Randy Moss’ football career will be remembered for plenty of other things besides what actually happened on the field. There are some doubts about whether he will stayed retired, but if he does not return to the gridiron, Moss’ antics away from the field may cause people to not remember him as a truly great player in this era. Despite the distractions and focus issues, Randy Moss’ endeavors on the field leave him as one of the greatest wide receivers not only in this era, but ever to strap on a helmet and pads.
Over the course of his 13-year career, Moss caught 954 passes for 14,858 yards (15.6 yards per reception) and 153 touchdowns, 19 more than Reggie Wayne and Michael Irvin combined. Only Jerry Rice (208), Emmitt Smith (175), LaDainian Tomlinson (159) and Terrell Owens (156) have more career touchdowns than Moss. Only Rice (36) has more scores of at least 50 yards than Moss’ 29. His 954 grabs place him in a tie with Hines Ward for eighth place on the NFL’s career receptions list. He has the fifth most receiving yards of any player and is tied with Terrell Owens for the second-most touchdown catches of all-time. Moss averaged 73.6 receiving yards per game for the Minnesota Vikings, Oakland Raiders, New England Patriots and Tennessee Titans, ninth most in history.
His career numbers are certainly impressive and rank among the all-time greats at wide receiver. It is when you look closer, into some of his individual seasons, that you realize just how dominant Randy Moss was. In his rookie year with the Vikings in 1998, he brought in 69 passes for 1,313 yards, averaging 19 yards per reception, helping the Vikings score a then-record 556 points and achieve a 15-1 season. He led the NFL with 17 touchdown grabs, a rookie record and the first of five seasons Moss would accomplish such a feat. In the 1999 NFL Draft, the Green Bay Packers were so afraid of Moss that they drafted three cornerbacks (Antuan Edwards, Fred Vinson and Mike McKenzie) with their first three selections.
The Packers and the rest of NFL could do nothing to stop Moss. The defensive scheme of leaving at least one safety “over the top” of the defense was developed to help defend against long bombs to the tall and freakishly fast Moss. Their efforts were futile. From 1998 through 2003, Moss averaged 88 catches for 1,396 yards (16 yards per catch, 87.2 yards per game) and 13 touchdowns per season, including a 106-catch, 1,347-yard, seven-touchdown season in 2002 that was followed up by a year in which he grabbed 111 passes for 1,632 yards and 17 touchdowns.
Before the 2005 season, Moss was traded to the Raiders, where his career took a turn for the worse. In two seasons in Oakland, Moss caught a total of 102 passes for 1,558 yards and 11 touchdowns. His effort on the field was slacking and his antics off of it forced the Raiders to trade Moss for a fourth-round draft choice to the New England Patriots.
The move to New England and the opportunity to play for Bill Belicheck revived Moss’ career. The 2007 Patriots scored an NFL-record 589 points with Moss returning to his Viking-form, catching 98 passes for 1,493 yards and setting the NFL single-season receiving touchdown record with 23 scores. From 2007 through 2009, his average season included 83 catches for 1,255 yards (15.1 yards per catch, 78.4 yards per game) and 16 touchdowns.
Moss began the 2010 season with bright expectations, but it turned out to be the worst year of his career. After rumors of malcontent in the Patriots’ locker room through the first three weeks of the season, Moss was held without a catch for the first time since 2006 in a 41-14 New England victory over the Miami Dolphins. Two days later, Moss found himself in a Vikings uniform again, being traded from the Patriots for a third-round draft choice. He continued to serve as a distraction in Minnesota, and after four games, was cut. The Tennessee Titans signed Moss, but he often seemed disinterested on the field and mysteriously lost the speed that had made him great. In eight games with Tennessee, Moss made only six catches for 80 yards without registering a touchdown. As a Titan, Moss had a multi-reception game just once and did not register a catch in four games.
The career of Randy Moss certainly had some valleys, most notably his 2010 season and his two years with the Raiders in 2005 and 2006. However, it was also filled with many peaks that will leave him remembered as the greatest downfield threat in NFL history. Moss, Jerry Rice and Terrell Owens are the only players to rank in the top five in NFL history in receiving yards, touchdowns and 100-yard games. Only Rice has more touchdowns of 50 yards or longer and there are only four other players in NFL history with more total touchdowns. On the two highest-scoring offenses in the Super Bowl era, Moss caught a combined 167 passes for 2,806 yards and 4o touchdowns, setting the single-season rookie receiving touchdown record with the ’98 Vikings and the single-season receiving touchdown record with the ’07 Patriots. Randy Moss will certainly be remembered for many different things. Hopefully the bad memories don’t make people forget just how great of a wide receiver he was.