Wednesday, March 5, 2008

A sad day for the NFC North

And so it came to pass in the first week of March that the player, born of the south but adopted by the north, left his frigid surrogate home for greener pastures. Oft loved by his fans (though also scorned by some), he leaves behind a legacy that will be difficult to duplicate, and, while his accomplishments can be read by anyone with access to a stat book, his true value to his team may never be known.

I'm referring, of course, to Mewelde Moore leaving the Vikings and signing a three-year deal with the Steelers. Who did you think I was talking about?

(And yes, I know that Moore's signing and that other piece of news weren't on the same day, but they were within 24 hours of each other. Close 'nuff.)

For whatever reason, Mewelde Moore never caught on to a regular role with the Vikings, who were always looking to replace him. Despite rushing for 662 yards in his second season with the team, management went out and obtained Chester Taylor in free agency the following year. While there is some question as to whether the diminutive (5'11") Moore could handle the beating of being a regular back (despite weighing a sturdy 210 pounds), it's puzzling and, at times, infuriating, to wonder why the team didn't use the talents that he did have, primarily as a receiver/third-down back and punt returner.

It was understandable after the drafting of Adrian Peterson that Moore would never be more than a third-stringer with the Vikings. However, both Peterson and Taylor missed significant time with injuries in 2007, and, with the team concerned about both the overuse of the rookie Peterson and the veteran Taylor, who broke down late in 2006, Moore still couldn't catch on except in the occasional two-minute drill. He registered a carry in just six games in 2007 and only had 20 on the season to go with six receptions while being inactive for four games. This from a player who averaged over 35 catches a season in his previous three years with the team. It wouldn't be much of an exaggeration to suggest that Moore might have been better than some of the team's wide receivers.

And it's not as if he failed to perform when given the chance. Moore owns a career 4.9 yards/carry average, and, while a good chunk of that is the result of draw plays and other situations where the opposing team might be lax against the run, he managed a reasonable 4.3 yards/carry in his one season as a semi-primary running back (2005). He also averaged 9.4 yards on 116 career receptions, more than Marshall Faulk (9.0) and Brian Westbrook (9.2) for their careers.

The ultimate case of wasting Moore's talent, however, has to be in the team's unwillingness to utilize him as a punt returner. Moore only got to bring back 13 punts in 2007, for a 10.0-yard average. For his career, he sports a 10.4-yard average and has two punt-return TDs to his name. That 10.4 figure places him in a tie for seventh among active players yet Vikings coaches inexplicably preferred Bobby Wade in that role for much of the season. Wade averaged 7.0 yards per return and had more returns than Moore (16 to 13). His career punt-return numbers prior to 2007 weren't too bad, but why use your #1 receiver in such a role when your #3 running back is available (not to mention better)? Between that move and Adrian Peterson running back kickoffs when Troy Williamson and Aundrae Allison were available, I was almost hoping for a special-teams injury to a valuable player to knock the coaching staff upside the head.

Finally, when it looked like Moore -- who obviously had no future with the team -- was on the trading block back in October, it seemed that the team might at least manage to get a mid-round draft pick for him. But the team held out for a higher pick (if the Star-Tribune story is accurate) and got nothing for a player who was so valuable that he got 10 more touches the rest of the season. I won't say that a player like Moore is going to lead his team to the Super Bowl, but for all the work and hours and effort that coaches purportedly put into filling out their game plans, it seems absurd that they would fail to take advantage of such an obvious asset.

Congratulations to the Steelers, who got a player that his team didn't want and congrats to Mewelde, who might finally have the chance to show off his prodigious talent.

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