For an athlete drafted in the late rounds of the NFL Draft, or even not drafted at all, but rather attempting to make it as a free agent, it’s difficult to ever find yourself in a comfortable position that allows you to sit back and contemplate your future. Instead, you’re too busy worrying about whether or not you’ll have a roster spot next season, or even next week.
Arthur Moats was a sixth-round draft pick back in 2010 by the Buffalo Bills, and while he has participated in 75 of a possible 80 games since then, he has yet to find that sense of stability. That remains true today, even after signing a three-year contract with the expectation of beginning the season starting at the left outside linebacker position.
When the Bills first drafted him as a college pass-rushing defensive end, the coaching staff converted him to inside linebacker at first, before later moving him to outside linebacker. The Bills later switched predominantly to a 4-3 defense, and though he started 12 games in his last year with the team, his being miscast affected his marketability.
When he signed with the Pittsburgh Steelers last offseason, he did so on a one-year, veteran-minimum qualifying contract a couple of weeks into the free agency period. He was not a priority signing, although by the start of the year he was the top reserve behind both starters at outside linebacker after the team elected to carry only three on the 53-man roster.
Due to injuries, Moats ended up playing far more snaps than anticipated, starting eight games (rather than the nine games officially listed), although he split that time with James Harrison, and gradually lost the lion’s share of the snap count.
Still, he managed to be productive in his playing time, recording a respectable 23 tackles along with four sacks and two forced fumbles. His performance was encouraging enough that the Steelers were comfortable offering him a modest three-year contract in addition to penciling him in as a starter for the 2015 season.
Beyond that, who knows? And the reality is that we don’t know how long he might last in the starting lineup even this year, after the team used their first-round draft pick on outside linebacker Bud Dupree.
The Steelers’ two most recent first-round draft picks have started a combined 13 of 23 games during their rookie years, or nearly 57 percent of the games that they did not miss due to injury. While Dupree is not expected to be required to start as a rookie, recent history suggests that it would not be out of character.
Of course, neither Dupree nor Jarvis Jones has yet to establish himself as an NFL starter by anything beyond draft pedigree up to this point. Should one of them ultimately fail to live up to expectations, the veteran Moats could be ready to step in. At worst, he could be a rotational contributor in the future. While it’s not the stable position, it’s certainly a far cry from wondering if you belong in the league.