Posted March 06, 2012

Best of the Firsts, No. 21: Randy Moss

Best of the Firsts

After a down stint in Oakland, Randy Moss found his record-setting form with the Patriots in 2007. (Getty Images)

As part of our offseason coverage, we’re taking a look back at some of the best first-round draft picks since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970. We’ll work our way up the draft board, starting with the best selection made with the No. 32 pick and ending with the top No. 1 pick. Track all the choices here.

The No. 21 Pick: Randy Moss, 1998, Vikings

His Credentials: Seven-time Pro Bowl selection, five-time All-Pro, tied for No. 2 all-time in receiving touchdowns (153), No. 9 all-time in receptions (954), 1998 Rookie of the Year, 2007 Comeback Player of the Year, voted to NFL’s All-Decade Team for the 2000s, named 65th-best player in NFL history by the NFL Network in 2011.

Others in Consideration: Vince Wilfork (2004, Patriots); Jerry Robinson (1979, Eagles); Lynn Swann (1974, Steelers)

Perhaps it’s fitting that as the Randy Moss Revival Tour begins in earnest, with the veteran wide receiver heading for a workout with the Saints, we reach the point in the draft where Moss was selected. The truth is, he could have — and, in hindsight, should have, come off the board a lot earlier — but teams were concerned with character red flags, causing the ex-Marshall star to slide.

Their loss was Minnesota’s gain. Moss was, in fact, that second receiver taken in the 1998 draft, five spots behind Tennessee’s Kevin Dyson. As he prepares for an NFL comeback, Moss has 12,000 more yards receiving and 135 more touchdowns than Dyson put up in his career.

“My whole goal is to come in and do whatever I can to wreck this whole league,” Moss said in ’98 following his draft slide.

Moss did that and then some, as part of the two highest-scoring offenses in league history: the 1998 Vikings (556 points) and the 2007 Patriots (589 points). The questions about Moss’ attitude and work ethic still follow him, but there’s no denying what a nightmare he’s been for opposing defenses.

He began terrorizing cornerbacks from the get-go, catching 69 passes for 1,313 yards and 17 touchdowns in his rookie season. He currently has to his credit two seasons of more than 100 catches, 10 seasons of more than 1,000 yards receiving and nine year with double-digit touchdowns. Moss also holds the record for most TD receptions in a single season — he hauled in 23 for the 2007 Patriots team that finished the regular season unblemished.

“We talk about that player you have to account for on every down, and we probably overuse it because there’s really only a handful of guys … Randy Moss is one of those guys,” said Brian Billick, who was the Vikings’ offensive coordinator during Moss’ rookie campaign. “The threat that he has on any given play to kill you deep, the thing every defense is most worried about, he’s a true difference-maker.”

Of course, there’s another No. 21 pick who had similar qualities: Lynn Swann. Until Moss retires for good and gains Hall of Fame eligibility, Swann will remain the only first-round No. 21 pick with a bust in Canton.

In nine NFL seasons Swann racked up more than 5,000 yards receiving, plus four Super Bowls (four more than Moss, for the record). Had he played in a different era, Swann might have number more comparable to the NFL’s record-setting receivers.

His stats simply do not stand up to Moss’, especially when you consider that Moss already has 13 seasons under his belt and is trying to add a 14th. Moss could continue his attack on the record books in 2012, too, assuming he actually gets on the field.

Moss may not be able to catch Jerry Rice’s 197 career touchdowns (he’s 44 back right now), but one more TD would give him second place all by himself, dropping Terrell Owens to third. Moss also could move up from his ninth-place spot in career receptions and is a mere 76 yards back of Tim Brown for the No. 4 spot on the career receiving yardage list.

In other words, Moss has a chance to add accomplishments on

to a career that has already been sensational. Considering he fell all the way to No. 21 in the 1998 draft, Moss has to be considered one of the biggest steals in league history.

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