Coming out of a brief retirement, being 35 years old and having the notorious label of an unpredictable wild card, Moss is in a unique situation. We really can't imagine what Jim Harbaugh and Greg Roman have up their sleeve—or can we?
Sports Illustrated's Jim Trotter has been doing write-ups on NFL teams in his report card series. Trotter was recently in Santa Clara and published his thoughts on San Francisco in 2012. He covered a good portion of the team's storylines, but what made headlines was his bit about the 49ers' new big-play receiver.
SI's Jim Trotter on Randy Moss:
The 49ers likely will limit him to 20-25 plays a game to keep him fresh. If he's able to take the top off the defense and keep a safety deep, it'll create so many opportunities elsewhere that coordinator Greg Roman, who oversaw a unit that attempted the second-fewest passes in the league last year, will be kept awake at night pondering all the possibilities.
Of course, this is simply speculation on Trotter's part. There is no evidence to confirm the 49ers intend on limiting Moss in any way.
San Francisco hosted Minnesota in their preseason opener, and Moss only played four snaps. I don't believe that was indicative of how they plan to use him once the regular season starts. In fact, for those following reports on Moss out of Santa Clara, they have all suggested the contrary.
The expected one-two punch at wide receiver is made up of Randy Moss and Michael Crabtree.
But for the sake of this piece, we'll indulge in Trotter's theory.
Trotter's theory basically states that Moss will be playing a fraction of the 49ers offensive snaps on game day, making him a situational player. The reasoning behind this is that it would keep Moss, 35, fresher on the snaps he does take.
Assuming that is the case and Moss becomes a situational player, one cannot help but reflect on the last time the team had a skills player playing a role like this. It was quite recently, in fact—in 2011 the 49ers used rookie Aldon Smith as a situational pass rusher.
The situation would be different, but similar in some ways.
The major difference would be that the offense dictates the defensive packages, and not the other way around. The down, situation and offensive set indicated when Aldon Smith would take the field and what his assignment was. When Moss comes out situationally, defenses can make the appropriate adjustments—so there is no benefit pre-snap.
The upper-hand would come during drives.
Moss would be able to conserve his energy while the 49ers wear down the opposing defense. The 49ers' ability to run the ball and extend drives by keeping the ball on the ground could play a major factor. Against a worn-out defense, Moss could take the field and help San Francisco's offense finish drives.
Supposing the Niners' offense starts at their own 20, on average, San Francisco could methodically drive the ball 50 yards downfield before Moss even steps on the field. The scenario of a fresh Randy Moss in the red zone going against exhausted secondaries does not bode well for the latter.
And while on the subject of situational football, Moss could step in on long downs and distances. He could specialize in improving the 49ers' two weakest offensive areas—third down and red zone.
He would provide the 49ers with a particular skill set on offense, when and how they need it. In this light, Moss becoming a situational player would mirror how they used Aldon Smith last season. And like Aldon Smith, they can tailor assignments around what Moss does best physically.
They can strategize high-percentage ways to get the ball into Moss' hands when he does take the field. San Francisco's offensive staff can make sure that the reps that he does receive will be ones of value and do not go wasted.
Also, by using Moss situationally, there will be less game film on him. If the 49ers are using him in a unique way, not allowing opponents to catch on to their methods could be a major advantage on game day.
Another parallel to draw between Moss and Smith would be that they would operate among a lot of talent. It would be difficult for offenses to focus solely on Moss because there is so much talent around him. The 49ers added speed, explosiveness and big-play ability to the offensive side of the football this offseason beyond Moss.
He has a chance to succeed in this role for a variety of reasons, but it is a role that has not been verified at this point. Trotter's theory is an interesting one to say the least, but it is purely speculative until proven otherwise.