The NFL is a quarterback driven league, so much so that these days it is basically impossible for anyone not registered at the position to win the league MVP award. Not since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006 has a non-quarterback won the MVP and only two non-quarterbacks have won it since 2000.
Furthermore, those two backs, Tomlinson and Shaun Alexander, played a role that is quickly moving toward extinction in today's NFL, the feature back.
While the comeback player of the year award is not as quarterback inclined, there is a similar trend in recent times. Since 2000, seven quarterbacks have won the award with the last four going to signal-callers. This year, the clear favorite will line up under center once again.
The return of four-time MVP Peyton Manning to the Denver Broncos, after he missed all of last season with the Indianapolis Colts, should see the veteran claim the award for the first time. Just because Manning wins the award, it does not guarantee that he will deserve it. Because he is a quarterback, he will garner more votes than another returning superstar.
That should not deter the excitement of Randy Moss' return to the NFL.
After retiring before last season, and basically being retired the season before, Moss is returning to professional football this year with the San Francisco 49ers. Despite signing for a small deal with no guaranteed money, Moss should figure to be a key figure for the 49ers' revamped passing.
Prior to retiring, Moss managed 954 receptions, 14,858 yards and 153 touchdowns over his 13 NFL seasons. Moss was fifth all time in receiving yards, second only to Jerry Rice in touchdown receptions and tied with Hines Ward for eighth overall in receptions. Moss' career fell apart when his relationship with the New England Patriots did.
With uncertainty hanging over his contract situation, Moss didn't handle his treatment by the team well. His dealing with the prospect of not being signed to a long-term deal saw him quickly traded to the Minnesota Vikings. The only thing less impressive than Moss' performances on the field for the Vikings were his actions off of it. Moss never settled in Minnesota and was released after four games.
Moss had 13 receptions for 174 yards and two touchdowns in Minnesota, which wasn't terrible but not up to his usual expectations. After the eighth week of the 2010 season, Moss found his way to his third team of the year, the Tennessee Titans. With the Titans Moss looked totally disinterested and tallied only six receptions for 80 yards.
At just 33, Moss hadn't slowed down physically, but his determination and effort on the field was completely absent.
Moss has been a sensitive character throughout his career. After dominating early on with the Vikings, his attitude landed him with the Oakland Raiders where he became a poison. The Raiders sent Moss to the New England Patriots for just a fourth-round draft pick and that low price was largely a result of his poor commitment to the franchise.
Physically Moss has never had any issues performing in the NFL. When drafted he was so physically gifted, with his combination of speed and size, that there were no cornerbacks who could cover him one-on-one. Generally, with players coming out of retirement, losing a step physically can be the difference between making a roster and returning to the couch. Moss was so far ahead of his piers in his prime that even if he has lost a significant step, he should still be above average.
Whatever drop off Moss has experienced in his physique the past two years, he should still be able to beat defenders in single coverage with ease.
Motivation is the only question with Moss. During his last full season with the New England Patriots in 2009, he caught 83 passes for 1,264 yards and 13 touchdowns. Even without Tom Brady under center the previous year, Moss still eclipsed 1,000 yards, had 11 touchdowns and became a leader of the team.
Moss has no real reason to be unmotivated this year. He has agreed to come back to the NFL for a minimal contract so money is obviously not a factor. He has sat by and watched Calvin Johnson be everything that he has been throughout his career, and maybe more, during his only season of retirement. He sat by and watched a New England Patriots team just miss out on a Super Bowl victory when he potentially could have made the difference.
Most importantly however, Moss has landed with the perfect team to propel himself back into the NFL spotlight.
Once Moss signed with the San Francisco 49ers, the common response queried whether the 49ers had a quarterback capable of getting the best out of him. Alex Smith is entering the season as the team's starter once again. Smith doesn't have the strongest arm, but it is capable and his arm strength is only part of the overall picture.
In San Francisco, Moss will be playing for a head coach he respects. A head coach who showed last year that he could motivate the most maligned of players while keeping his locker room discipline in check. The 49ers are not too dissimilar to the New England Patriots in structure. The same disciplinary measures are not in place, as Jim Harbaugh actually allows his players to speak in public, but the strength of character emphasis in the locker room and leadership emanating from the coaching staff carry together.
A motivated Randy Moss is one of the scariest prospects any defensive player can face in the NFL. In today's pass-happy league, a receiver of Moss' caliber on the outside can be the difference between a successful season and one capped off with bitter disappointment.
While Peyton Manning is odds on to be the comeback player of the year in the NFL this season, don't count out Randy Moss just yet. Moss isn't like Tiki Barber or even Plaxico Burress. He won't face the same hurdles they did in the latter stages of their careers. While comparisons to Jerry Rice would be foolish, similar success for Moss into his late 30s wouldn't shock anyone.
Of course Rice achieved his success with a great work rate, but unbelievable talent can overcome a lack of work rate in certain cases. It may not be what you want to tell your kids, but it's the truth. If it wasn't, nobody would have signed Randy Moss or Terrell Owens this offseason.