When it comes to wide receivers, Jerry Rice is often heralded as the king. His domination is well documented across the NFL record books. But, what about the other all-time players that lined up out wide? Randy Moss and Terrell Owens were two of the most electric wide receivers of all time; both on and off the field. In this edition of the NFL GOAT debate, the we’re diving into which polarizing wide out reigns above the other.
Right from the jump, Moss asserted himself as one of the premier offensive weapons in the NFL. In his rookie season Moss set the record for most receiving touchdowns by a first-year player (17). He also added 1,313 receiving yards to his rookie campaign. From 1998-2003, Moss averaged 1,395 receiving yards a season and a staggering 13 touchdowns each year. After a few down seasons, Moss would reemerge with the New England Patriots and produce arguably the greatest ever season by a receiver in 2007. His record-setting 23 receiving touchdowns was a huge reason the Patriots almost managed a perfect season.
Unfortunately, the final three years of Moss’s career were extremely lackluster. In 2010 he played for three different teams and managed only 393 yards. He would than retire during 2011 only to return to the league in 2012 with the 49ers. His last season was a disappointing. He only started two games, posted 28 receptions, and found the endzone three times. Despite the tail end of his career, Moss would walk away from the league 4th all-time in receiving yards, 2nd all-time in receiving touchdowns, and played an impressive 97% of games throughout his playing career.
While Randy would immediately make an impact on the field, Owens did not hit his stride until his fourth season. During his first four years with the 49ers, Owens was a solid contributor. From 2000-2008 he elevated his play to the tune of 1,201 yards per season, 12 touchdowns and 85 yards per game. During this run he posted eight seasons of at least 1,000 receiving yards and would have made it nine consecutive years had injuries not ruined his 2005 season.
Unlike Moss, who struggled to be impactful his final years, T.O. was still capable of posting 1,000 yards and multiple touchdowns. His ten straight years of Pro-Bowl caliber play from 2000-2010 helped Owens’s reach 3rd all time in receiving yards, 2nd in receiving touchdowns, and 8threceptions. While not necessarily injury prone, Owens did constantly having nagging injuries and absences that impact his statistical profile. Despite playing 15 seasons, he only managed to play a full 16 games in seven of them.
These two are extremely close when it comes to their career stats. They ranked 3rd and 4th in all time receiving yards and 2nd and 3rd for all time receiving touchdowns. They are extremely close across all major receiving categories. That boils it down to the longevity of each player. Moss may have been a rookie phenomenon, but Owens’s effectiveness until his retirement at the age of 37 gives him the slightest advantage here. In the 2000s, these two were the best receivers in the game.
Despite his place in many of the record books, Owens is lacking in his trophy case. A five-time First Team-All Pro player, Owens was nominated three times in a row and four times out of five seasons. He was also a six-time Pro-Bowler with nominations coming from 2000-2004 as well as in 2007 during his time with the Cowboys. Lastly, he did lead the league in receiving touchdowns three times. Unfortunately, that is where his accolades end. It can be extremely difficult for receivers to win large amounts of awards as their position is dependent on others, but Owens is still lacking here.
Once again, Moss posts a similar set of awards to that of Owens. The record holder managed four First Team All-Pro appearances. Most impressively, one of those came in his rookie year. He was also nominated to the Pro-Bowl six times, five of which came during his first six seasons. Here is where Moss begins to separate. He also led the league in receiving touchdowns, but did so five times. His dominant rookie showing led to him winning the Offensive Rookie of the year in 1998 and his record setting season in 2007 saw Moss win Comeback Player of the Year. Not to mention his records for most TDs in both a single and rookie season.
Both players were similar in their nominations to All-Pro and Pro-Bowl teams, but Moss has a few more trophies to his name. Owens did manage to contend for nominations well into his thirties, but Randy’s place in the record books and awards from his dominant rookie campaign beat out TO.
Owens was no stranger to the playoffs as he helped the 49ers, Eagles, and Cowboys make appearances in the postseason. His overall record of 4-8 is unimpressive and with only five touchdowns across 12 appearances, Owens was often held in check. While he does not have impressive stats, his heroic efforts during Super Bowl XXXIX are legendary. Seven weeks before the championship game, Owens suffered a broken leg and torn ligaments in his right ankle. So, when his Eagles made the Super Bowl and he dominated to the tune of 9 catches and 122 yards, Owens established himself as a big-time player on the biggest stage. Regardless, his overall average play and lack of a championship don’t match his elite regular season play.
Moss was also never able to secure a championship despite two appearances in 2007 and 2012. Like Owens, his numbers never consistently reached the highs they did during the regular season. Except for two games in 1999 where he averaged 157 receiving yards, Moss only averaged 49 yards per playoff game from 2000-2012. Despite underwhelming yardage numbers, Randy did find himself scoring 10 touchdowns across 15 playoff games and posted a positive winning percentage and a playoff record of 8-7.
Neither player could ever hoist the Lombardi and both were relatively average during their playoff appearances when compared to their historic regular season efforts. Given Moss’s two Super Bowl appearances to Owens one and his ability to find the endzone consistently, he beats out TO.
Randy Moss suited up for a total of five different organizations during his career. He spent much of that time playing alongside other all-time talents as well. While in Minnesota, he had a variety of Pro-Bowlers and Hall of Famers around him. Highlighted by the likes of wide receiver Cris Carter and defensive end John Randle, the Vikings would go 15-1 in Randy’s first year.
Once in New England, he would once again find himself surrounded by great teammates. High-level role players such as Wes Welker, Mike Vrabel, and Logan Mankins helped Moss amass a 37-11 record across three years in Foxborough. Having a coach like Bill Belichick ensured Moss was always on well-prepared teams with a tradition of winning. Not to mention he was catching passes from arguably the greatest quarterback of all time, Tom Brady. Even in the twilight of his playing days, Moss spent time with 49ers team that produced six Pro-Bowl players on defense and nine overall in the 2012 season. Except for his time in Oakland, Moss played with talent.
Just as Moss began his career playing alongside a legendary wide receiver, Owens would spend his early years lining up alongside Jerry Rice and catching passes from Steve Young. His time with the 49ers had many ups and downs with the highs of winning playoff games to only winning four games in 1999 when Jeff Garcia took over the signal calling.
With the Eagles, Owens quickly became the best player on offense helping Donavan McNabb generate a 31:8 touchdown to interception ratio. It helped that future Hall of Famer Brian Dawkins was anchoring the secondary on defense. His last main stop was with the Cowboys who also had a decent level of talent. Tony Romo was a young quarterback who received two Pro-Bowl nominations with the help of Owen’s pass catching abilities. He also had support in the passing game from future Hall of Fame tight end Jason Witten.
Both players were fortunate enough to play with dynamic defenders, complementary Hall of Fame wide receivers, and some of the best quarterbacks to ever line up under center. Yet, Owens managed to produce similar numbers despite playing with slightly less help.
In the end, both players were incredibly dynamic playmakers who could stretch the field. They helped their teams reach multiple conference championships and Super Bowls. Some may be drawn to Owen’s flashy celebrations and gutsy Super Bowl performance. During 11 of his 15 seasons, Owens had at least 900 yards. The number becomes even more impressive when you remove his rookie year and the injury-ridden 2005 season.
On the other end, Randy Moss’ first six years in the league are as good as any receiver has ever had. Even after a few down years, Moss reminded fans that he was a transcendent talent with his 23-touchdown masterpiece in 2007. When an entire generation of football fans grew up running around the playground in an attempt to “Moss” their friends during recess you know that player defined greatness.