No position group on the Kansas City Chiefs’ roster feels as stocked for 2023 as linebacker. In consecutive years, the team drafted Willie Gay Jr., Nick Bolton and Leo Chenal — and then this offseason, added former Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill.
While this makes it more difficult for another linebacker to earn a spot on the team’s 53-man roster, it’s not impossible. Last year, the team used five linebackers on game days, including Darius Harris and Elijah Lee. Neither of them are returning for this season.
Two of Kansas City’s undrafted free agent signings this year are intriguing linebacker prospects: Cam Jones from Indiana and Isaiah Moore from North Carolina State.
Let’s a closer look at Moore — a three-year captain at North Carolina State who was also a finalist for the Wooden Citizenship Cup and a semifinalist for the Jason Witten Man of the Year award.
Reading and reacting
Moore comes to the Chiefs with five years of starting experience at the collegiate level. He primarily played middle linebacker, lining up behind the Wolfpack’s odd-man front: one true, head-up nose tackle with two defensive ends over the offensive tackles.
That defensive scheme requires linebackers to read the flow of the play in order to adjust their gap responsibilities. That’s different from a typical Kansas City front: an even-man formation that gives each player a specific gap to defend on every snap.
The running game
Isaiah Moore shows off flashes of great anticipation in run defense, reacting quickly and flowing fast to the ball carrier— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) May 24, 2023
The anticipation translates to his blitz work as well, in the timing of his pre-snap approach pic.twitter.com/NB0bEeiPva
Moore’s ability to anticipate running plays — and accelerate from a stationary stance — made him a productive playmaker in those reps. He was consistently able to get a good bead on where a run was going — and disrupt it.
At the NFL Combine, Moore checked in at 6 feet 2 and 233 pounds. That’s a physical profile that allows him to be fleet of foot — while still packing enough of the weight that allows linebackers to consistently hold up in the box against an NFL rushing attack.
Moore’s ability to quickly get downhill to make a play at (or behind) the line of scrimmage is not limited to running plays. In fact, North Carolina State’s aggressive defensive style often called for Moore to be used as a blitzing pass rusher. Last season, he tied for the eighth-most quarterback pressures among FBS linebackers (30).
Just as it helps him to quickly get to a run gap, Moore’s acceleration can also take advantage of the smallest of openings in pass protection. He couples that with quick processing of the offensive blocking scheme so that he can attack with purpose and intelligence — rather than simply running into opposing blockers.
#Chiefs UDFA Isaiah Moore played LB at NC State, where he was primarily used moving forward and as a blitzer in their stacked front, earning 11.5 sacks over 5 yrs— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) May 24, 2023
He becomes a missile downhill once he sees a path to the QB pic.twitter.com/XyE2fhI4Jc
That can look like the first play shown here, where he patiently waits for blockers to occupy themselves before attacking — or like the second clip, in which Moore anticipates the play prior to the snap and flies through a lane before the quarterback can even start his reads.
Moore measured in at 6'1" 233, bringing every bit of it with him in the first block engagement here. He has a good feel for attacking OL in pass pro, and finding the right rush path pic.twitter.com/4Z3Def9oWH— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) May 24, 2023
Even when Moore doesn’t have a clear path to the quarterback, he displays the willingness to use his downhill momentum to plow into a running back. On this first play, we see that create an unbalanced, uncomfortable throw by the quarterback.
At the same time, Moore has done enough pass-rushing to understand how to attack offensive linemen effectively. On the next play show here, he approaches the center with a quick attempt to hand swipe and bend around him. While the swipe doesn’t land, Moore’s burst and flexibility allow him to turn into the pocket to subtly disrupt the pass.
While Moore looks very comfortable while moving forward to attack the line of scrimmage, he doesn’t look quite as impressive while moving backward to cover the ground behind him. It’s not to say he’s bad in coverage; it just isn’t among his strengths as he arrives at the next level.
A few more coverage reps here. Moore's always going to look good triggering on underneath routes, won't look as comfortable keeping up on downfield routes pic.twitter.com/VHMAAJEKk2— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) May 24, 2023
But Moore makes up for his lack of range and coverage instincts with good awareness and verbal communication. In this first clip, Moore brings a route to a teammate’s attention on two separate occasions — and then moves on to his own coverage depth.
The second clip shows his dream coverage scenario: a running back out of the backfield receives a quick pass right in front of a charging Moore.
The bottom line
As deep as the position now feels, Kansas City did lose two linebackers who made special-teams contributions in 2022. And a year from now, the team will have decisions to make on both Gay and Tranquill — two athletic linebackers who can fly downhill and make plays.
Moore could absolutely round out the room, bringing an aggressive playing style that can be used on special teams — or on situational downs like exotic blitzes.
By all accounts, Moore has a solid chance of earning the active roster’s final linebacker spot.