy Moss, the LSU standout set program records for his position this year with 47 catches for 570 yards, tallying 4 touchdowns in the process. He redshirted the 2018 season and was forced to sit out in 2017 due to the NCAA’s transfer rules. Prior to arriving in Baton Rouge, Moss started three games in his freshman season at North Carolina State, catching six passes for 49 yards and a touchdown.
Though his production, or lack thereof, prior to 2019 is worrisome, Moss’ tape from this season offers a lot to like when projecting his role in the NFL. In the first of an ongoing series, we’ll take a scouting report look at his prospects in the pros.
One of the intriguing things about Moss is that he blends some aspects of his father’s game and translates it to the tight end position, all while forming an overall different skill set that shows he is his own player. He has the ball skills and hands of a wide receiver, as well as the physicality and the blocking process of an in-line tight end.
This is a relatively simple play, but here Moss is lined up in the near-side slot in the front of a stack formation. He delivers a nice chip to the nickelback to throw him off base before running a dig route. He eats up a bit of space against the linebacker’s zone coverage, but he keeps the depth of his route relatively short to create separation. His hands are smooth, and he tracks the ball down well to make the grab for a short gain.
Moss not only has the ball skills of a wide receiver, but he possesses the body control of one, too. He does a good job of making adjustments to the ball and has good overall fluidity across the middle of the field. This particular catch was arguably his best catch of the season. Here, he lines up out wide against Alabama’s Trevon Diggs, who is seen as a borderline first-round pick in the 2020 draft.
Noticing the leverage he has against Diggs’ outside shoulder, Moss stems his route to the outside and creates some separation with a swipe of his opponent’s outside arm. He then proceeds to make a stellar sideline grab, managing to get both feet in bounds while fighting through contact and making the extension to catch the ball and box Diggs out.
Moss’ physicality allows him to make tough catches in tight windows. His muscular, 249-pound frame gives him a strength advantage when playing in man coverage. Running an in route on this play, the opposing defender reads Joe Burrow’s eyes and attempts to make a play on the ball. Nonetheless, Moss is able to extend and turn his right shoulder inwards, boxing out the defender and preventing him from making a play on the ball. He also shows very good focus through his ability to fight through contact and still make the grab.
Though Moss’ dad was a legendary wide receiver and his hands and ball skills show signs of that, he is a surprisingly very good blocker for the tight end position. He packs a powerful punch at the initial point of contact, has good grip strength once engaged with a defender and plays with very good pad level.
On this play, he is tasked with blocking Auburn edge rusher Big Kat Bryant while the rest of LSU’s offensive line executes an all-reach concept. Moss squares up to the defender, sinks his hips and delivers a nice blow. His ability to extend his arms and maintain low pad level gives him the overwhelming advantage, allowing him to drive the defender into the ground.
Moss has plenty of experience lined up blocking as an in-line ‘Y’ tight end. He does so here again against Utah State, blocking an edge rusher once more. And, like he did in the previous rep, he squares up to the defender, showcasing the lateral quickness as a run blocker to maintain an even frame before his opponent can act upon reading the RPO. He sinks his hips and gets the pad leverage once more, and he fights hard to the whistle to eliminate his defender from the play.
If there’s one drawback in Moss’ game—outside of only having one year of notable production—it’s a lack of explosiveness as an athlete. His deep speed appears to be decent at best, and as one could tell from looking at these clips, his burst coming out of his breaks and ability to change direction as a route runner isn’t eye-opening.
Though Moss has the ball skills and hands to be a reliable pass-catching tight end at the next level, his relatively average athleticism hampers his usefulness at stretching the field as a deep threat.
Whether or not Moss will be a target for the Bears in this year’s draft depends on how they want to attack the tight end position going forward. Moss projects best as an in-line ‘Y’ tight end at the next level, a role that is currently played in Chicago’s offense by Adam Shaheen.
If the team trusts Burton to bounce back to his prior production, then they would be more likely to draft a player like Moss to replace Shaheen in the starting lineup, giving them a potential one-two punch at the position. If they lean in favor of instead replacing Burton, targeting a high-volume ‘U’ tight end who brings more athletic ability to the table, then Moss might be a bit of an odd fit.
As it stands, Moss is an intriguing Day 2 talent who should be selected late in the second round or early in the third. The Bears could opt to trade down with at least one of their two second-round picks, giving them more mid-round capital, and still be able to select him. He is a talented, well-rounded tight end who has the pedigree and the skills to be a reliable contributor in the NFL.