Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

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The Oakland Raiders as a team, and Amari Cooper in particular, are having a disappointing season. Somehow, though, Michael Crabtree is having a career resurgence. What does it tell us when one wide receiver excels while his teammate struggles?

02 Aug 2017

Randy Moss: First-Ballot Hall of Famer

by Scott Kacsmar

To kick off Hall of Fame week, we are opening the case of an upcoming first-ballot candidate for the 2018 class: wide receiver Randy Moss. It might sound ridiculous to question whether the player with the second-most touchdown catches in NFL history is a first-ballot Hall of Famer, but the last player to retire with that distinction (Moss' teammate Cris Carter) was a six-time finalist before finally getting inducted in 2013.

In fact, unless your name is Steve Largent or Jerry Rice, every wide receiver who played in the 16-game, "Blount Rule" passing era (1978-present) has had to wait through at least three years of eligibility before getting into the Hall of Fame. When Terrell Owens last played in 2010, he was tied with Moss with 153 touchdown receptions, the two only trailing Rice (197). In the last two years, Owens has been a finalist, but was one of the first five names eliminated in the process.

Putting Moss and Owens in Canton together would be quite the spectacle next summer, but is there anything in the voting process that would lead us to believe that it will happen?

As we get set to go through Moss' career highlights, and the value that he brought to his teams, it is worth pointing out just how often the word "great" gets thrown around. Sometimes a player is called great before he actually proves he is. Moss was one of the generational talents of his era. He is what true greatness looks like.

1998: A Star Is Born

The idea of Moss having to wait for anything is both comical and fitting. This was a player with so much speed and confidence in his abilities that he would immediately throw his hand up after the snap to signal his quarterback that he was open. However, in the 1998 draft, Moss had to wait until the 21st pick before a team drafted him. How does this happen to an electrifying player who finished fourth in the 1997 Heisman Trophy vote? The three players ahead of Moss in Heisman voting -- Charles Woodson, Peyton Manning, and Ryan Leaf -- were all selected within the first four picks of the draft that year. Moss even watched the Titans select wide receiver Kevin Dyson with the No. 16 pick. Moss had more touchdown catches in each of his college seasons than Dyson had in four years combined at Utah.

The problem was that Moss had earned the reputation as a "bad boy" for a few incidents as a youth that dashed his dreams of playing big-time college football. In high school, Moss was involved in a racially-motivated fight that led to Notre Dame passing on his enrollment. After transferring to Florida State, Moss tested positive for marijuana in 1996, which violated his probation. He was dismissed from Florida State and ended up playing for Marshall, a Division I-AA school at the time. It was at Marshall where the nation got to see just how incredible Moss could be on the football field.

In two seasons at Marshall, Moss caught 174 passes for 3,529 yards and 54 touchdowns in 28 games. The highlight reel speaks for itself. Moss would have been an asset to any team that drafted him, but the Vikings were the team that did. The draft slide may have been a blessing in disguise. Head coach Dennis Green's Minnesota teams often made the playoffs in the 1990s, but often flamed out in the first or second round too. The Vikings needed a spark, and wide receiver Cris Carter could serve as a good mentor to Moss given his own personal struggles off the field earlier in life.

What transpired in Minnesota in 1998 was largely unexpected.

In the first half of his first NFL game, Moss had 31- and 48-yard touchdowns. We just did a study last week on Jarvis Landry's 288 catches, and how he only has three touchdowns of 15-plus yards in three seasons. Moss had two in one half of play. In Dallas in Week 13, Moss had touchdown catches of 51, 56, and 56 yards to embarrass a team he thought was going to draft him. Destroying Dallas became a Moss tradition.

By season's end, Moss had set a rookie record with 17 touchdown catches. That record really hasn't been challenged since. In fact, let's put it into perspective just how crazy that achievement was. Since Moss did that in 1998, there have only been three seasons in which a player of any experience level has had at least 17 touchdown catches. Moss has two of those three seasons (2003 and 2007). The only other player to do it was Rob Gronkowski, who had 17 touchdowns in 2011. Gronkowski might just be the best tight end in NFL history too.

So far we have mentioned touchdowns a lot, and for obvious reasons. But Moss' 1,313 receiving yards in 1998 still rank as the third most by a rookie in NFL history. Moss' 425 receiving DYAR was the rookie record (since 1986) until New Orleans' Michael Thomas just surpassed him last season with 431. Moss won the AP Offensive Rookie of the Year award and was a first-team All-Pro selection.

Of course, Moss wasn't doing this alone. He had a quarterback in Randall Cunningham who had been MVP-caliber earlier in his career, but had not done much in the years leading up to 1998. (He had even taken a year off from football in 1996, starting a marble and granite installation company.) Carter, Jake Smith, and running back Robert Smith were good players, and the offensive line had a future Hall of Fame guard in Randall McDaniel. Yet it is hard to imagine that the Vikings would have ever hit such highs in 1998 had Moss not joined the team.

The dominance of Moss helped the Vikings to a 15-1 mark, and they set a new record with 556 points scored. The 1998 Vikings are still the only team in NFL history to score at least 24 points in every game of a season. They did so in the playoffs as well, including a Moss touchdown in each game, but fans will always remember the three points the team did not add. In the 1998 NFC Championship Game, Gary Anderson missed a 38-yard field goal that would have given the Vikings a 30-20 lead with 2:07 left in the game. It was Anderson's first miss of the season. Atlanta went on to tie the game and win in overtime. The dream season was over, and Moss' chance to cap off his rookie season on the game's biggest stage was denied.

Minnesota's scoring record fell nine seasons later, broken by another Moss team.

1999-2004: The Randy Ratio

For this era in the NFL, it didn't get much better than watching Moss make a big touchdown catch. Moss continued his stellar play in Minnesota after the offense transitioned from Pocket Cunningham to Surly Jeff George, and then to Scramblin' Daunte Culpepper. Moss was All-Pro again in 2000, but the Vikings ended that season with one of the biggest duds any team has displayed in the playoffs: a 41-0 loss to the Giants in the NFC Championship Game.

Mike Tice took over full time for Green in 2002, and Carter was gone as well. The offense was pretty bare bones at that point. These were the players vying for targets that year: D'Wayne Bates, Jim Kleinsasser, Byron Chamberlain, Moe Williams, Michael Bennett, and Derrick Alexander. With that type of cast, wouldn't you throw to Moss as much as you could?

Tice may have let the cat out of the bag, advertising a "Randy Ratio" that was a goal to throw 40 percent of the team's passes to Moss. That would be akin to 200 targets out of 500 attempts, so not the most preposterous thing in NFL history, but certainly not a good sign for balance and team play. That season, Moss finished with 185 targets, 105 more than his next closest teammate, but Culpepper's struggles with turnovers presented a major problem in a 6-10 season. Repeatedly forcing the ball to Moss simply did not work. The Vikings had a higher passing DVOA (32.4%) when not throwing to Moss than they did throwing to Moss (17.4%) that season. As you will see later, that was most unusual.

Moss had 33.2 percent of Minnesota's targets in 2002. The next year, without the so-called Randy Ratio, that number fell -- to 33.1 percent. The difference for Minnesota was a much sharper Culpepper, who rebounded with one of his best seasons. Against the Broncos, Moss made one of his greatest plays. Just before halftime, he caught a Hail Mary short of the goal line, but was able to lateral the ball back to Moe Williams for a touchdown. Moss was an All-Pro for the third time with career-highs in catches (111) and yards (1,632), but the Vikings were eliminated from the playoffs by a miracle touchdown thrown by a young Josh McCown in Week 17.

Culpepper was at his best in 2004, but Moss was unable to fully capitalize due to a hamstring injury. He missed three full games and served as a decoy in two others, only getting one target in those contests. He still managed to catch 13 touchdowns that year, and added two more in Minnesota's wild-card playoff win in Green Bay. Moss infamously pretended to moon the crowd at Lambeau, which drew the ire of FOX's Joe Buck. Hey, being able to elicit that much emotion from Buck might be Hall of Fame-worthy itself.

Moss would only catch one more touchdown in his playoff career, and Buck was there for that call too, but again, we'll get to that later. Moss actually never cracked 70 receiving yards in his last 10 playoff games after doing so in each of his first five playoff games.

The hamstring injury limited Moss to 767 receiving yards in 2004. He is still the only player in NFL history to start a career with six straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Cincinnati's A.J. Green was 36 yards away from tying that feat, but injury got him last year too. Moss' first six seasons were all at least 1,200-yard seasons, while only half of Green's were. That is why Moss has the most receiving yards (8,375) in a player's first six seasons in NFL history. He also had the most receptions (525), but Antonio Brown just nipped him with his 526th to end last season.

Moss' 2004 injury threw him off a record-setting pace, but he still ranks second to only Rice in 1,000-yard seasons (10) and 100-yard receiving games (64). Perhaps the biggest limiting factor to Moss' prime was his 2005 trade to Oakland.

2005-2006: The Black Hole of Losing

In March 2005, the Vikings traded Moss to the Raiders, the bad boys of the NFL. Even though Oakland had been to the Super Bowl in 2002, the Raiders were in the early stages of a rebuild in what became 13 years of not winning. Paired with an inefficient volume passer in Kerry Collins, Moss was just alright in his first Oakland season, finishing with 1,005 yards and eight touchdowns.

In 2006, Oakland fielded the worst offense in the league and showed that even a talent like Moss can't overcome that many flaws around him. The statistical breakdown for that year is interesting, and perhaps highlights some of the shared credit or blame for a quarterback and his receiver. Andrew Walter had 27 passing DYAR when throwing to Moss that year, while veteran Aaron Brooks had 6 DYAR on throws to Moss. That 33 DYAR is absolutely miniscule when Minnesota averaged 692 passing DYAR per season when throwing to Moss. But what really dragged the offense's numbers down further in 2006 was one trick play thrown by wide receiver Ronald Curry, which resulted in an interception (-24 DYAR). Marques Tuiasosopo threw three passes to Moss, including another interception, and those plays resulted in -52 DYAR. So that's -76 DYAR on four plays that were likely more the result of poor quarterback play and decision making than anything wrong with what Moss did.

Of course, Moss was well known for having an "on-and-off switch" when it came to his effort level. This was true in Minnesota, and it was certainly true in Oakland, where he quickly grew tired of losing. You can read accounts from teammates on how professional and dedicated Moss was in Oakland, but the ineptitude of that 2006 offense coached by Art Shell was likely to drop his interest level.

When I do stat searches for the period of 2006 to 2016, Andrew Walter is often a name that comes up at the bottom. He was Moss' primary quarterback that year, and it's really no wonder why Moss couldn't elevate Walter like he had done for so many other passers in Minnesota. If Moss had stayed in Oakland any longer, we might not even be talking about the Hall of Fame for him at this point, as his career would have continued to decay. He would be closer to Andre Rison than to Jerry Rice.

In 2007, the Raiders drafted another quarterback who almost always shows up at the bottom in my stat searches: JaMarcus Russell. Fortunately, Moss was traded to New England that offseason for a fourth-round pick. With the proper motivation, Moss was ready to help another team break the scoring record and challenge for a perfect season.

2007-2009: The Patriot Way

Seriously, how did the league let the Patriots fleece the Raiders so that Moss could pair up with Bill Belichick and Tom Brady for just a fourth-round pick? Brett Favre wanted Moss in Green Bay, which certainly would have reshaped a memorable 2007 season, but New England became his new home. Like when he started in Minnesota, Moss had great help around him. The Patriots also added Wes Welker and Donte' Stallworth to form a dynamic receiving trio with Moss.

In just one game, Moss showed he was clearly still the most dangerous receiver in the league. He outraced three Jets for a 51-yard touchdown as part of his 183-yard debut with the Patriots. This New England juggernaut got scarier and scarier by the week. After big catches by Moss helped a fourth-quarter comeback in Indianapolis, Moss embarrassed Buffalo in prime time with a career-high four touchdowns. The Patriots were 10-0 and Brady had thrown 38 touchdowns, including 16 to Moss. This looked like the greatest offense and greatest team in NFL history, and it is hard to imagine things ever going that well without the addition of Moss.

However, from that point on, the 2007 Patriots went from historically incredible to merely great. They finished the season with 589 points, breaking Minnesota's 1998 scoring record. Moss still kept scoring too, and had another highlight moment on the night the Patriots completed the 16-0 regular season against the Giants. Trailing 28-23 in the fourth quarter, Brady found Moss deep behind the defense for a 65-yard game-winning touchdown. The score was Moss' 23rd of the season, breaking Jerry Rice's record of 22 touchdown catches (done in 12 games) in a season. It was also Brady's 50th touchdown toss that season, setting the record (since broken) in that category as well. Brady had never thrown more than 28 touchdowns in a season before 2007, but had 23 to Moss alone that year.

The duo was quiet in the postseason, but still connected for a 6-yard go-ahead touchdown with 2:42 left in Super Bowl XLII against the Giants. That play was not as highlight-worthy as the one in Week 17, but it would be shown a lot more had the Patriots held on to complete the perfect season. Instead, we see David Tyree's helmet catch all the time, complete with Joe Buck's lack of enthusiasm on the call. Perhaps the play Moss is known best for in that game was the "almost catch" on the final drive. Brady threw a pass roughly 70 yards down the field, and Moss was eerily close to hauling that one in for an all-time great play. Alas, Moss' best shot at a ring and some football immortality evaporated.

That was also the peak for the short-lived combo of Brady and Moss. Hopes were dashed much sooner in 2008 when Brady tore his ACL in Week 1. Moss still had a productive season in helping inexperienced backup Matt Cassel along at quarterback. The Patriots missed the playoffs despite an 11-5 record. Brady returned in 2009, but defenses were better prepared to defend this offense. Moss led the league in touchdown catches for the fifth time, but with only 13.

2010-2012: The Awkward Finish

Expectations were still very high, as they always are, for the Patriots going into 2010. Brady-to-Moss was still a connection to fear, as New York's Darrelle Revis learned the hard way in a Week 2 contest. Moss caught a one-handed touchdown over Revis, though the Jets still won that game.

Rumors were swirling that Moss wanted out of New England after not getting a contract extension before the season. In a Week 4 game in Miami on Monday Night Football, it almost looked like the Patriots were making a point to prove that they did not need to throw to Moss to win. Moss had just one target in the game, and it was a fake spike attempt before halftime. The Patriots won 41-14 and shifted immediately into an offense that was built around Welker and two rookie tight ends (Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez). Moss infamously had a huge argument with offensive coordinator Bill O'Brien in the locker room.

Two days later, Moss was back in Minnesota after a stunning trade. He finally got to play with Favre, though Favre was in his final season and his body was failing him by then. Not even a month later, Moss was critical of his new head coach Brad Childress, especially after a Vikings loss to the Patriots. Moss was waived after four games with the Vikings. Tennessee picked him up off waivers, and Moss played the final eight games of 2010 with the Titans. He caught just six balls on 16 targets for 80 yards in that stretch.

At 33 years old, Moss was unproductive for three teams in the same season just a year after he led the NFL in touchdowns. His 2010 remains one of the oddest seasons ever for a player of his caliber. Moss retired ahead of the 2011 season, but returned for one last try with the 49ers in 2012. He was helpful as a No. 3 wideout, but the days of dominance were clearly over. The 49ers reached the Super Bowl, but came up a drive short of the win. Moss had two grabs for 41 yards in that game. The last target of his NFL career was an incompletion from Colin Kaepernick on a two-point conversion that would have tied the game in the fourth quarter. The pass was thrown away.

Moss' final numbers include 982 receptions (15th in NFL history), 15,292 receiving yards (third), and 156 touchdown catches (second). We also compiled our advanced metrics on Moss' impact on his teams. "Team Pass DYAR" is the sum of Moss' quarterbacks' DYAR with sacks and aborted snaps excluded. "Moss DYAR" is the passing DYAR earned only on targets to Moss. The "Randy Ratio" is the percentage of the team's passing DYAR that Moss accounted for that season. "Passes" is how many targets Moss had, which includes defensive pass interference penalties. "Moss DVOA" is the passing DVOA of quarterbacks on throws to Moss, while "Team Pass DVOA" is their passing DVOA on throws to other players, with sacks and aborted snaps excluded. "DIFF" is the difference between those two DVOA columns. The averages in the final row for DVOA are weighted by attempts. For the 2010 data, we only used the weeks in which he was a member of his three teams.

Randy Moss: Team Passing DYAR and DVOA Breakdown
Year Team Team
Pass DYAR
Moss DYAR Randy Ratio Passes Moss DVOA Team
Pass DVOA
DIFF
1998 MIN 2,211 806 36.5% 128 85.6% 42.6% 43.0%
1999 MIN 2,020 689 34.1% 142 71.0% 42.1% 28.9%
2000 MIN 1,895 904 47.7% 128 96.2% 31.4% 64.8%
2001 MIN 1,199 498 41.6% 159 38.2% 16.4% 21.9%
2002 MIN 1,395 354 25.4% 187 17.4% 32.4% -15.0%
2003 MIN 1,886 981 52.0% 174 73.9% 29.8% 44.1%
2004 MIN 2,597 613 23.6% 91 83.8% 53.1% 30.7%
2005 OAK 1,275 386 30.3% 126 38.1% 19.1% 19.0%
2006 OAK 148 -42 -28.4% 97 -18.2% -3.0% -15.2%
2007 NE 3,037 978 32.2% 166 73.5% 60.7% 12.8%
2008 NE 1,214 409 33.7% 127 35.6% 19.1% 16.5%
2009 NE 2,346 675 28.8% 139 58.2% 44.4% 13.8%
2010 NE 474 24 5.1% 22 11.0% 60.1% -49.1%
2010 MIN 210 90 42.8% 26 49.0% 8.7% 40.3%
2010 TEN 182 15 8.2% 17 3.3% -0.6% 3.8%
2012 SF 1,591 93 5.8% 51 16.6% 48.1% -31.5%
TOT - 23,680 7,473 31.6% 1780 52.5% 31.5% 19.4%

Moss accounted for 31.6 percent of his team's passing DYAR. He was above 40.0 percent for three seasons in his prime in Minnesota. Cunningham (1998), George (1999), Culpepper (2004), and Brady (2007) all had their career-high DVOA seasons with Moss as their receiver. His only down years where his team had more success when throwing to other players were 2002, 2006, 2010, and 2012. Overall, Moss' teams were about 20 percentage points better in DVOA when throwing to him compared to his teammates. We'll look at how that compares to Marvin Harrison and Terrell Owens tomorrow in our formal Hall of Fame predictions.

Canton's Wide Receiver Stigma

A player with Moss' resume would seem like a sure thing for a quick entry into Canton. However, we're talking about a wide receiver here, and for whatever reason, voters have had a tough time at sorting out receivers for the Hall of Fame. There have been 25 modern-era selections, and only five have been first-ballot selections.

Pro Football Hall of Fame: Modern-Era Wide Receivers (25)
Wide Receiver Class Eligibility (Years) Year as Finalist
Raymond Berry 1973 1 1
Lance Alworth 1978 1 1
Paul Warfield 1983 1 1
Steve Largent 1995 1 1
Jerry Rice 2010 1 1
Charley Taylor 1984 2 2
Michael Irvin 2007 3 3
Marvin Harrison 2016 3 3
James Lofton 2003 5 3
Fred Biletnikoff 1988 5 5
Charlie Joiner 1996 5 5
Wide Receiver Class Eligibility (Years) Year as Finalist
Cris Carter 2013 6 6
Tim Brown 2015 6 6
Elroy Hirsch 1968 6 N/A
Tom Fears 1970 8 1
Pete Pihos 1970 8 1
Art Monk 2008 8 8
Don Maynard 1987 9 8
Andre Reed 2014 9 8
Bobby Mitchell 1983 10 1
John Stallworth 2002 10 8
Dante Lavelli 1975 13 6
Lynn Swann 2001 14 14
Tommy McDonald 1998 25 (*Senior nominee) 2
Bob Hayes 2009 29 (*Senior nominee) 2

Again, Steve Largent (the first player with 100 touchdown catches) and Jerry Rice are the only primarily post-1978 receivers to go in on their first ballot. Everyone else waited at least three years. James Lofton retired after 1993 as the only player with 14,000 receiving yards. He had to wait through five years of eligibility to get in. Michael Irvin helped Dallas to three Super Bowl wins, but had to wait three years while the other "triplets," Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith, were first-ballot selections. Art Monk retired with 940 receptions, only two fewer than Rice had after 1995, and he was an eight-time finalist. So was Buffalo's Andre Reed, the leading receiver on Buffalo's four Super Bowl teams. We talked about Cris Carter's six-year wait, but Tim Brown waited just as long. Marvin Harrison also had to wait until a third ballot.

Is it just the nature of the position? We have to consider the quality of the receiver's quarterback, his other receiving teammates, and how often his team threw the ball. Were his reception totals "juiced" with a lot of short, ineffective passes a la Jarvis Landry? Are his touchdowns lower because the team has a strong running game in the red zone? Does that explain why Julio Jones has one double-digit touchdown season, and that was only 10 scores? Receivers also tend to accumulate more "garbage-time" statistics due to the offensive philosophy when trailing big, but this usually gets overblown in the grand scheme of things. Most NFL games are close, even those involving the Browns or Blake Bortles.

These are things that have to be considered, especially with the modern crop of wideouts, but I wish I could say this was only a modern problem. The Hall of Fame has a long history of treating wideouts in a fashion that just doesn't make much sense.

There have been 10 players (non-senior candidates) who were elected after being a finalist at least eight times, and five of them were wide receivers. Lynn Swann still holds the record as a finalist for 14 consecutive years. No position has led to more indecisiveness from voters than wide receiver. This is no doubt going to play a factor in Moss' case.

The Verdict

I would vote for Moss to go into the Hall of Fame next year, but neither I nor anyone else on this site has a vote. That's up to 50 other people to decide what they want to get out of this process. At the end of the day, a Hall of Famer is a Hall of Famer. Not many people care if a guy goes in on his first ballot or his third. The quality of the players who become eligible the same year as you plays a big part in this as well, and Moss has to deal with a sure-fire choice in Ray Lewis.

However, voters still find ways to push players through the process on the first ballot all the time. Since 2009, 15 players have been elected on their first ballot, including six classes with multiple selections. If Jason Taylor and LaDainian Tomlinson were good enough to jump the field this year, then why not do the same for Lewis and Moss next year?

Is Moss a media darling with a perfect resume? Of course not, but did I mention that the other guy he will compete for a spot with this year is Ray Lewis? Enough said. Maybe I have the wrong vision for Canton, but if you have a generational talent who helps two franchises to scoring records and countless highlights, then that sounds like a first-ballot Hall of Famer to me.

For any voter not in support of Moss next year, I have just one question. If the best wide receiver since Rice can't get into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot, then who can?

Posted by: Scott Kacsmar on 02 Aug 2017

45 comments, Last at 08 Aug 2017, 11:25am by MilkmanDanimal

Comments

1
by Led :: Wed, 08/02/2017 - 4:15pm

Excellent piece. This may be heresy, but on a good team and for a single season I'd take Moss over Rice without hesitation. Rice was mister consistent and had the greater career, obviously. But motivated Randy Moss was the greatest WR, and one of the greatest players period, I've ever seen. He should be able to fake moon his way into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot.

2
by dmstorm22 :: Wed, 08/02/2017 - 4:24pm

I think Moss will get in. I feel he was more liked, and more revered, by the media than TO who has had to wait for all silly reasons.

I think the consensus was he was at worst the 2nd most talented receiver ever and 'played when he wanted to play' enough to have a ridiculous resume on stats alone.

While he may not have been a media favorite while playing, he is a member of the media now. With all the shakeups I can't remember if he is still with ESPN or not, but I think he's still there. That may help him as well.

3
by Dan :: Wed, 08/02/2017 - 4:34pm

Moss has a surprisingly strong case for being the greatest WR of all time, based on how much his teams' offense improved when he joined. I'm not finding the original article where I read this, but there are similar stats in the 538 article from a few years ago, "Randy Moss May Well Have Been The Greatest Receiver Of All Time" (easily googleable; not linked due to spam filter).

4
by Bryan Knowles :: Wed, 08/02/2017 - 4:37pm

Owens should have gotten in on the first ballot. Moss was better than Owens. ERGO!

13
by Damon :: Wed, 08/02/2017 - 11:20pm

Terrell Owens is a Hall of Famer, but 1st ballot? No.

For one thing, Owens had just one 1000 yard season in his first 4 years and wasn't selected to his first Pro Bowl/All Pro team until Year 5. I just think that has to matter, especially when Moss made the Pro Bowl four times, was 1st team All Pro twice and had 1000+ yards in each of his first 5 years.

To be 1st ballot at any position I feel like you need to be dominant from Day 1, have a strong peak and have a quality seasons/accomplishments, but it's easy for people to get more caught up in volume (career stats) and focus less on quality of their individual seasons. In Owens case, he had a nice five year peak from 2000-2004 averaging 1293 receiving yards and 13 TDs a year, but that gets cancelled out by his first 4 seasons (827 yards and 8 TDs per year), his last 6 seasons (just 1 1200+ yard season) and the fact he finished top 10 just 3 times in receptions and 5 times in receiving yards. Not to mention that Marvin Harrison had a better peak from 1999-2006 was consistent across the board in terms of catches (top 10 six times), receiving yards (top 10 seven times) and TD catches (8 times) in ways Owens wasn't.

On the flip side, Moss ranked top 10 in receiving yards 8 times in 14 years and 9 times in TD catches, while having the best rookie season by a receiver in NFL history in 1998, a stronger peak than Owens (1998-2003, 6 straight 1200+ yard seasons to start his career, also an NFL record) and a good 3 year stretch in New England that saw him have two 1200+ yard seasons while leading the league outright in TD catches in 2007 and tying for the most TD catches in 2009 that closed out his 1st ballot HOF case (and he needed it too).

14
by theslothook :: Thu, 08/03/2017 - 12:02am

I think this analysis highlights just how harsh voters are with receivers. I think it's because we trust stats as a measure of value w receivers, while other positions have reputation carry a much bigger weight. Are we so sure hof linemen and lbs are so consistently great every year the way we are w receivers?

37
by t.d. :: Fri, 08/04/2017 - 7:55pm

I don't have a problem with TO waiting, but Jerry Rice was still the WR1 for the 49ers for Owens's first four seasons, before moving on to the Raiders for a couple more prominent seasons. Even if TO was phenomenal, there was bound to be some institutional inertia preventing him from taking a bigger role, especially considering these were the twilight years of the 49er dynasty (and, unlike Moss, who came anointed as a generational prospect, TO had to fight his way up the depth chart)

32
by Aaron Brooks Go... :: Fri, 08/04/2017 - 3:16pm

1. Moss doesn't have to buy a drink in NE or Minnesota.
2. Owens shouldn't drink anything given to him in Philly or SF.

That's the difference.

Moss was occasionally lazy and didn't quite play up to his talent. Owens was a destructive id monster who was asked to leave two teams.

Owens was crazier and more self-absorbed than Michael Irvin, and he didn't even have crack as an excuse!

35
by MilkmanDanimal :: Fri, 08/04/2017 - 3:27pm

Lots of fans can't stand T.O., but it sure seems like loads of his coaches and fellow players have all sorts of good things to say about him. I though I recall reading Wade Philips said he wanted to keep T.O. around in Dallas, but the team went a different way.

For a guy portrayed as some kind of locker room-devouring monster, he had a 15 year career. People always wanted to sign him.

38
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Sat, 08/05/2017 - 6:34am

Andy Reid suspended him midway through the 2005 season. I can't recall him doing that with anyone else.

Bill Parcells referred to him as "the player" rather than by name and is on record as saying he was "highly disruptive".

Teams always want to sign talented players because they believe they can turn them around. Sometimes it works, for others it doesn't. Truth is TO had a mad 7-8 year period from 2000-08. Before that he was apparently a respectful, quiet guy in SF and he finished his years in Cincinnati and Buffalo without any press coverage. Given his reputation for blowing up his QBs (Garcia, McNabb, jealous of Romo and Witten), Buffalo presented him a perfect opportunity yet somehow he stayed quiet.

To be honest, I think TO should be in the HoF. But I'm more than comfortable with the HoF voters giving him a timeout to sit on the naughty step while he reflects on his actions before getting in ...

5
by junglejoe_lv :: Wed, 08/02/2017 - 4:59pm

Carter, Jake Smith, and running back Robert Smith were good players,

Should read Jake Reed not Jake Smith

6
by Will Allen :: Wed, 08/02/2017 - 6:01pm

Mike Shanahan said in 2004 that he had never seen an NFL scheme, prior to the Vikings that year, where the plan was to have a reveiver run downfield, and the QB toss it in his general direction. I know that I've never seen a player dictate terms to an opposing defense like Moss did. There were so very few dbs who would not be automatic toast, if they tried to play Moss normally.

In addition to the near miracle he almost pulled in the closing moments of the Super Bowl, he also was 5 yards clear of any defender in the overtime against the Falcons in the NFCCG, and Cunningham underthrew him.

7
by bachslunch :: Wed, 08/02/2017 - 6:06pm

Definitely think Randy Moss is a first ballot level WR, but it's entirely possible he won't actually be. There may be enough voters who want to make him wait a year or two because of character related issues and his "dogging it" at times. And given that only five WR have ever accomplished this (Warfield, Berry, Alworth, Largent, and Rice), some voters may be reluctant to put Moss at their level.

Besides, being first ballot sometimes depends on how much competition you have in a given year. Players like Jackie Slater, Jim Kelly, and Darrell Green were first ballot folks in weak years for first timers.

8
by Will Allen :: Wed, 08/02/2017 - 6:49pm

I am not going to mention by name an institution that saw fit to vote in Jerry Effin' Jones, before any number of great players, including the Cowboys' Chuck Howley. What. A. Joke.

17
by Raiderjoe :: Thu, 08/03/2017 - 10:54am

yes is kidn of dumb Jerry Jones made it in. maybe gave dsome of the voters a boat ride

have been to hall fo fame myself. don't need to go agaion for museum looking but could go bakc to ralph Wilson research library if doing research for writing oproject like book or article.

still have interest in which player s make it in hall of fgame but do not care about owners or GMs or contriburors getting in. nice that Ed Sabol is in btu not suoper concerned about non-players. not even that concerned about coaches.
mainly about players for me. some coach dude up against some guy who played 14 years and one can take spot from another and god forbid tjhree linemen or four QBs make it in on same class I dislike stuff like that

whever I do my Hall of Game (to be announced on own blog and/or other person;s blog) it will be only players becuause the Hall of Game is for players only

18
by Will Allen :: Thu, 08/03/2017 - 11:56am

DeBartolo last year and Jones this year is the last straw for me, especially given that there are obviously worthy former players who are literally dying without enjoying the recognition they earned. Really disgusting.

9
by Alaska Jack :: Wed, 08/02/2017 - 7:04pm

From the "read accounts of teammates" link:

>> During the plane flights, Moss would take it upon himself to walk around the entire plane with a giant plastic bag and a permanent marker collecting twenty dollar bills with the name of original owner written on it. He would put all the money together in the bag after collecting from everyone willing to play (which tended to be most of the plane) and give the bag to a flight attendant

WHOA! AWESOME!!

>> (who had no stake in the raffle) and have her reach in and pull out a single bill. The name on the bill would determine the winner of the entire bag of money, which often totaled around a few thousand dollars.

Oh.

10
by Damon :: Wed, 08/02/2017 - 9:30pm

"The Hall of Fame has a long history of treating wideouts in a fashion that just doesn't make much sense."

In the words of yourself Scott on your NFL season preview blog from last year when talking about Antonio Brown's MVP chances, you said: It's a passing league, not a catching league.

And you're right, from 1986-1996, a WR received votes for offensive player of the year all 11 years. From 1997-2016, just 10 of the last 20 seasons a WR got a vote and that includes Steve Smith's 2005 triple crown and Calvin Johnson's 2011, neither of which got votes, ditto Randy Moss' 2003 season (his best season IMO). So when stuff like that happens, you know how the voting is slanted against receivers.

41
by Mr Shush :: Tue, 08/08/2017 - 7:27am

I would absolutely have made Smith MVP in 2005 and Moss in 2007, never mind OPOY.

11
by MarkV :: Wed, 08/02/2017 - 10:48pm

This type of analysis is suspect in my opinion because it will inevitably suggest too many Hall of famers.

There are 50 Hall of Fame slots per decade. Allocate 25-28 to offense, and then probably there is space for somewhere around 5 - 7 wrs.

The real question functionally becomes was he clearly and unquestionably in the top 5. And honestly it is hard to say that about moss for me. He was great. But so were Bruce, Harrison, Holt, Smith, ward, owens, Johnson, smith, Fitzgerald.

If he was universally acknowledged as always better than all those others, he should be first ballot hof. I think it's easy to say he makes the top 10, but it takes some sophistication to make it clear that he should be in instead of other guys. So i would expect it to take 3-5 years for him to get in.

16
by James-London :: Thu, 08/03/2017 - 9:21am

I'm going out on limb here, and will suggest the answer to your "was Moss unquestionably in the Top 5?" is Yes. Of the guys you list, I'd argue that only Fitz has a case against Moss for No.1, and it's not a great one. Moss might be one of the five best players of his generation, never mind WR.

Of your list, I assume one of the Smiths is Steve and the other Jimmy. Steve Smith, Owens, Fitz & Johnson should make it, I'd prefer Bruce to Holt; Jimmy's not going in (and nor should he), and Heinz Ward should be forced to buy a ticket like everyone else. Of course, he's a Steeler with ringzz so it's going to happen.

Phil Simms is a Cretin.

21
by theslothook :: Thu, 08/03/2017 - 12:50pm

Randy to me is a top 10 all time player. Only three players in my viewing history caused me to say I had never seen his likeness before: Moss, Gronk, and JJ Watt.

22
by Damon :: Thu, 08/03/2017 - 1:10pm

When NFL Network did their top 100 players of all-time back in 2010, Moss ranked 65th overall and 5th among receivers behind Rice, Hutson, Raymond Berry and Lance Alworth.

Owens didn't crack the top 100, falling behind WR's like Paul Warfield, Crazy Legs Hirsch and Michael Irvin, who all made the list. Amazingly, Steve Largent didn't make the top 100 either.

24
by theslothook :: Thu, 08/03/2017 - 2:20pm

WR seem to be historically under appreciated and there are a few theories about why:

1) Tied to the qb and the qb will almost always get the lion's share of the credit

2) Considered Divas or stat whores. True football players don't care about stats

3) Aside from Kickers, considered the softest players on the team. They don't like to block and they don't deliver big hits. (somehow getting killed over the middle doesn't earn the same respect as running through the whole).

I hate all three arguments honestly. Outside of qb and probably a dominant pass rusher, a great receiver impacts the game more than any other position. It tilts coverage in his direction.

Ray lewis may have been one of the greatest players in nfl history but I strongly suspect most people would take a try hard Moss any day over Ray Lewis. I certainly would without a second's thought.

40
by ChrisS :: Mon, 08/07/2017 - 11:19am

I think a lack of repsect for WR's may come from the limited number of plays they are directly involved in (except for Hines Ward blocking on almost every play). Marvin H has the record for receptions in a season, and that works out to just under 9 per game. QB's can throw 40/game, Rb's can rush/catch 25/game, OL are in for most every play, TE's can catch 6 per game and block on most of the other plays. So perhaps WR's with their 7 catches per game are seen as having a smaller efect on the game

42
by Mr Shush :: Tue, 08/08/2017 - 7:32am

You may well be right, but it's pretty silly if so. Receivers affect plays where they're not targeted, and even running plays to the opposite side, by dictating the coverage. Does anyone seriously believe it isn't easier to run when the opposition are worrying about how the Hell to cover Randy Moss?

45
by MilkmanDanimal :: Tue, 08/08/2017 - 11:25am

See Price, Peerless, or Harper, Alvin for WR evidence; lots of really good #2 WRs are only really good because #1 is drawing all the coverage.

31
by mrt1212 :: Fri, 08/04/2017 - 12:58pm

He will never be universally acknowledged, that's a high hurdle with haters abound.

12
by theslothook :: Wed, 08/02/2017 - 11:02pm

I disliked Randy Moss the professional a lot more than I did TO. I acknowledge Moss was better by a decent amount, but it's funny how people make excuses for Moss' bad behavior and say it was price of greatness but To is somehow not?

15
by Bright Blue Shorts :: Thu, 08/03/2017 - 7:56am

What bad behaviour do you accredit to Moss? I can think of very little by comparison to Owens (and many other players).

I don't think either player liked losing.

Randy's reaction was to give up and go into his shell which while not what you want from your team leaders, shouldn't take away from the performance of those around him.

Owens on the other hand would lash out, point the finger and generally make things worse because it created bad blood, distracted teammates and created extra work and tolerance to resolve the conflict.

19
by BigRichie :: Thu, 08/03/2017 - 12:23pm

Yeah, major difference between going into a shell as opposed to lashing out at the coach, QB, etc., etc. And TO went well out of his way to so lash out at others.

20
by theslothook :: Thu, 08/03/2017 - 12:47pm

Randy's bad behavior was certainly less flamboyant, but it was nonetheless there. "Going into a shell" is an anodyne spin to the more abominable "quitting on his team". He may have disliked losing, but he still collected a paycheck so it was unprofessional to say the least.

But even if you find this tolerable, remember his antics led him to getting traded 4 times. He openly called out coaches, including a press conference shot at Belichik. His abrasive behavior led to him being traded the first time when his awful locker room presence moved beyond the benefits of his enormous talent. I mean...you have to be a huge prick for a team to trade a once in a decade talent.

I'm not suggesting Moss isn't a HOFer, just amazed at the different spin he gets from TO.

23
by sbond101 :: Thu, 08/03/2017 - 1:57pm

To top it off, even when the team was winning there was always the "get me the ball or I will stop blocking/playing" factor. Every game in NE after 07 it was always worth being on Moss-watch to see whether he was going to actually play. What's fascinating about the situation is that he was so transcendently talented that he could "quit" a fair chunk of the time and still put up potentially first-ballot HOF numbers. I'm not old enough to have known what I was seeing when I saw Jerry Rice, but I've never seen a receiver capable of anything like what Moss was capable of.

25
by Bobikus :: Thu, 08/03/2017 - 2:21pm

Moss was unquestionably better than any of those guys except maaaaybe Owens.

26
by Theo :: Thu, 08/03/2017 - 2:34pm

He's the best WR I have seen in my time watching NFL - which is since 1999.
Owens should be in the HOF, between him and Moss it's a toss up if you look at consistency/versatility/character.
Megatron, Fitz, Holt, Bruce, Andre Johnson and 85 are good, but not Randy Moss good.
All are miles behind Jerry Rice.

27
by theslothook :: Thu, 08/03/2017 - 2:40pm

I feel like Megatron was nearly as good. He was definitely more polished and ran the route tree better than Moss. Hes not the kind to outrun three defenders and outleap a safety for the ball, but he did a lot to make me think I had never seen a receiver as polished with that size.

That said - Moss' ability to kill any defense deep opened up the entire field in a way no other receiver has ever.

28
by t.d. :: Thu, 08/03/2017 - 5:56pm

I agree with the other posters who make the case that Moss probably had a higher peak than Rice. Moss's best two teams, the '98 Vikes and the '07 Pats, felt like they were virtually unstoppable. I do think it hurts Rice in the 'peak value' argument that he probably had about 15 seasons at 'very near peak value'- the unstoppable highs of '87-'90 sort of blur into the 'clear first ballot HoFer' of the rest of the '90s into the aughts. Still, the guy who made all of those 'jag' quarterbacks effective probably gets the slight 'peak' nod from me

29
by Damon :: Fri, 08/04/2017 - 11:08am

"For any voter not in support of Moss next year, I have just one question. If the best wide receiver since Rice can't get into the Hall of Fame on his first ballot, then who can?"

My best guess would be Larry Fitzgerald

And that would be dubious, much like 5 of his 10 Pro Bowl appearances when he had less than 1200 yards receiving.

30
by theslothook :: Fri, 08/04/2017 - 12:30pm

I'm sure context had something to do with that

43
by Mr Shush :: Tue, 08/08/2017 - 7:38am

Yeah, that generation of top receivers is really screwed around by the quarterbacking they got. I think Andre Johnson, Fitzgerald and Steve Smith were all clearly better players than Harrison, Wayne, Holt or Bruce (though Smith's case is also hurt by a lot of time lost to injury) but the latter four got so much luckier with their quarterbacks.

33
by MilkmanDanimal :: Fri, 08/04/2017 - 3:19pm

I cannot even conceive of how someone would think a player as great as Randy Moss is not a first-ballot HOF guy. One of the greatest rookie seasons ever, years of high-level play, manage to not eat his own fist stuck in the cesspool of the mid-oughts Raiders, and then an even higher peak. I don't care if he was a jerk. He was utterly terrifying like no other offensive player I've ever watched.

34
by Guest789 :: Fri, 08/04/2017 - 3:24pm

This. I wasn't aware that there was even a debate to be had. For my money the third-best wideout of all time after Rice and Hutson.

36
by theslothook :: Fri, 08/04/2017 - 4:52pm

Its not debating his HOF cred. Its just interesting that Moss has a completely different reputation than TO.

To's drama was more public, but do people really think Moss was a model citizen and occasionally took games off? He was traded 4 times!

44
by Mr Shush :: Tue, 08/08/2017 - 7:47am

I'm just not even sure you can compare Hutson meaningfully to modern players. How do you era adjust for a three way player in a segregated league, with several seasons in wartime? He was insanely dominant in the context of his time, but it's not clear that we should value dominating in the 30s and 40s as highly as dominating in the 90s and 00s.

39
by Michael.Edits :: Sat, 08/05/2017 - 9:17am

I vote when I want to vote.