What a difference a year can make, particularly if you are University of Georgia defensive end Quentin Moses.
Following the 2005 NCAA season, the 6-foot-5, 260-pound Moses, then a junior, was coming off a campaign in which he recorded 11.5 sacks, 38 quarterback pressures, 44 tackles, one forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. What made Moses' junior season at Georgia so remarkable was that it was his first as a full-time starter at defensive end after seeing backup duty in his first two seasons (Moses was redshirted in 2002).
Although very much a raw talent at the time, Moses, had he left for the National Football League, would likely have been a first-round draft pick. Teams may have been scared off by his lack of playing experience (Moses started his collegiate career playing both basketball and football); however Moses' combination of athleticism, pass-rushing ability and, not to mention, upside, likely would have been too tempting to pass up. Instead, Moses returned for his senior season.
Perhaps it was a big mistake, in retrospect.
Moses entered this past season as arguably one of the top prospects in the entire nation and a lock to become an early first-round pick in the 2007 NFL Draft, quite possibly a top-10 pick. However, with the spotlight brightly on him, Moses struggled during his senior campaign.
Moses had difficulty handling the constant double teams he faced as a senior, and as a result saw a dramatic decrease in production. Moses started every game in 2006 and finished with only 4.5 sacks to go along with 33 tackles, 27 quarterback pressures and one fumble recovery.
Moses followed up a poor final season at Georgia with a lackluster offseason leading up to this weekend's NFL Draft. The former Cedar Shoals (Athens, Ga.) High School product had a relatively modest showing at the NFL Combine in February, posting a 40-yard dash time of just over 4.8 seconds, in addition to completing just 17 repetitions on the 225-pound bench press.
Moses managed to post slightly better times of 4.75 and 4.77 seconds in the 40 during his Pro Day March 20. He also measured in at only 257 pounds, which has some NFL scouts concerned the Georgia product may be too much of in-between player to make an impact in the pro game: too light to play defensive end, too heavy to play linebacker.
Although Moses is no longer considered an elite prospect in this year's draft, he does bring assets to the table that could help him at the next level. Now, though, most draft analysts project the 23-year-old to be selected no higher than in the second round, and perhaps he could even go in the third round.
With more teams now employing a 3-4 defense in the NFL, Moses' talents, most notably his athleticism and quickness, may have him better suited to play as an outside linebacker in the pros. He is fairly athletic, which could make him a real asset in the proper scheme. His ability to move fluidly could allow him to transition to an outside linebacker role in the NFL. He can shed single blockers well, and he is often described as explosive out of his stance. He can be very effective in bursts.
While Moses' lack of strength may be an issue, he conversely is strong playing in space, in addition to being a solid tackler - another sign pointing to a probable switch to linebacker at the next level.
At 6-foot-5, Moses has the frame to add probably an additional 15-20 pounds and play closer to the line of scrimmage; however he currently does not possess the strength to be a real force with his hand on the ground.
Inconsistency has also plagued Moses. Moses was known to tire in games, appearing sluggish late in contests. That has led scouts to question his stamina, and perhaps even his work ethic.
Competitive drive may also be an issue facing Moses. Some scouts have pointed to a lack of competitiveness and passion for the game, particularly this past season when opponents keyed on him. The competition, obviously, only gets better at the pro level, so if Moses could not handle the added attention he received as a senior in college, how will he adjust as a young player trying to carve a niche in the NFL?
Although Moses' draft stock has fallen, he nevertheless displays a skill set scouts and general managers crave - namely an ability to rush the quarterback. Whether that leads to him being no more than a situational pass rusher or an impact, every-down player at the pro level remains to be seen.
It's not surprising that teams such as the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have long been successful running a 3-4 defense, have expressed interest in Moses, particularly as a rush linebacker.
However, in a draft year deep at the defensive end position, Moses will be fortunate to hear his name called somewhere in the second round come April 28... A far cry, perhaps, from what could have been.