Kenny Moore II didn’t take the traditional path to the NFL. He wasn’t a star football player in high school, only picking up the sport his senior year. Powerhouse colleges didn’t recruit him heavily out of Lowndes High School, so he attended Valdosta State University in his hometown. And when it came time for the 2017 draft, he wasn’t selected.
Yet, he’s made a name for himself as arguably the best nickel corner in the league despite being overlooked throughout his football career, eventually landing with the Colts in 2017 after being cut by the Patriots that year.
His role grew dramatically in 2018, starting 15 games and recording 77 tackles, three interceptions, 11 pass breakups and 1.5 sacks – the stat line of a do-it-all defender for Indianapolis.
Moore would tell you himself that he’s not the biggest, fastest or most athletic player on the field, but he has to be one of the smartest in order to succeed in the slot defender role.
It’s football intelligence that sets the best nickel corners apart.
“The challenge is more so the knowledge and accelerated vision you must have to make a decent amount of plays that are coming toward you,” he told OSDB Sports via phone.
“If it was about ability, anybody would be able to play that because every team has a pretty good corner just off ability, or multiple. But when you add in the knowledge and getting your teammates in the right position and making checks pre-snap and making other’s checks post-snap, I don’t think people really realize how smart you have to be to play the nickel position on defense. … I’m not giving myself credit, I'm just telling you there’s a lot of things about the position that people don’t know and people underrate. Those things come from practice and watching film and listening to the coaching points and criticism that I deal with on a daily basis from myself and my coaches. Just being able to put everything together so I can be the best player I can be.”
The importance of slot defenders has grown exponentially in the last 5-10 years with offenses throwing the ball more. Therefore, defenses are forced to match personnel groupings by having five or six defensive backs on the field to cover three receivers and pass-catching tight ends.
And while the role of nickel corners might be different than those of outside cornerbacks like Stephon Gilmore, Jalen Ramsey and Tre’Davious White, they’re all grouped together on Pro Bowl ballots, to which Moore takes exception.
“I just think all positions should be looked at fairly,” he said. “Just having the nickel position not a position for the Pro Bowl. That’s pretty much putting the position behind the curve, so you’re not really appreciating the talent and expertise of guys who really are playing at a high level. “They throw all the nickel cornerbacks, the slot cornerbacks in the same bowl as outside corners and it’s like, no, you have it all wrong. We aren’t the same. It’s even different because in my defense and the defense I'm part of, I'm thankful to be able to play outside corner, as well as inside corner. But I feel like people underrate me and underrate everything that I pride myself on as far as being a ball player and putting the work in each day to narrowing everything I do down to just a slot cornerback. Like, no, I play outside corner too.”
Moore hopes one day the NFL changes that approach because as much of a popularity contest as the Pro Bowl is, players have incentives in their contracts that allow them to earn more money by making the game or being voted an All-Pro.
That’s tough for Moore to accomplish when he’s being grouped with Ramsey and the top outside cornerbacks who fans see covering No. 1 receivers on a weekly basis.
“Everybody wants to look at who’s the No. 1 receiver on their team and who’s guarding them. But no one really takes into consideration the X’s and O’s, the chess pieces and everything that goes into it,” he added. “At nickel, you’re probably not going against the best player every single down, but you’ll match up on their best player at some point.”
When Moore isn't breaking up passes, sacking the quarterback, making tackles in the open field and wreaking havoc in the middle of the defense, you can find him showing his artistic side. If you’ve ever perused his Instagram account, you’ve probably seen his digital sketches of former teammate Anthony Walker Jr. and current teammate Carson Wentz.
Art is a passion of Moore’s, one he’s had since he was a child. He does the sketches in Adobe Illustrator when he has some free time, expressing his creativity in a unique way.
“Started drawing in third grade. My second-oldest sister was into art. I was just curious as a kid. She would try to show me how to do stuff. From there, I would try to do stuff. With art, I would put it down for several months or a year and come back to it later and magically be better at it,” Moore said, laughing.
“I was always into cartoons, like avatars, and making things seem realistic. I used to do them for teammates in college. It’s been pretty cool to try to make art. I always like to do teammates because I know them. They’re always surprised when I do show them my art so it’s pretty cool because we’re always so busy with football that we don’t realize there’s more to us. Just like fans. They don’t realize we have other talents.”
“With Anthony Walker, I wanted to do him because he definitely left a mark on me teammate to teammate but us also hanging out outside the building and becoming close.”
Moore modestly said “I honestly don’t think I'm that good” when asked if he would like to make art a career after football, but did acknowledge that graphic design would be a nice path for him when he does decide to hang up his cleats down the road.
“If I'm able to explore and sharpen my tools and learn from great people to express my imagination, I don’t see a problem with it,” he said. “I love art in general so if graphic design was the path away from football, my transition, it would be pretty cool.”
A newer interest that Moore has uncovered is IndyCar racing – which is only natural, considering he makes a living in Indianapolis. It started when he visited the Indianapolis Motor Speedway this past March and met Patricio O’Ward after his Arrow McLaren car caught his eye.
The two connected after Moore tweeted at O’Ward, which led to a response from the driver.
@PatricioOWard love the speed bro!— Kenny Moore II (@KennyKennyMoe3) March 26, 2021
“I went to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in March and there were four teams there testing the push-to-pass that they’ll be using in 2023. As I was watching these cars go around the track, I saw one Arrow McLaren car that was going pretty fast. I tweeted him and it was Patricio O’Ward,” Moore recalled. “He tweeted me back and I was with some other people and we were going to check out the garages and Josef Newgarden came out and I was saying what’s up and people introduced us to each other.
“We were all just hanging out and talking and comparing our professions and schedule and season. I was just coming out of my season so I was just chilling at the track. Looked at their cars, we were exchanging numbers, getting to know each other.
“There’s great hospitality at the speedway. Being in Indianapolis, it’s pretty much a way of life. Since I’ve been here, I’ve embraced Indiana and racing.”
Moore has never driven an IndyCar and after giving a simulator a try, he would someday like to give the real thing a spin. But that’ll have to come at a later date when he’s not focused on football and preparing for Week 1 like he is now.
After an offseason that he called “the closest we’ve been to getting back to normal,” Moore is feeling good as the season approaches.
“Going into the preseason games and most importantly, going into the season, you want to feel your best as quickly as possible because having that time away from the season, you lose that accelerated vision and breaking on the ball and all the other things you’ve been able to do several months ago,” he said. “You’re never at your best come Week 1, so that’s why I say you want to do that as fast as possible and then November-December, you’re playing your best ball.”
The Colts are expected to be contenders in the AFC, despite the setbacks they suffered when Wentz and All-Pro guard Quenton Nelson went down with foot injuries that required surgery. As disappointing as those losses were, Moore isn't losing sight of the task at hand.
“We’re excited to get those guys back at some point, whenever that is. But in the meantime, we all have work to do individually and collectively as a team. We’re all about the work and the business that we have to take care of,” he added.