Writers of Pro Football Prospectus 2008

31 Oct 2012

Randy Moss and Exceptions to the Rule

What makes a player great and why is greatness misunderstood?

Posted by: Matt Waldman on 31 Oct 2012

56 comments, Last at 03 Nov 2012, 6:31pm by CharlieBear


by Bright Blue Shorts :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 4:41pm

The question that article fails to address is why did a "great" player like Moss disappear in the playoffs?

The 16-0 Patriots season he was lauded for breaking the TD receptions record. His stats were 93 recs, 1493yds, 23TDs

Come the playoffs his stats were:
vs Jacksonville 1rec 14yds 0TD
vs San Diego 1rec 18yds 0TD
vs Giants 5rec 62yds 1TD
Total 7recs 94yds 1TD in 3games

by Independent George :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 4:50pm

I don't recall the other games very well, but the Giants pass rush had an awful lot to do with their inability to connect with Moss deep.

by tuluse :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 5:08pm

Brady went 26 for 28 against the Jaguars. Guess it's hard to make sure Moss is getting enough catches to impress people when you're staring wide open receivers in the face all day.

by WhoRegisteredAnonymous (not verified) :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 2:22pm

Also part of the reason why Brady went 26 of 28 and Maroney had a really good game rushing was because the Jags defensive strategy was to absolutely sell out against Moss while leaving little in the middle of the field. I remember seeing that game and thinking that it was the closest we'll see to a team playing a prevent defense but for the entire game.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 5:53pm

What stunned me at the end of that game was that when the Patriots were down to their last few plays, desperately seeking a miracle, Moss was still able to get about 5 yards clear on a go route, and if Brady had been given another second or so, and made, for him, what would have been an above average throw on a deep pattern, we may be talking about that game in an entirely different fashion.

by PatsFan :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 10:46pm

Yeah. As a Pats fan I'm not sure which is worse -- Tyree's catch or watching that desperation pass to Moss in slow motion. It was so, so close. If the NE OL could have given Brady 500msec more so he could have stepped into the throw a bit more, so that Moss didn't have to slow and let McQuarters and the other DB catch up, that was either a TD or a first down in chip-shot FG range.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 10:52pm

Moss at his best was the modern version of the Lombardi sweep. The defender knows what is coming. Moss knows that the defender knows what is coming. The defender knows that Moss knows that the defender knows what is coming. It works anyways.

by Podge (not verified) :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 6:35am

That basically sums up what makes a player great - its the difference between knowing what's coming, and knowing how to stop it.

by In_Belichick_We... :: Fri, 11/02/2012 - 7:07am

As a Pats fan, the part that bothers me the most is when the brilliant OC kept calling plays with 7 step drops when the OL was getting man-handled.

Entitled freeloader

by PatsFan :: Fri, 11/02/2012 - 9:21am

Got that right. Don't know why it took them so long to switch to the quicker-hitting stuff that got them the (temporarily) go-ahead TD.

by Paydro70 (not verified) :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 5:04pm

Oh please. In his career in the playoffs (12 games) Moss averaged 72 yds/gm and had 10 touchdowns (.83/gm). Regular season averages: 71.9 yds/gm, .74 tds/gm.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 5:48pm

Your rational approach is oppressive!

by CharlieBear (not verified) :: Sat, 11/03/2012 - 6:27pm

You must think you are some kind of wizard!

by RickD :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 12:34pm

How dare you object to cherry picking data points!

by Roch Bear :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 5:28pm

Aha, so the lazy b*** took the regular season games off, eh?

by RockyMtnHigh (not verified) :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 4:41pm

Great article!! I do believe this to be true, that most people who are great at something are not great at other things. Randy Moss's football greatness is undeniable. Even if you think he was a slacker, even if you think he only ran go routes, he accomplished more in this league than 99% of the people to ever play his position. That's worthy of recognition.

Those who claim otherwise are only frustrated that he didn't do more, as if there were more to do.

by Tim_quitusingmyname (not verified) :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 6:25pm

I think many folks don't wish to recognize mediocrity, especially in the areas of effort/dedication. Moss's effort was mediocre.

by Aloysius Mephis... :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 7:02pm

I think you're 100% right that that perception is what damages Moss in the eyes of many. As far as the truth of that perception, I don't think it's all wrong, but it is simplistic. It's correct in the sense that I don't think there's any precedent for a superstar basically going two years without giving full effort, as Moss did in Oakland. And Moss sometimes checked out of games if he was shut down early on. At the same time, Moss has showed extraordinary effort in many ways. In 2004 he scored 13 touchdowns while basically playing on one leg for much of the year. And his effort at preparing his body to play each Sunday is second to none. For all the complaints about Moss I don't recall anyone ever saying he was out of shape. He's been quite durable over the years, which is a testament both to his consistent fitness and his willingness to play in pain. He is also a tremendous student of the game, as Waldman points out.

I would say that Moss's effort and dedication have been inconsistent. Very good at times, and lacking at other times. Unfortunately for him, the times when his effort fell short tended to be very obvious and visible, tarnishing his reputation.

by Theo :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 7:15pm

With a mediocre effort you don't become as good as Randy Moss was/is.

by LionInAZ :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 7:05pm

This kind of comment reminds of comparisons between Larry Bird and Magic Johnson. For Bird, it was all about how much he worked, worked, worked. For Johnson, it was all about sheer athleticism.

Randy Moss would never have accomplished as much as he did if his effort was mediocre, and to say otherwise is ridiculous.

by Roch Bear :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 9:34pm

Moss's effort in running hard on a go route, and in battling for a ball? To outrun an NFL surely requires even Moss's top end. His eye and effort for the ball are clear and great.

His effort and dedication in other areas? There is some evidence for mediocrity. Perhaps not down to the Babe Ruth level, but not excellent. World Class athletic performance CAN be managed in some sports with superb gifts and mediocre effort (defined by the standards of your sport). As the career of Babe Ruth demonstrates, I assert. I am sure anybody can pick a standard to meet the needs of their argument. I pick effort defined with respect to other NFL receivers. Yet he was still better than 100% of other receivers (personal opinion).

by bcsj (not verified) :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 10:07pm

Exactly. The guy is probably second only to Jerry Rice in output. He was a great blocker, a precise route runner and he had fantastic hands.

General media coverage of Randy's "badness" always goes straight to his days on the Raiders. Please. Their incompetence was the problem, not Moss.

by tuluse :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 10:23pm

Some guys are going to reply to you and tell you guy good Don Maynard was now, just warning you.

by CharlieBear (not verified) :: Sat, 11/03/2012 - 6:31pm

*Hutson Klaxon*

by JonFrum :: Fri, 11/02/2012 - 2:22pm

First receiver in NFL history to go for 1000 yards in each of his first seven years. And that was with mediocre effort.

by young curmudgeon :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 5:46pm

I enjoyed the article and agreed with many of the points Waldman raised, but I would have liked it even more if (1)he had made his points more clearly and succinctly--it reads like the first draft of a college paper, and (2) cited some comparative data that document Moss's greatness. The latter was done quite a bit by announcers in the video, but seeing them pulled together would have augmented his case. (Among other things, announcers have a tendency to parrot the conventional wisdom, an observation that I'm sure comes as a shock to regular FO readers.)

Nonetheless, Waldman has done some good, serious thinking about this issue and I'm glad he shared his thoughts with us.

by Aloysius Mephis... :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 7:08pm

Perhaps with an additional draft he would have avoided using "incredulous" when he meant "incredible." Every time I see that error I weep tears of blood. I do share your praise of Waldman's thinking.

by Nick Bradley (not verified) :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 5:54pm

The 49ers are keeping him on ice until the playoffs.

But he's tearing it up right now, and they could give him more looks if they wanted to.

DYAR - 35th, despite only getting 22 attempts
DVOA - 25.9% (he'd be 7th if he weren't 3 targets short of qualifying)
yards/target - 3rd
EYds/target - 4th

by Karl Cuba :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 6:52pm

And most of the time they're using him as a decoy.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 8:43pm

I suspect, with the way he put distance between him and potential tacklers in no time, on his td the other night, every opposing safety will be taking another half step back from here on out. Frank Gore approves this message.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 6:02pm

Anybody who can't admit that Moss, in his prime, with a qb who could get the ball to him, dictated terms to opposing defenses more than any other receiver, is just denying reality.

by DisplacedPackerFan :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 7:34pm

He didn't just dictate terms on game day, he dictated draft strategy for at least one team. I'm not just talking about GB using their first 4 picks in 99 on defensive players (3 of the DB's), but they took a DB in the first four rounds from 99 through 2002, sometimes trading away future picks to move up to get one. Generally they were all busts, but it was all in response to Moss and how he continually destroyed them. His career vs GB while at Minnesota is as follows (catch-yards-TD)


That's 5.1 catches, 95 yards, and .92 TD a game vs the Packers in the regular season. He was 4-70-2 in the one playoff game against them. Some might say he did that to everyone, but his averages with Minnesota were 5.2, 83.8 yards, .83 TD. So yeah, -0.1 catch, 11.7 yards, and .1 TD a game doesn't seem like a ton, but considering he was often triple covered, and was injured in the course of at least one of those games he just got too many big plays against them. He also only had 41 games of 100+ yards out of 109 played for Minn, (37%), he had 7 in 13 games (53%) vs GB. Killed the Packers while with Minn, and GB made the playoffs 5 times in the 7 years he was with MIN, worst record GB had during that time was 8-8, they were a good team still (no worse than 15th in DVOA overall, with a top 10 defense for 4 of those years too).

by dmstorm22 :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 8:42pm

He's had 1,000 yard seasons with 6 QBs:

Cunningham, George, Culpepper, Collins, Brady, Cassel.

He was the greatest QB maker in NFL history, in my mind.

by Will Allen :: Wed, 10/31/2012 - 8:47pm

Dante Culpepper's retirement fund approves this message.

by Podge (not verified) :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 6:37am

Good article, cheers for the link. I was, however, somewhat amused by the first five players listed in the article:

Randy Moss
Michael Irvin
Jerry Rice
Fred Biletnikoff
Wayne Chrebet

Can we spot the odd one out?

by Roch Bear :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 5:36pm

Easy. Wayne. The hands of the other 4 are black.

by laberge :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 7:18am

I think Moss is the rare kind of football player whose best qualities are often minimized or written off and whose flaws on and off the field are maximized.

by Anonymous37 (not verified) :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 11:49am

Randy Moss has always reminded me a little of Shaq, albeit with a far less amiable personality. Both had transcendent talent, both were more than willing to coast if it they weren't motivated, and both could destroy people when they felt like it.

Shaq is 6th all time in points at 28,596 and 13th all time in rebounds at 13,099, and somehow managed to never lead the league in rebounds or blocks in any season.

When you consider how physically dominant he was (when younger anyway), it's easy to believe he could have put up even better numbers if he had just been more dedicated to his game.

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 1:04pm

The difference is that Shaq is much better regarded because even though he slacked off and probably could have been much better than he was, he was still dominant enough to lead his team to 3 straight championships. It's easy to get complacent and lazy when you still win championships anyway. Moss, playing a different sport, didn't have the option of carrying a team to a championship. (No WR has ever carried an otherwise poor team to a SB championship, although I guess Larry Fitzgerald came pretty close.) But if he had, and especially if he had done it multiple times, people would shrug off his wasted potential like they do for Shaq.

by tuluse :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 1:21pm

Shaq also always tried hard in the playoffs. Which in the NBA can be as many as 28 games.

An NFL player can't really be like 2001 Shaq where he just used regular season as his training camp to dominate in the playoffs.

by BigCheese :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 10:59pm

Kurt Warner might disagree there.

- Alvaro

Phil Simms is to analysts what Ryan Leaf is to NFL QBs

by Bowl Game Anomaly :: Fri, 11/02/2012 - 11:34am

Right, it was the best example I could think of but you can't even really say that Fitzgerald carried that team when they had a HOF QB make the Pro Bowl that same year.

by tuluse :: Fri, 11/02/2012 - 11:56am

Steve Smith 2005 would be the closest a receiver came to carrying a team.

by sundown (not verified) :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 1:56pm

All good points. One thing I don't remember is Shaq actually admitting to not giving full effort, at least not at the time. That's a huge part of why Moss is viewed so differently. As amiable as Shaq was (and he's obviously miles ahead of Moss there) I doubt he could have flat-out said he didn't feel like trying all the time and remained such a golden boy. It's one thing to take plays off, and I think almost every player in every sport does that at some point, but it's an entirely different thing to publicly acknowledge it or even flaunt it.

by tuluse :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 1:57pm

Yep, can't shake the boat on those nervous little sports writers.

by sundown (not verified) :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 3:05pm

The writers are just a small part of it. Fans absolutely HATE that sort of stuff. It is never well received when guys who make more a season than the fan will in a lifetime still can't put out full effort. The writers sometimes do manufacture controversies, but in the case of Moss taking plays off that was not required. That was never going to be taken well by anyone but the most diehard Moss fans.

by RC (not verified) :: Fri, 11/02/2012 - 10:12am

Plenty of fans understand that every player takes plays off, and every player has bad days.

Plenty of fans don't give a crap that Moss wasn't 100% on every play. His 75% was better than most other WRs.

by LionInAZ :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 7:12pm

I couldn't help remembering that Churchill was such a great leader that he was voted out of power shortly after WW II ended.

by bcsj (not verified) :: Thu, 11/01/2012 - 10:12pm

My single favorite player, ever.

His affinity with QB's was incredible. Moss would run a route and *never* put his hands up, to prevent tipping off the defender. He'd have his eyes on the QB at all times. You'd see the arm come up only when the ball was nearly there and then he used his amazing hands to pull it in.

And for all of the "bad apple" talk, the guy is extremely bright and his teammates love him.

by The Hypno-Toad :: Fri, 11/02/2012 - 12:50am

"Believe me when I say that a Steve McNair-to-Randy Moss, pitch-and-catch combination in Tennessee would have rendered the 1999 Rams and the 2000 Ravens moot points."

Umm, okay. I'll beleieve you. It would be a goddamned sight easier to believe you is you offered anything other than your opinion.
I don't particularly disagree with the writer, but believe me, if Randy Moss and Steve McNair had been writing that, it would have been the most convincing argument you've ever read.

by The Hypno-Toad :: Fri, 11/02/2012 - 1:14am

I should rephrase. I DO disagree with the writer. His opinion may be more accurate than mine, but I think he's wrong. I do think that McNair to Moss would have been a truly electric combination, but it would take more than that for me to write off those two teams as "moot points." It just seems silly to me to say that the 1999 and 2000 Titans would have rendered one of the greatest offenses AND one of the greatest defenses in league history irrelevant without any supporting evidence.... Indeed, without any supporting assertions. Was Randy Moss significantly better than any receiver that McNair played with? I absolutely think so. Does that automatically overcome the greatness of both of two pretty great teams? I tend to doubt it.

by tuluse :: Fri, 11/02/2012 - 2:06am

In 1999 the Titans came with 1/2 of a yard of beating the Rams, in 2000 they were in a 10-10 tie in 4th quarter against the Ravens when a blocked fg was returned for a TD and McNair threw a pick 6 trying to come back.

by The Hypno-Toad :: Fri, 11/02/2012 - 1:52am

The story that is linked to in this article about the fan who campaigned for Floyd Little to get into the HoF was truly touching, I thought. Like a lot of sports/human interest stories, the prose kind of got too flowery/sugary, but it really is a powerful story... To me at least. I don't know if non-Bronco fans would care. And it's kind of absurdly long.

by evenchunkiermonkey :: Fri, 11/02/2012 - 8:01am

as a non-Bronco fan it was still engrossing.

the link in case you missed it...

by Led :: Fri, 11/02/2012 - 2:05pm

I think J. Evans Pritchards was criminally underrated. Evaluating the greatness of a poem based on both the skill of its execution and the reach of its ambition is a pretty solid methodology. Sure, graphing a poem's greatness is a little silly, but it's a clear way to illustrate the point to high schoolers and you have to appreciate the irony in a poet, of all people, acknowledging that a picture is worth a thousand words...

by Dean :: Fri, 11/02/2012 - 2:16pm

I bet you listen to Meshuggah.