SALT LAKE CITY — After declining a second-round grade from NFL evaluators following his junior season, running back Zack Moss returned to the University of Utah to improve his stock and cement his name in Utah history.
Moss entered the season as the primary focus of the offense and delivered as Utah neared a College Football Playoff bid.
The Miami, Florida, native rushed for 1,416 yards and scored 15 rushing and two receiving touchdowns his final season of play, while also setting six all-time records at Utah, including career rushing yards (4,167 yards) and career rushing touchdowns (38 TDs). That effort led him to being named the Pac-12 Offensive Player of the Year.
But on Friday, Moss got his opportunity to finally add his name to the list of elite running backs drafted to the NFL. The 5-foot-10, 222-pound power back heard his name called by Commissioner Roger Goodell in the league’s virtual draft.
Moss was selected No. 86 overall in the third round, by the Buffalo Bills. He was the second player selected by the franchise and the eighth running back selected in the draft. He joins former teammates Jaylon Johnson and Julian Blackmon, who was picked one pick before him, as the only players from the University of Utah drafted so far in 2020.
The former Ute, along with Johnson, was invited to participate in the NFL’s virtual draft party as one of only 58 athletes around the country. These are the same athletes that would have been invited to Las Vegas had the coronavirus pandemic not shut down the league’s ability to meet in person.
Moss joins A.J. Epenesa from Iowa with the Bills, who was drafted in the second round.
Moss becomes the third-straight starting running back from the University of Utah drafted in the NFL. His predecessors, Joe Williams (San Francisco 49ers) and Devontae Booker (Denver Broncos), were both selected in the fourth round of their respective drafts.
“I just want teams to know that they’re going to get a guy that is always going to come to work and approach it that way every single day, no matter what year it is,” Moss told Jim Rome prior to the draft in a radio interview. “This is my life, this is my passion, this is what drives me each day.”
That worker mentality was present his entire time at Utah. Moss used each offseason of his career to improve his size while growing in his understanding of the game. The hard work paid off as Moss became one of the most elusive backs in the country, according to Pro Football Focus.
“Moss may not have the same elite measurables as some of the other backs in this class, but he has a trump card we’ve seen translate again and again to the NFL — the dude breaks tackles,” PFF’s Michael Renner wrote. “Whether it’s as a runner or as a receiver, Moss is a safe bet to be on his feet after first contact. In fact, Moss broke at least four tackles in each of the games in which he carried the ball at least 10 times, even though he played through injury for a portion of the year.”
PFF said Moss held the third-highest broken tackles per attempt average in the last six years of the organization tracking advanced college football metrics. Add that to being a bona fide receiver — he caught 66 career passes and forced 33 broken tackles after the catch — and Moss is “a safe bet to continue in the NFL.”
"He's an every-down back — he can do it all," Kyle Whittingham said of his former star player. "He can obviously carry the football, he's an inside runner, he's an outside runner, he's got breakaway speed, great quickness, vision, balance, runs with violence — all those things that you've got to possess when you've got the ball in your hands. He's also a very good receiver out of the backfield."
But Moss wasn’t just an offensive threat while at Utah, he also prided himself on being a blocker for quarterback Tyler Huntley, his former high school teammate and other member of the Hallendale Trio. “The quarterback is the most important person on the field, and keeping that guy upright is pretty much second to none,” Moss told Jim Rome. “And my job as a running back is keeping him upright and keeping him clean.”
Throughout his collegiate career, Moss maintained that being a good blocker was vital to his success and having a legit shot at making an NFL team in the future. Now, he has a shot with the Bills to show his ability.
"He picks up blitzes. He's very willing and able to stand in there and pick up linebacker blitzes, and so that probably, to me, is the biggest attribute that Zack possesses is that he can do it all," Whittingham said. "There really is no weakness in his game, and he takes pride in that."
Moss was one of nine players from the University of Utah selected to participate in the NFL Combine in February, but had a disappointing showing after sustaining a hamstring injury ahead of his 40-yard dash run. He managed to run an official 4.65, but looked to his pro day to improve his time.
As the coronavirus outbreak spread around the country, Utah, as did every school in the country, cancelled their pro day, leaving Moss with few options. But Moss arranged for a private showing for NFL scouts where he ran a 4.52 40-yard dash time, which was closer to the time he expected ahead of the combine.
Although figures are not definite, Moss is projected to sign a $4.2 million total value contract, which includes an approximate $900,000 signing bonus, according to draft pick numbers by spotrac.com.