NFL scouts that headed to South Bend this season might have experienced déjà vu when they looked in the secondary; Motta’s size and athleticism are similar to those of former Irish star and Minnesota’s 2012 first-round safety Harrison Smith. As a part-time starter his first three years on campus due to the team’s depth at the position, Zeke (short for Ezekiel) needed to show he could make plays in his first year as a starter. He finished the season with 77 tackles, two for loss, and three pass breakups.
Motta was ranked as one of the top recruits in the country out of Vero Beach High School in Florida, but the atmosphere around the South Bend campus drew him in. He wasn’t forced to the sidelines as a true freshman, playing in 12 games as a reserve in 2009 (12 tackles, 0.5 sack), nor was he kept out of the starting lineup for most of his sophomore (eight starts in 13 games played, 50 tackles, 1.5 for loss, interception, two pass breakups). He again started eight games in 2011 (40 stops, interception, two pass break-ups), making his biggest play of the year when he returned a fumble 29 yards for a score in the Irish’s loss to Florida State in the Champs Sports Bowl.
Combines a thick upper-body build with good athleticism for the safety position. Shows some range to play two-deep adeptly, gets to the sideline quickly and comes downhill on run plays or underneath routes. Looks fluid and smooth in his backpedal. Reads receiver route combinations, stays deeper than deepest but also reads quarterback to crash shorter routes immediately after the catch. Solid and secure open-field tackler, brings bad intentions, drops his hips and wraps using his long arms. Uses hustle to chase down ballcarriers as a last line of defense. Intelligent leader in the secondary, communicates well with his teammates on the field. Should be an excellent special teams contributor with his size, strength, and tackling ability.
Straight-line speed and change of direction ability questionable. Could be challenged by NFL receivers downfield. Does not have range to be a single-deep threat and lacks great closing speed to to make a play against multiple vertical routes. Has not made many plays in coverage. Needs to prove he can track the ball in the air to knock passes away without interfering and make the moderate-to-difficult interceptions. Often in a deep position, needs to show scouts he can flip his hips open to run with receivers downfield.
Nearly a carbon copy of 2012 first-round pick Harrison Smith in a physical sense, Motta doesn't have Smith's athleticism, and hasn’t been able to duplicate Smith's dynamic playmaking ability. However, Motta possesses intelligence and physicality similar to Smith. Motta could find himself selected within the first 100 picks.
Future Hall of Famer
A once-in-a-generation type prospect who could change how his position is played
An impact player with the ability/intangibles to become a Pro Bowl player. Expect to start immediately except in a unique situation (i.e. behind a veteran starter).
A quality player who will contribute to the team early on and is expected to develop into a starter. A reliable player who brings value to the position.
A prospect with the ability to make team as a backup/role player. Needs to be a special teams contributor at applicable positions. Players in the high range of this category might have long-term potential.
A player with solid measurables, intangibles, college achievements, or a developing skill that warrants an opportunity in an NFL camp. In the right situation, he could earn a place on a 53-man roster, but most likely will be a practice squad player or a camp body.