Randy Moss, Hines Ward And The Rest Of The 1998 WR Class
The 2012 NFL Draft looks likely to see a lot of wide receivers selected early. Justin Blackmon, Alshon Jeffery, Michael Floyd and Kendall Wright all look like 1st round picks with a half a dozen or more guys who look like 2nd rounders. As many as 15 of the first 100 names called in April’s draft could be WR’s – making it one of the heaviest concentrations of early WR selections in NFL Draft history.
Another such draft occurred in 1998 – a class which produced one of the all-time greats (Randy Moss) and another highly successful and long-tenured WR (Hines Ward). Moss and Ward were two of 15 WR’s selected in the top 100 picks in 1998. Fourteen years later, Ward is the only guy still employed and most of the other early picks are long-since forgotten. Here’s a look at the WR class of 1998:
While Moss is easily the best WR in the class, he wasn’t the first WR to come off the board. Kevin Dyson, best remembered for coming up one yard short in Super Bowl XXXIV, was taken 5 picks before Moss and finished his otherwise forgettable 6 year career with less production that Moss put up in his first two years. The mercurial Moss, who slipped for the same character issues that would plague his whole career, has one of the most impressive résumés that you’ll ever find (minus the Super Bowl ring). The other 1st rounder – Marcus Nash – was a total flop and was out of the league less than 2 years after being drafted.
The 2nd round was filled with disappointments:
Of the 2nd rounders, Crowell looked like he was on his way to stardom – catching 81 passes for 1338 yards in his 2nd season. At 6’3 215 with good hands and speed, he resembled Randy Moss in many ways. Unfortunately, he suffered a career-altering knee injury in his 3rd season and never was able to regain his pre-injury form. He’s one of the best “what could have been?” types in the last 30 years. The highly hyped Jacquez Green had some nice production early, having 50+ catches in his 2nd and 3rd season. His career fell off a cliff shortly thereafter though, and he was out of the league by 2003. Pathon struggled with injuries and mediocrity for most of his career, although he managed to kick around the league for awhile. Jurevicius was a bit of a late bloomer who battled a number of ailments throughout his career. While he never lived up to his draft position, he was involved in a number of big plays in his career (including a 71 yard catch and run in the 2002 NFC Championship game). Patrick Johnson and Tony Simmons were total flops.
Putting Moss’ production in perspective – he had more catches and yards than Dyson, Nash, Pathon, Green, Johnson, Crowell and Simmons combined.
The first four of the five third rounders were complete washouts. Ward has been one of the most consistent and productive WR’s of his generation and is probably just short of being a Hall Of Fame consideration. The 4th round produced a pair of kick returning slot receivers in Az-Zahir Hakim, a key part of the “Greatest Show On Turf,” and journeyman Tim Dwight. Donald Hayes showed enough promise in Carolina to get a lucrative free agent contract from Bill Belichick’s New England Patriots – and promptly became one of the biggest free agent flops in team history.
The 5th-7th round picks:
Corey Bradford is the best of the late rounders, playing for 9 years between three teams and starting 50 games along the way. Bobby Shaw had a few good years and Alvis Whitted was an excellent special teams coverage guy for almost a decade. The others didn’t amount to much, although Fred Coleman managed to get a Super Bowl ring with the 2001 Patriots.
Overall, the 1998 class serves as a good reminder that a deep prospect class doesn’t always lead to a deep crop of good NFL players. While the 2012 class looks good on paper – despite missing the marquee talent like Moss – chances are that most of the early WR’s will be nothing more than 3 or 4 year contributors and special teams contributors.