With the upcoming draft ripe with pass rushers, it’s very likely that the Pittsburgh Steelers will find the future of their bread and butter at the position, possibly as early as round one. But for the present, they have their starters in either Jarvis Jones, James Harrison, or Arthur Moats, the latter of which seems to be flying very much under the radar. Even if the team opts for a pass rusher in round one, they would be wise to allow him to sit behind Moats, and play a limited or third down role, much like the San Francisco 49ers did with Aldon Smith in 2011, when he racked up 14 sacks despite not starting one single game.
Moats showed last season he could handle the job, despite splitting snaps with Harrison after Jones went down with a wrist injury. In nine starts, Moats recorded four sacks, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery. He parlayed that play into the new three-year, $7.5 million contract he signed with the team this offseason. Despite playing 337 snaps, roughly one-third of the 978 snaps of the recently-retired Jason Worilds, Moats still managed four sacks, to Worilds’ 7.5. With a clear-cut opportunity in front of him, his pass-rush productivity should only go up with more playing time. Also, consider the fact that the team will look to monitor the 36-year old Harrison’s snaps in an effort to keep him fresh over the course of the season. Moats had 22 total pressures last season, according to Pro Football Focus, a number which should climb with more playing time.
In a way, this could be viewed as a bargain pick-up, much in the same light as Brice McCain was last offseason.
“Moats is a player who hasn’t been given a lot of playing time during his career, but has generally put good performances on film when given the opportunity,” Matt Claassen of PFF said. “In his first season with Pittsburgh, the Steelers utilized him more as a pass rusher similar to his first two years with Buffalo. He earned a career-high +7.7 overall grade last season and earned positive grades in both run defense and as a pass rusher. He has been a solid tackler who has missed just two tackles over the last four seasons.”
Claassen went on to list Moats’ only poorly-graded game from last season as being the one against the New Orleans Saints, when he missed a tackle.
Moats has shown extreme versatility throughout his career thus far, even playing inside linebacker in Buffalo before moving outside to his natural position as a 3-4 edge rusher with the Steelers. The only thing that’s been really holding him down is an opportunity, and he has a grand one staring him in the face for the 2015 season. Also, an added bonus for fans is how Moats feels about Pittsburgh.
“You don’t want to be somewhere where winning four, five, six games a year is acceptable,” he said. “You want to go where they feel like it’s Super Bowl or nothing. I love this organization. That is the feeling here and that is part of why guys like it so much.”
Even though his likely replacement is a high priority in the draft, be it in round 1 or 2, Moats will go about his business like the professional that he is, and it shouldn’t surprise anyone if he posts a career-best year, perhaps with double-digit sacks.