Scouting Report: Zeke MottaHere’s a look at the second safety the Falcons selected in the seventh round in Zeke Motta.
Height: 6-2 1/4
School: Notre Dame
Speed: 4.71 (Campus)
He split reps with Jamoris Slaughter during his sophomore and junior seasons at strong safety, playing opposite Harrison Smith. After Smith was drafted in 2012, he moved to free safety as a senior in his lone season as a full-time starter. He had career highs in tackles. Not a great coverage guy, Motta has good size and is an active run defender. But like many of his Notre Dame brethren, Motta’s stock was hurt by the fact that he had an underwhelming game against Alabama in the National Championship. He did lead the team with tackles in that game, recording a career-high 16 but many of those were made several yards downfield after successful Alabama runs or throws. Then his stock was hurt even more with a slow 40 time at the Combine (4.83). His first name is short for Ezekiel.
2012: 13 GP/13 GS, 77 tackles, 2 TFLs, 0 sacks, 0 INTs, 3 PD, 0 FF, 1 FR
2011: 13/8-40-0.0-0.0-1-3-1-1 (1 FR for touchdown)
2012 GAMES WATCHED
vs. Stanford (10/13): 2 targets, 1 rec., 22 yards (11.0 YPA), 3 YAC (3.0 avg), 0 TDs; 1 missed tackle
vs. Pittsburgh (11/3): 0 tgt, 0 rec, 0 yds, 0 TD
at USC (11/24): 2 tgt., 0 rec, 0 yds, 0 TD; 1 TFL
vs. Alabama (1/7): 2 tgt., 1 rec., 27 yds (13.5 YPA), 3 YAC (3.0 avg), 0 TDs, 1 PD; 5 missed tackles
These are general skills required for his position and relative to not only top collegiate prospects, but also NFL players. Grades are based on a 10-point rating scale: 1-pathetic, 2-poor, 3-weak, 4-below average, 5-average, 6-above average, 7-good, 8-very good, 9-excellent, 10-elite
Speed (5.5) – Plays faster than his timed speed and shows good closing burst on the edge. Has enough speed to get to the edge and prevent speedy back from turning the corner. Good short-area burst to come downhill and defend the run. Shows decent speed and burst to close on crossing receivers over the middle.
Tackling (6.0) – Does a pretty good job wrapping up. Is a capable hitter that shows some pop against smaller receivers. But struggles to tackle powerful backs as well as quick ones as they can slip his tackles or run him over. Really struggled against Alabama with the jump cuts to the outside.
Man Coverage (4.0) - Shows decent footwork when working in coverage, but he’s not a guy that is good at turning and running with receivers. Not a guy you want matched up on an island against speedy wideouts, as they continually run by him. But his size and speed might be enough of a match against tight ends, albeit he’d struggle against the top ones.
Zone Coverage (5.0) – When working in centerfield, too often lets fast receivers get behind him. Does his best work when he’s allowed to keep things underneath and does a good job closing on the receiver and ball to make the hit or stop immediately after the catch.
Ball Skills (4.0) – DIdn’t have many opportunities to make plays in coverage and rarely did. Has a decent nose for the ball when defending the run, but will take some bad angles from time to time.
Range (5.0) – Doesn’t have ideal speed and range to make that many plays outside the numbers when he’s asked to cover the deep half in Cover-2. Shows decent range when working in centerfield.
Motta is a solid player, but has limited potential at the next level because he’s lacking as a playmaker in coverage. He’s a smart player that is a capable run defender, but his upside on defense will be limited by his less than stellar speed, range, and cover skills. He’ll have to contribute on special teams to stick long-term at the next level. He’s worth a look in the seventh round due to his special teams ability and ability to add decent depth.
Grade: 3.0 – Has enough tools to stick on the NFL level, but tend to be journeyman over the long haul. Unless they can really form a niche as a reserve or special teams ability, they will have a hard time getting a second contract with a team. These players tend to provide depth, but if they are forced to start for more than a game or two, your team is going to be in trouble. Click here for more on my grading system.
Motta could be compared to a poor man’s Harrison Smith. But the main difference is that Smith was a much stronger player (19 vs. 11 bench reps at the Combine) and faster (4.54 40 time vs. 4.75) and was a much more consistent playmaker, particularly when it came to coverage. Simply put, Motta hardly made an impact there.
He played quite a bit of Cover-2 in Notre Dame’s defense and was solid at it. But there were times against top receivers that they would be able to get behind him (Amari Cooper and Marqise Lee being two prominent examples) for potential big gains. His performance against Alabama was a major disappointment due to the sheer number of missed tackles. But as with other Notre Dame defenders, that game seemed an aberration from his performance in previous games.
Motta’s upside at the next level likely is a decent backup strong safety. The players he reminds me of is Jon McGraw. McGraw had a bit more range and ability in coverage. But like McGraw, Motta really is ideally suited to being a reserve rather than a starter. McGraw was a productive special teams player in his prime that could serve as an effective spot starter in stints with the Jets, Lions, and Chiefs. But with more extensive playing time due to injuries of players ahead of him, he struggled and got exposed.
Motta is likely to be the same way. For a game or two, you think he could make a decent strong safety. Especially a few years down the line when he’s much more comfortable with the defensive scheme of Nolan. But he’s not going to be a regular member of defense because he’s limited as a cover guy. He might be able to compete for a role in the dime subpackage as an in-the-box safety that functions as an extra linebacker. But that’s about it.
In fact, there’s the possibility that a team could bulk up Motta and try to make him into a linebacker. In that way, one could compare him to Coy Wire. But the difference was Wire was a much stronger player and was a linebacker in college. He was undersized for the position and thusly was moved to safety in the NFL, before finding his way back to linebacker. Motta’s skillset is more akin to a linebacker, but he’d have to pack on at least another 10-15 pounds of muscle, something that won’t happen overnight.
So if a team is looking to convert him to a linebacker position, then they’ll have to wait at least a year or two before they can expect to contribute. And while his coverage issues won’t be as apparent as a linebacker, he’ll still be average in that realm and likely to struggle if he was to get extensive reps on defense.
In the end, Motta is likely going to have to make an immediate impact on special teams to stick in Atlanta. He has a little bit more upside to contribute defensively because I think he’s a little more athletic and has better size than Kemal Ishmael, but it’s only a marginal upgrade. Like Ishmael, if Motta was to get extensive reps he’d be exposed. Best case scenario is that he’s a hybrid linebacker-safety that can be a high-level producer on special teams. If so, then he could be like McGraw and be able to play a decade in the NFL. If not, then he’ll likely wash out of the league after a few years.