Sometimes, whether it comes to choosing a beer or making a selection in the NFL Draft, the obvious choice is the right choice. Fortunately, not everybody sees the obvious choice right away.
In the 1998 NFL Draft, the obvious choice fell right into the laps of the Minnesota Vikings. . .and they were smart enough to jump on it.
To say that Randy Moss was a bit troubled during his high school days would be a small understatement. He had signed a letter of intent to play for Notre Dame, but when he got into a fight at his school after someone directed a racial comment towards him, Notre Dame denied his enrollment application, and he moved on to Florida State University. However, the NCAA considered him to be a transfer student, and so he had to sit out his freshman year with the Seminoles. After that, while on probation after serving a 30-day sentence in jail, Moss tested positive for marijuana, which resulted in his being dismissed from Florida State as well.
Moss eventually wound up in his home state of West Virginia, attending (then) I-AA Marshall University. In his freshman year of 1996, he tied Jerry Rice's NCAA record for touchdown receptions in a season with 28 and set the record for most receiving yards for a freshman in a season with 1,709. The Thundering Herd went undefeated and won the I-AA Championship before moving to I-A. In 1997, Moss' numbers were amazing once again, as he caught 96 passes for 1,820 yards and 26 more touchdowns. He finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy balloting in 1997 as well.
Moss left Marshall after that season and, not surprisingly, was projected to be a high first-round pick. But the rumors of his character concerns continued to swirl, and Moss began to plummet down the draft board. The three players that finished ahead of Moss in the Heisman race. . .Peyton Manning, Ryan Leaf, and Charles Woodson. . .went in the first four picks. Moss was sure that he would be selected by his home town team, the Dallas Cowboys, but they opted for linebacker Greg Ellis instead. More players were selected, and the draft got to the Tennessee Oilers, who were in need of a wide receiver, and they got one.
The one they got was Utah wide receiver Kevin Dyson. . .and Moss continued to fall.
The Green Bay Packers traded up to the 19th pick in the draft, two spots ahead of Minnesota at 21. . .but they passed on Moss in favor of North Carolina's Vonnie Holliday. The Detroit Lions were next in line. . .and they decided that Tennessee defensive back Terry Fair was their guy. So the clock rolled to the Minnesota Vikings at the 21st pick.
Now, Minnesota didn't need a wide receiver by any stretch. After all, in 1997, receivers Cris Carter and Jake Reed had just become the first wide receiver duo to post dual 1,000-yard seasons in four consecutive years, and the Vikings were coming off of a season where their offense was in the top half of the league, including being fifth in touchdown passes with 26. But for all the flak that Denny Green caught. . .deservedly. . .for his relative inability to judge defensive talent, that guy certainly knew offensive talent when he saw it, and wasted no time in making Moss his selection.
To say that Moss was a steal. . .much like saying his youth was troubled. . .would be an immense understatement. In his rookie season, Moss caught 69 passes for 1,313 yards and an NFL-leading 17 touchdowns. His presence made Reed expendable, as Reed finished fourth on the team in receiving yards (behind Moss, Carter, and tight end Andrew Glover). He was one of the centerpieces of an offense that set the NFL record for most points scored in a season with 556.
In his seven years as a Viking. . .one of the most popular players in team history, despite his off-field transgressions. . .he caught 574 passes for 9,142 yards and and 89 touchdowns. Those Viking numbers probably would have been much higher had it not been for Vikings' owner Red McCombs. After an off-season disagreement between the two, McCombs. . .as one final middle finger to the fan base that supported his team throughout his entire ownership tenure but didn't give him the new stadium he longed for. . .shipped him to the Oakland Raiders for a couple of picks in the 2005 NFL Draft.
With that, the era of one of the biggest steals in the history of the Minnesota Vikings, and in the entire history of the NFL Draft, came to an end. Sometimes the obvious choice is the right one, and the selection of Randy Moss with the 21st pick of the 1998 NFL Draft proved just that.
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