Tony Moeaki was the tight end that should-have-been for the Kansas City Chiefs.
At this point, Tony Moeaki is a footnote for fans of the Kansas City Chiefs. If his name is mentioned, the response is a likely, “Oh, yeah, I remember that guy!”—that is, if he’s remembered at all.
As the third round choice of the Chiefs under general manager Scott Pioli back in the 2010 NFL Draft, Moeaki would last only three seasons in Kansas City—one of them lost to injury—before being released with an injury settlement.
From there, things only spiraled downward as Moeaki would start two NFL games outside K.C. over three years with three teams: the Buffalo Bills, Atlanta Falcons, and Seattle Seahawks. His NFL career would end with a failed roster tryout with the Chicago Bears before the 2016 season began.
So imagine my surprise when I happened across the following post on Twitter:
Okay, wait, there’s a list with Gronk, arguably the most impactful tight end to ever play the game, and at least a few other respectable tight ends, showcasing their rookie promise. Dwayne Allen has carved out a nice career for himself at the pro level and Hunter Henry remains the promised hero for the Bolts if he can ever stay healthy. Even then, the talent is clear and the production has been there on the field.
In short, how is Tony Moeaki on that list? And if his rookie campaign was really that good, did I somehow forget his potential along the way? I decided it was worth a look.
Going back to the Moeaki Archives (which don’t exist, by the way), it’s important to remember the context for his draft in the first place. The Chiefs had just endured their first season without Tony Gonzalez after Scott Pioli had traded him for, ahem, Javier Arenas. That 2009 season was a forgettable one with a 4-12 record—the lone bright spot being the emergence of running back Jamaal Charles.
The very next offseason, Pioli set out to fill Tony’s shoes with, well, another Tony. In five seasons at Iowa, Moeaki had career totals of 76 catches for 953 receiving yards and 11 touchdowns—a harbinger of things to come knowing his injury history.
At the time, however, Moeaki looked worthy of the investment, especially given the Chiefs had already had four other picks before selecting Moeaki near the end of the third round. Eric Berry was the headline of this draft class and the Chiefs had also added Arenas, RB/WR Dexter McCluster, and OL Jon Asamoah.
At 6’4, 250 lbs., Moeaki was a well-rounded tight end who was pro ready from day one—a player with a lot of experience from a well-coached school like Iowa (George Kittle, Dallas Clark, Noah Fant, T.J. Hockenson). Heading into the draft, he was named First-Team All Big Ten and ran the 40-yard dash in 4.69 seconds. Given his physical skill set and excellent hands, the good news for teams considering him in the draft was that he was also praised for his blocking.
Moeaki certainly looked the part from the very beginning for a Chiefs team in need of some offensive help. Matt Cassel targeted him 73 times during his rookie year and he responded with 47 catches for 556 receiving yards and 3 touchdowns in 15 starts. Unfortunately, just before his sophomore season, Moeaki tore his ACL in a preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. Suddenly the 2011 season was lost and things would never be the same again.
Upon his return, Moeaki would only earn the sole starter’s reps when veteran Kevin Boss was injured in 2012. A fractured shoulder suffered in the preseason before 2013 would seal his fate, one that would lead to his release with the aforementioned settlement.
Looking back, Moeaki could have been another link in a very impressive chain of tight ends taken in the draft. Jermaine Gresham and Rob Gronkowski were both taken before Moeaki and Jimmy Graham was taken two picks later. Others in the class included Aaron Hernandez, Ed Dickson, and Dennis Pitta.
Tony Moeaki should have been the next Tony, a reliable target with a complete game whose skill set created mismatches even at the highest level. But as they say, a player’s best ability is his availability and Moeaki’s career is a prime example. Fortunately for Chiefs Kingdom, a new general manager named John Dorsey would come along at the end of Moeaki’s tenure in K.C. and replace him with a legend-to-be named Travis Kelce—also in the third round.