TCU gave quarterbacks a lot of trouble in 2020. The secondary was stacked with the first-round cornerback Jeff Gladney and highly touted 2021 safety prospects Trevon Moehrig and Ar’Darius Washington. While both have earned their praise and certainly standout on tape as players, which of the dynamic TCU safeties is the better?
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The ballhawk safeties combined for nine total interceptions on the back end of the Horned Frogs defense. With TCU’s somewhat complex defense that required some intricate match quarters coverage schemes, both of these guys had to be on top of their game not just to execute their role, but make splash plays. Thus, that makes these guys just that much more impressive.
A battle between two dynamic, playmaking TCU safeties
While both Moehrig and Washington are great, they could not be any more different physically. Moehrig checks in at 6’2″, 208 pounds, and has a lot of length and size for the safety position. Meanwhile, Washington is an undersized 5’8″, 179 pounds. As the polar opposite of Moehrig in that regard, Washington lacks significant length, and that can certainly hurt him at the catch point.
Moehrig has some impressive stats due to that length. For example, he only allowed two catches on 17 contested-catch reps per Pro Football Focus. A huge reason why he was able to do that was his length and natural ball skills. When those two things are combined, it makes Moehrig a pest at the catch point, even for bigger receivers that are naturally high-level contested-catch guys.
Washington has it a little differently. He only allowed five entire catches the whole season. If there is a model of a shutdown defender, that would be it. Even still, while Washington can have some issues with bigger guys, his elite ball skills and football IQ allow him to always make plays at the catch point, even as a smaller guy. The size factor is a massive deception to the way Washington plays the game on the field.
Man Coverage, Discipline, and Fluidity
With natural length, the essential tools would favor Moehrig here. Even his hips are extraordinarily fluid and loose, so if he has to mirror and flip his hips out of the slot, Moehirg can do that. However, this is a place where I have trouble genuinely trusting Moehrig.
Beyond the physical talent, Moehrig has technical issues, especially with his eyes. He fails to keep his eyes disciplined and can get caught looking in the backfield and losing his hip discipline as well. Once his eye discipline goes, so does his hip discipline, and he often fails to stay square, thus “opening the gate.” He needs to read through double moves much better as well as he can get caught biting too often.
Washington is much better in man coverage than I ever expected him to be, considering his size. As previously mentioned, there is undoubtedly a cause for concern given Washington’s size. Still, with his fluidity and route intelligence, he ends up sticking with his guys more often than not and making a play if targeted.
I would advise against working him in press coverage, but defenses in the NFL use their safeties as overhang slot defenders more than ever. In off-man coverage, especially, Washington thrives in that role. Washington’s trust in his eyes helps him make so many plays as a match man coverage or just straight man coverage defender. That allows him to finish plays at an extremely high rate.
Zone Coverage, Range, and Field Vision
This is where Moehirg wins. In the NFL, I would be shocked if Moehrig was not primarily a single-high, zone-oriented safety. Due to those struggles in man coverage, Moehrig instead must take advantage of his superb functional athleticism, range, and ball skills. He can do that one the back end of any defense as the free safety.
The thing that Moehrig does well is reading route concepts in zone coverage. Very often, he does an excellent job of ranging over and cutting off throwing lanes. Just let him come down and rob the middle of the field or roam on the back end of the defense to read and react. Those situations are where Moehrig is at his best on the football field.
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So, Washington is just great in all these areas. I am not sure that Washington is ever going to be a true-blooded single-high safety, but he does not need to be that. The good news is he most certainly can do that in a pinch. With those fluid hips and elite football IQ, Washington takes route recognition to the next level.
That terrific processing creates elite field vision. So, when Washington is making plays outside of the structure of the zone coverage, it is because he recognizes the concepts and fills in the void of those weak points to make splash plays. His awareness overall is far above Moehrig’s and Moehirg has good awareness for a safety anyways. All in all, it comes together to make Washington a valuable difference-maker on the back end for any defense.
Tackling and Run Support
Moehrig struggles here a lot as well. The new standard for tackling is the praised “Hawk-Tackling” developed by Pete Carroll at the height of the Legion of Boom. It always states to drive your eyes through the ball carrier’s thighs, wrap up, and then twist. Moehrig nips too much at the ankles and often fails to wrap up in a technically proficient manner.
He also lacks juice at the tackling point. Functional strength is a genuine issue for Moehrig, especially when he has to take on blocks in the open field. That is something he has to improve if he wants to get better in run support.
Washington, on the other hand, is a very proficient tackler. You will not see him miss many tackles in the open field, and he can lay the wood when he wants to do it. For a small guy, Washington makes up for that with a lot of moxie and physicality in run support.
Much like Moehrig, he struggles to take on blocks, so I am not sure I would just line him straight up a pseudo-linebacker like some box safeties are being used as right now. However, he has the evasiveness and high football IQ to stick it in the box still. He showed as much last season.
Outlook for the talented safeties
This is a comparison piece, so I have to choose one of these guys. With that said, give me Washington by a good bit. The main reason is Washington is not limited in really any facet except being a box linebacker primarily. He has the versatility and overall skillset to do more than Moehrig while still being a playmaker. In the modern NFL, being a chess piece that can do so many things at a high level makes you more valuable. Washington is, in fact, my second-highest rated safety in the 2021 class.
However, this is not in vain to Moehrig. As a single-high safety, he has all the talent to be a successful football player. He has the instincts, range, and ball skills to be a starting free safety in the NFL. This is one of the best duos in the country for a reason, after all, and Moehrig does carry his weight, it is just in a different manner. Just do not sleep on Moehrig as a talent, because he has plenty of it.