NFL veteran wide receiver Randy Moss is one of the most dynamic players to ever play the sport of football. He arguably has the most upside of any pro receiver, but the same can be said about his downside. In 2012, Moss will suit up as a San Francisco 49er after taking a year off from the game - but what kind of results will he yield?
For this piece, I coordinated with 49ers beat writer from Examiner.com, Samuel Lam. Sam regularly offers great in-depth analysis on our beloved 49ers, and provides a strong counterpoint regarding the 2012 performance from Randy Moss.
Dylan: Randy Moss has been absolutely dominant for over a decade in the NFL. He has thrived in situations where he has a winning team, good coaching, a competent offense and plenty of opportunities. With the San Francisco 49ers, Moss will have all of those things once again in 2012. There is no reason he can't lead the 49ers in receiving and once again have double-digit touchdowns in the regular season.
Sam: The biggest concern about Moss is his attitude. Sure the 49ers provide a great coaching structure but is he 100-percent dedicated to this? The reason why he sat out an entire year "retired" was because he wasn't mentally in it. He may say he's ready now, but his track record are definitely red flags. Until we can see what kind of dedication Moss is giving this season, it's hard to see an unmotivated Moss getting at least 10 touchdowns.
Dylan: You make a great point about his motivation, but most may gather that his year off may have been the best thing for him. Moss had time away from the game to get his affairs in order, and he's returned for the right reasons. In addition to that, Jim Harbaugh is a remarkable motivator who knows how to get the optimum performance out of his players. Even when he was "unmotivated" in the 2010 season where he played for three different teams, Moss still had 5 receiving touchdowns in his first 7 games as a starter. How many did Michael Crabtree have all season? In fact, Moss had 5 more receiving touchdowns his rookie year (17) than Crabtree has in his entire three-year career. He's always been able to find the end zone.
Sam: That's true but you also brought up Michael Crabtree. How did he do as the team's top receiver last year? His touchdown production was nowhere near what you're hoping that Moss can do. In fact, Harbaugh's offense last year didn't cater much to the receivers. It was mainly the tight ends and running game that fueled the offense. Also, when Moss had his best years as a receiver he had the luxury of Randall Cunningham and Daunte Culpepper in a pass-happy offense. In New England, Tom Brady was his quarterback. I just don't see the offense and Alex Smith producing that kind of numbers and opportunities for Moss. Unless the offense gets a major boost and Smith's production increases, Moss' numbers won't be as high as you think.
Dylan: Those are some good arguments; this offense doesn't cater greatly to the wide receivers and Alex Smith is no Tom Brady. But we've all seen how comfortable Alex Smith is with his safety net in tight end Vernon Davis. This is because Davis is an elite player at his position, and so is Moss. He'll know that with his size, leaping ability and spectacular hands that Moss always has a chance to come down with it. This will equate to numerous big plays in 2012; plays that result in chunk yardage and touchdowns. Moss' athleticism also enables him to make plays all over the field - he has the speed to turn a slant or stop-route into a 60-yard touchdown. Smith hits those routes 9 out of 10 times in Harbaugh's west coast installation.
Sam: How are we so sure that a 35-year old wide receiver that hasn't played in a professional football game since the 2010 season can reproduce those numbers? He's already up there in age and we don't know if he still has the speed and hands he did a couple years ago. What you're suggesting is that the 49ers will have Moss turn slants into 60-yard touchdowns. That's not Moss' game. His game is to stretch the field and catch those long bombs. Can Alex Smith do that? And if the 49ers get into the red zone, I see more of an emphasis with the running backs and tight ends than the wide receivers. The 49ers will stick with their best weapons and right now and it's still not wide receiver.
Dylan: The truth is, we can't be sure whether or not Moss can reproduce those numbers, but the 49ers don't need him to. They need him to play a role, which he will do or be shown the door. The abilities that Moss has just don't disappear overnight. In his 10 of 13 played seasons, Moss has broken 1,000 yards and in a lot of those seasons, he went well over a thousand. The 49ers haven't had a 1,000-yard receiver since 2003 with Terrell Owens (1,102) - a long drought I expect Moss to snap. He'll be playing inspired football again, in a season that could very well be his last, so I expect full-throttle effort by the physical freak week in and week out.
Sam: Moss put those great numbers up because he was the main focus of an offense that was pass-friendly. Whether or not he still has those skills doesn't matter because the situation in San Francisco is different. The team didn't bring him to be their top receiver and the offense surely hasn't shown any sign of catering to his skills. What we can expect from Moss is to stretch the field but not be the top wide receiving star he once once. The offense will still go through the running backs and tight ends. Moss will be a factor in the 49ers' offense, but not the way he once was. And reaching 10 touchdowns this upcoming season just doesn't seem realistic given the situation.