BOSTON (CBS) -- The list of players let go by Bill Belichick before going on to newfound stardom is impressively short. The Patriots famously don't always like to break the bank to keep some of their better players when it's contract time, but the method hasn't burned them too badly over the course of 20 years. While such discussions always bring about Akiem Hicks or Chandler Jones, the majority of players who leave Foxboro generally leave behind their best days there as well. Or, they play elsewhere on a huge salary
But cornerback Kenny Moore II may be well on his way to joining that short list of players the Patriots missed on -- if he hasn't already.
The fifth-year pro has followed up his breakout 2020 season with an even better showing in 2021 thus far. He's already tied his career high with four interceptions -- a mark he set last year -- while making 77 tackles (62 solo) with 11 passes defensed, a forced fumble and a sack. That work over the past two seasons has many around the league labeling Moore as the best nickel corner in the NFL.
That's obviously a debatable position, but the point is that Moore has come a long way from 2017.
Back then, he was an undrafted free agent out of Valdosta State, signing with the reigning Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. Moore turned some heads early, too, garnering headlines from reporters for his standout play in training camp. Even Bill Belichick himself -- who found Malcolm Butler as an undrafted cornerback in 2014, found Moore in 2017, and then found J.C. Jackson in 2018 -- had some light praise for Moore at the time.
Yet when it came time for final cuts at the end of the preseason, Moore didn't make the Patriots' roster.
The Colts claimed Moore, and he played in 2017 mainly as a special teams player. But he showed he had what it takes to be an NFL player, and he went from taking 35 percent of the defensive snaps in 2017 to 93 percent in 2018, when Frank Reich took over as head coach. He played more than 90 percent of the defensive snaps from 2018-20, and this year, he's taken 97.6 percent of the team's defensive snaps -- second-most on the team.
While Moore's time with the Patriots was relatively brief, it made an impact on him both positively and negatively.
On the plus side, he met Tom Brady. And after the Bucs defeated the Colts in Week 12, Moore made sure to seek out the GOAT for a meet-up:
On the downside, though, Moore admitted that the Foxboro way of doing business was not a match for him.
"It just felt robotic. You don't want to do anything else but go home and go to sleep because tomorrow is about to be crazy," Moore told Tyler Dunn in March. "I really felt like I was in the military. Like, damn."
Moore described his brief Patriots career as "the longest four months of my life," saying he butted heads with then-cornerbacks coach Josh Boyer. He also said his time with the Patriots brought about depression, and made him believe he might never make it in the NFL.
"That was one of the low spots of my life, because that's really when I felt like, 'I'm probably not built for the league.' And having that feeling of, 'You're not good enough,' that's a bad feeling. You feel like you don't belong. I lost all of my joy and passion. I didn't even want to play football. I didn't want to go to work anymore," Moore told Dunn. "I was depressed. I was trying to fight my way out of it."
Moore has clearly come a long way since then. Whether or not he holds a grudge against the Patriots -- he answered in the affirmative when asked by Dunn if he believed the Patriots' coaches were being "jerks" -- will likely be kept a tightly to the vest this week. (Then again, with the "Hard Knocks" cameras adding some light to Moore's star rise, perhaps we'll get a glimpse of Moore's deep feelings after the fact.)
Yet after missing the Colts' game vs. the Patriots in 2018 due to a concussion, Moore will now get his first opportunity to make some game-changing plays against the team that not only cut him but made him want to quit the sport altogether just four years ago. Motivation is never a problem for Moore, but Saturday night's opportunity likely offers a little bit extra.
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