“I can be elusive when it’s needed, and I can be downright nasty when it’s needed, as well.”
That’s how Utah running back Zack Moss described his game to reporters prior to the 2019 season. While it paints the picture that he toggles between the two running styles, you would be hard-pressed to turn on his film and not see both styles within each and every rep. The 5-foot-10, 222-pounder sports a rocked up, thick upper torso, and tree trunks for legs that he grew running sprints up the hill at Sugar House Park.
Moss is a high-volume ball carrier, the type of back that is becoming a thing of the past. He prefers to assert his will onto defenders with multiple carries on a drive because being the focal point of an offense is “a true testament of a running back.” The defense knows Moss is going to get the ball, but they have trouble tackling him because he brings the pain, and it can be demoralizing.
Zack Moss brings it…Poor guy was demoralized. pic.twitter.com/F6nMYOR7uH
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) February 10, 2020
‘I believe in driving it right down the guy’s face,” Moss told Justin Melo of DraftWire.
And that mentality shows on every single rep.
Moss displays tremendous balance and finishes off his runs while defenders are still trying to properly figure out how to square him up. In 2019, Moss averaged 4.1 yards after contact per attempt, which was second to only Clemson’s Travis Etienne (min. 150 attempts).
His chiseled arms always become a secure cradle for the rock. Moss generally will carry it ‘high and tight’ as he drops his center of gravity and puts his weight behind his pads.
As he prepares for contact, you will see him drop his shoulders and shield the ball with both hands.
So any time a tackler targets him above his waist, he has the ability to run through arm tackles.
Moss played linebacker and defensive end in little league, and he didn’t become a running back until his junior year of high school, but he’s a natural when it comes to using his off hand.
The support hand of a running back, the hand without the ball, is a tool that not many running backs use enough.
Pretty ridiculous reaction to the run blitz and flexibility by Moss. Wow pic.twitter.com/LMqp0R9DPb
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) February 9, 2020
Moss’s former teammate, linebacker Jahad Woods, told reporters on media day that Moss is a “downhill runner, he loves to bring the physicality. You’ve got to match that physicality or you’re going to get run over.”
His frame and natural skill-set allow him to absorb hits with his body and off-hand, but also redirect the tacklers’ energy to break tackles.
These traits were a major reason Moss broke 74 tackles as a senior and registered a 31.6% broken tackle rate.
This is second among some of the better running backs in this year’s class.
Broken tackle % (broken tackles)
Edwards-Helaire – 34% (73)
Zack Moss – 31.6% (74)
Ke’Shawn Vaughn – 29.8% (59)
Eno Benjamin – 26% (66)
Cam Akers – 26% (60)
J Taylor – 25.9% (83)
AJ Dillon – 24.5% (78)
J Dobbins – 22.9% (69)
D Swift – 20.9% (51)
Joshua Kelley – 13.5% (31)
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) February 9, 2020
His burst won’t wow you, but as I mentioned, he knows how to use all of the tools in his toolbox. On this play, he accelerates wide and, just as the defender is trying to grab cloth to slow Moss down and swings his other arm up over the top to chop down and possibly cause a fumble, Moss rips upwards with his right hand to break free. You see this type of nuance in every facet of his game, and it’s a testament to his play speed.
As Moss states, he is an elusive runner when he needs to be, and it comes so naturally. He has a good sense of when the defense is over-pursuing or is out-leveraged, and he uses it against them typically with a spin move. He’s broken off several explosive plays in his career thanks to the spin move, and as you have seen in previous clips, he is not vulnerable to big hits after spinning. He’s cognizant of pursuit and is always ready with his pads down and ball protected.
I’d like to see Moss play in an inside zone or gap-heavy scheme at the next level because the timing of those types of run concepts fits his running style. Moss is a patient runner, sometimes to a fault, which is why he fits those particular schemes so well. He’s slow to the hole but fast through it, as he described to DraftWire, “you have to be patient and continue to move downhill. I try to hit the hole with velocity.”
It’s during these single-back power runs, or inside counter treys, where his patience and footwork really shines. He routinely makes the first defender miss, finds the smallest creases to dart through, or sets up his blocks well in these kinds of concepts.
In 2019, Moss was third on the team with 28 receptions and 388 receiving yards. His nimble feet also allow him to work through the traffic at the line of scrimmage after executing a play-action fake or check to release into the underneath zone regularly. He’s demonstrated to be quarterback-friendly in those situations. He understands when his signal-caller needs him, and he locks eyes with him and can turn nothing into something.
As you have seen in several of his clips, he displays unique body control for his size, and that carries over into the passing game, as well. He is able to smoothly adjust to passes away from his frame or meant to lead him up-field. We see that here against Washington. Moss heads to the flats looking for the ball over his left shoulder, but the QB throws the ball inside and up-field. Moss rotates his body to catch the ball with his hands, and he barely loses speed doing it, which allows him to get to the pylon for the touchdown.
I think he could have even more success if implanted in an offense that not only has a good screen game but one that gives their running backs option routes, as well. His film is littered with option routes on the backside of 3×1 nub tight end sets and over the middle versus linebackers. Even though he isn’t known for his long speed or precise route running, he can still get the job done. He routinely created separation and caught passes with his hands within these concepts.
Don’t sleep on his hands either. He’s shown he has soft hands. pic.twitter.com/Yn93YdITg1
— Cover 1 (@Cover_1_) February 11, 2020
Moss is the type of player that evaluators love. His film is fun, and you can never get enough of it. He’s a pinball-type running back who can also make his hips disappear from an oncoming tackler or run doggies in the end zone with the trail leading right over a defender’s ass.
He understands his strengths and weaknesses better than anyone, so he knows how to adapt and overcome to ever-changing stimuli on the field. It may not always be pretty, but somehow he manages to break off explosive plays. More importantly, he helps his offense stay ahead of the chains with his grind-it-out style.
“I get a certain level of satisfaction from wearing out the defense and imposing my will on them,” Moss told Justin Melo. “I enjoy watching them quit play by play.”
The cousin of former NFL wide receiver Santana Moss is an offensive tone-setter that will likely be drafted on Day 2 of the 2020 NFL Draft due to his injury history. The team that drafts him will be getting a talented runner that will change the attitude of the entire offense.