Brady-Moss a partnership made in statistics heaven


The Kickoff

October 18, 2007|By CHILDS WALKER


It's easy, when experiencing a wretched fantasy season, to fall into a glum outlook on the entire enterprise.

But frankly, it's not healthy, because if you like football, there are always interesting and exciting things going on around the NFL. In that spirit, I want to turn away from the disappointments and look at some of the breakout performers of 2007.

It seems weird to apply that description to players who already had compiled Hall of Fame resumes, but the New England Patriots, and particularly the Tom Brady-to-Randy Moss connection, have been a revelation.

There are no Patriots on my fantasy teams and I have no inherent rooting interest, but I find myself wanting to watch their games because they're raising the art form. It's the same reason I always tune in to Roger Federer at the U.S. Open or Tiger Woods when he's leading on Sunday.

The opportunity to watch a craft performed expertly is not to be missed in this life.

Brady had clearly fallen behind Peyton Manning in public esteem entering this season, but apparently the Patriots' lack of a single world-class receiver really did hurt him last season. Now that he has three, he's on pace for a historically great season.

This should serve as a strong reminder to fantasy players that context has a huge effect on offensive numbers. We tend to think of great players as singular talents who are the same no matter who's coaching, catching or blocking. But football doesn't work that way. That's why it's important every fall to cast a skeptical eye on statistics from the season before and really look at the situation around every star player.

Moss, like NBA star Vince Carter, inspires mixed emotions. On the one hand, it's exhilarating to watch a great talent re-emerge. On the other, it's hard to love a guy who mailed it in for two years because he was on a bad team.

That said, Moss has sent a strong message to everyone who believed he was done as an impact player. (I was on that list after owning him during his painful 2006.) He's not just a good receiver. He's the rare talent who can make his peers in the ultra-athletic NFL look like schoolboys.

This season is a useful reminder that brilliance like that rarely just disappears.

When Braylon Edwards entered the NFL in 2005, many thought he could be a Moss-like talent. Instead, he showed flashes of big-play ability during his first two seasons but, because of injuries and poor Cleveland Browns quarterbacking, failed to excel consistently.

Well, here he is folks. The Browns have settled on Derek Anderson at quarterback, and Edwards has become his favorite end zone target. He showed the Ravens how scary he can be with a 78-yard touchdown catch in Week 4 and seems to make at least one great play per game.

Edwards reminds us that young receivers are among the most deceptive subsets of players. Their magnificent speed and grace allow them to dominate in college. But in the NFL, everyone is fast and graceful and every opposing coordinator can design a tricky game plan. So the position requires far more knowledge and technical skill. Thus, even the best receivers usually need a few years to achieve liftoff. Jerry Rice wasn't a superstar as a rookie either.

Keep that in mind when looking at Calvin Johnson's numbers this season with the Detroit Lions.

Of course, there are exceptions, and Kansas City Chiefs rookie Dwayne Bowe appears to be one of them. Bowe is big, agile and fast, but I don't understand why he has adjusted to the pro game more quickly than Johnson. Maybe the Southeastern Conference is the closest simulation to the speed of the NFL? It would be interesting to study, by college conference, how receivers and cornerbacks perform in the pros.

In contrast to pass catchers, great running backs often hit their strides right away and accumulate their biggest numbers in the first five years of their careers. That's why I thought the Minnesota Vikings' Adrian Peterson, if healthy, would be a good choice for 2007. At least I was right about something this preseason.

Nagging injuries to Chester Taylor cleared the way for Peterson, and his magnificent strength, speed and vision have vaulted him into the top tier of running backs. There simply aren't many players who can break two runs of 60 yards or more in one game against an NFL defense. That's not about a system; it's about being touched by God or whatever you choose to belive in.

The incredible brutality of the pro game might break Peterson before he has the career of a Jim Brown or Barry Sanders. But he has that kind of ability, and not many guys get to start from that point. So it's pretty cool to watch.

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