Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

29 Apr 2007

You Go to War with the Randy Moss You Have

The Patriots have traded for Randy Moss, giving Tom Brady by far the best receiver he has ever had and thereby guaranteeing the Patriots another Super Bowl. That will be the conventional wisdom. The only red flag anyone will bring up is Moss' character concerns and whether he can fit into the team-first approach in New England. Maybe that is an issue (it certainly was not for Corey Dillon), but a bigger problem could be that Moss is simply no longer a star player.

Similarity scores are a tool used to compare people to other players who posted similar numbers over a given time period. A quick glance at Moss’ three-year similarity profile is very alarming. (Only yards are listed, but similarity scores also compare catches, touchdowns, and average yards per catch.)

Name Years Yards Yr 1-3 Age +1 G+1 Rec +1 Yds+1
Randy Moss 2004-06 767, 1005, 553 30
Drew Pearson 1978-80 714, 1026, 568 30 16 38 614
Sam McCullum 1979-81 739, 874, 567 30 11* 21* 233*
James Jett 1997-99 804, 882, 552 30 11 20 356
Freddie Solomon 1980-82 658, 969, 574* 30 13 31 662
Ernie Jones 1990-92 724, 957, 559 29 10 5 56
Nat Moore 1978-80 645, 840, 564 30 13 26 452
Andre Rison 1996-98 593, 1092, 542 32 15 21 218
Webster Slaughter 1990-92 847, 906, 486 29 14 77 904
Antonio Freeman 2000-02 912, 818, 600 31 15 14 141
Ernest Givins 1992-94 787, 887, 521 31 9 29 280
Earnest Gray 1982-84 757*, 1139, 529 28 5 3 22

The names on the left are acceptable if not overly impressive. More than half had over 7,000 receiving yards in their careers. The numbers on the right represent the next season after the similar three-year stretch. Only one receiver had more than 700 yards. Some of these guys had another good season or two in them, but nobody hit 1,000 yards again.

Moss is a different animal because his peak was higher even than that of Rison or Pearson. The other assumption is that Oakland was too dysfunctional and/or Moss just did not care when he was there. Of course, both Doug Gabriel and Ronald Curry had success there the past two seasons. Gabriel, of course, came to the Patriots a season ago and struggled to get consistent playing time. Curry was actually the leading receiver on the Raiders last season.

Tom Brady is a better quarterback than Aaron Brooks, Andrew Walter, and Kerry Collins put together, but this is not Randy Moss circa 2002. Moss averaged a whopping 3.3 catches per game last season, and the once-dominant red zone threat scored just three touchdowns. He caught only 43% of the passes intended for him.

The truth is that Moss is 30 years old, and he always relied heavily on his speed to get open. He is not the physical receiver that Terrell Owens is or the master route-runner that Marvin Harrison is. As such, he is not likely to age gracefully. Moss always played better on the fast track of the Metrodome, so it is good news that the Patriots have gotten rid of their grass field.

Is Randy Moss an upgrade for the Patriots? Certainly, considering Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell were their second and third receivers. But, I think it is a little wishful thinking to see Moss as a better player than Deion Branch at this point in his career. Branch also would have been a better fit opposite Donte Stallworth than the supposed deep threat in Moss. Only once in the last six years has Moss caught 60% of the passes intended for him, a total Branch hit three times in four years with the Patriots.

Still, the Patriots have to be commended for playing this one right. They unloaded Branch at the height of his value for a first-round pick and now steal Moss away for a fourth-round pick. His reputation alone should help open up the running game and get Stallworth one-on-one opportunities. Moss could easily get his 900 yards, 65 catches, and eight touchdowns, and the Patriots will be a better team. Just don't expect Moss to team with Brady to form some sort of Montana-Rice unstoppable duo.

Posted by: Ned Macey on 29 Apr 2007