Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

04 Oct 2006

Whither Randy Moss?

Here we are three games into the 2006 season, and Randy Moss is making noise about being traded again. He's coming off two straight down years, and while it's still early, so far he only has 7 catches for 84 yards and a single touchdown. Is Randy Moss done as an elite receiver?

In Moss's defense, a lot of his problems are not his own. He's suffered with poor quarterbacks in Oakland for a year and a half now. Seven catches and 84 receiving yards both actually lead the team this year. Moss has caught just 35 percent of passes thrown in his direction, and that's a number that's likely to improve over time. But historically, receivers with career patterns similar to Moss have a very poor track record.

I ran our three-year similarty scores on Randy's 2003-2005 seasons. Now, standard caveats apply -- we're talking about standard NFL stats, not our advanced stats. These stats aren't adjusted for opponent, or for the quality of each player's quarterback or team, or for specific issues in each player's career, like injuries. But here are the players most similar to Moss over a three-year span, normalized to the offensive environment of each season:

John Jefferson (1980-1982*): One more 800-yard season, out of the league by age 30.
Mike Quick (1985-1987*): Only played 18 more NFL games with 871 total yards, out of the league by age 32.
Antonio Freeman (1998-2000): Never topped 820 yards again, out of the league by age 32.
Lynn Swann (1978-1980): Never topped 600 yards again, out of the league by age 31.
Carl Pickens (1996-1998): Never topped 800 yards again, out of the league by age 31.
Dwight Clark (1982*-1984): Never topped 800 yards again, out of the league by age 31.
Isaac Bruce (2000-2002): Had at least two more productive seasons.
Carlos Carson (1983-1985): Injured in 1986, over 1,000 yards during strike year of 1987, then faded out. Out of the league by age 32.
Michael Irvin (1995-1997): One more 1,000-yard year, out of the league by 2000. May not be a good comparison because while his stats are very similar, he was three years older than Moss during the years being compared.
Terrence Mathis (1994-1996): 800 yards in 1997, then topped 1,000 yards again in 1998 and 1999. Played until age 35.

Again, every player listed here was in different circumstances. But this list features a lot of guys who, like Randy Moss, had huge years in their mid-20's, and most of them never recovered after their performance slid in their late-20's. By the way, Moss is 29 this year.

*1982 and 1987 pro-rated for strike.

Posted by: Aaron Schatz on 04 Oct 2006

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