Expert Analysis


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Remembering Drafting Randy Moss 25 Years Later

One of my favorite drafts during my NFL management career was when we selected future Hall of Fame receiver Randy Moss at No. 21 overall in the 1998 NFL Draft. With Tuesday being the 25th anniversary of the selection, it feels like a good time to recount how it came together.  

When I attended the 1998 NFL Combine in Indianapolis as the Minnesota Vikings' general manager, there was no NFL Network coverage or internet speculation on prospects back then. Moss was barely on our radar as a potential Vikings' draftee. However, we certainly knew of his talent and story. 

Moss' Pre-Draft Process

First, he chose not to attend the combine, news which never was well-received by teams. Moss didn’t even show up for the physicals and interviews as many top players do, who skip working out until their pro day to gain more training time. He waited for his pro day a couple of weeks later at his college — Marshall — to showcase his incredible ability. 

Moss was low on our priority list heading into the combine. We had the No. 21 overall pick after a playoff season, and we had him rated among our top five players in the draft that also produced Hall of Famers Peyton Manning, Charles Woodson and Alan Faneca.

We assumed Moss would go in the top 10 and not get past the Dallas Cowboys at No. 8. Moss and his agent figured the same thing, which was part of their thinking in having him skip the combine to have a couple more weeks to train for his pro day.

We sent one of our top scouts —  Conrad Cardano — to Marshall's Pro Day to observe Moss. It was a 25-degree day in Huntington, W. Va., and Moss put on quite a show even in the cold weather.

Randy Moss, WR, Marshall
Randy Moss at Marshall.

This was before electronic timing, and Cardano hand-timed him in the low 4.3s in the 40-yard dash. One team reportedly had him at 4.25 seconds. His 47-inch vertical jump is one of the highest on record among NFL draft prospects. Moss knocked it out of the park on all his other agility and pass-catching drills.

There were just a handful of NFL teams at the workout, which is surprising when a top player like Moss was making his draft case. It was an early indication many teams would not consider drafting Moss due to character concerns.

He was in a nasty fight defending a friend in high school, which caused Notre Dame to revoke his scholarship offer. Then, Moss headed to Florida State only to be dismissed after allegedly failing a drug test. Moss landed at Marshall and was a dominant player. He had 174 catches for 3,529 yards and 54 touchdowns in two seasons. 

Fortunately for us, Cardano had worked under Marshall coach Bob Pruett and was close with him and other members of the coaching staff. They told Cardano — and he relayed the info to us — Moss wasn't a problem at Marshall. 

Moss' Tumble Down Draft Boards

As draft day arrived, we were focused on drafting a top defensive player. I still didn’t believe Moss would make it to No. 21 overall. Then Dallas passed on him and selected defensive end Greg Ellis. The rumblings were that the Cowboys had been dealing with players with questionable character in prior years and were scared away.

Moss started tumbling. When the Tennessee Titans took Kevin Dyson as the first wide receiver off the board at No. 16, we began an intense discussion about taking Moss. It was the longest discussion on a player I ever was part of on a draft day. 

Coach Dennis Green and offensive coordinator Brian Billick were pushing hard for Moss, despite having two excellent 1,000-yard receivers on the team in future Hall of Famer Cris Carter and Jake Reed. Our draft board had Moss sitting at the top as our pick approached. Our scouts also liked defensive end Vonnie Holliday, who the Green Bay Packers picked at No. 19. We also talked about safety Tebucky Jones, who the New England Patriots picked right after us. 

Many scouts are reluctant to take too strong of a stand on a player with character or injury concerns. To his credit, Cardano was never afraid to state his opinion. He made a strong case for Moss as a game-changing talent (which we all agreed with); he trusted his Marshall sources who said Moss would be a top pro and stay out of trouble.

When we were one pick away, Green and I called Carter. I asked if he would be willing to mentor Moss if we drafted him. Carter said, “Yes, absolutely,” as he knew how explosive our offense would be with a three-wide receiver base with players at the skill level of himself, Reed and Moss.

We picked Moss, and our draft room was as excited as I’ve ever seen it, landing a blue-chip player at that spot. Before Moss put on his No. 84 Vikings uniform at training camp, I had to sign him to his rookie contract. His agents wanted him to be paid like a top-10 pick which, of course, I couldn’t do with the rookie pool and his No. 21 slot.

I also demanded a stringent-contract clause with a significant signing bonus giveback if the NFL ever suspended him for off-field transgressions, which he ultimately agreed to. The clause was never enforced. We also were concerned he had sprained his ankle playing pick-up basketball shortly before training camp. 

The contract was signed on the eve of training camp; the rest is history. A funny moment came when I called Moss to congratulate him after he was selected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2018. He said to me, “I told you I would never do anything to force you to put that clause on signing bonus giveback into effect.” I responded, “I’m surprised you remember it 20 years later.” 

Moss' Instant Impact

Hard to believe it’s been 25 years, but I’ll never forget his amazing performance on a Monday night game in the rain at Lambeau Field (five catches, 190 yards, two TDs) as we ended the Packers’ 25-game home-winning streak and his retribution game against the Cowboys (for not picking him as he felt they promised) on Thanksgiving in Dallas with three catches for 163 yards and three long touchdowns. 

Moss had 69 receptions for 1,311 yards and 17 TD passes and was named Offensive Rookie of the Year. He was instrumental in our 15-1 season that fell just short of the Super Bowl when we lost in overtime to the Atlanta Falcons in the NFC title game. 

With his great size at 6-foot-4, outstanding speed and leaping ability, Moss had seven great seasons in Minnesota. He was a six-time Pro Bowler and made it to the Super Bowl in 2007 with the Patriots. That season, he caught an NFL-record 23 touchdown passes from Tom Brady. 

The NFL Draft is quickly approaching as prospects have finished up pro days. I doubt there will be an NFL executive who will have the eventful experience I had with the evaluation, drafting, rookie negotiation, and, ultimately, the tremendous career of Randy Moss.

Jeff Diamond is a former Minnesota Vikings general manager and Titans team president. He was selected NFL Executive of the Year after the Vikings’ 15-1 season in 1998. Follow him on Twitter at @jeffdiamondnfl.