A Santana revival: Moss and RG3 are a 'Smooth' combination

Let’s examine a pair of Santana revivals for a moment, shall we? Because in some ways, the 1999 revival of seminal guitarist Carlos Santana and the 2012 revival of Redskins WR Santana Moss are comparable.

In 1999, the aging but still masterful Carlos Santana broke out of a long commercial slump with the release of the LP “Supernatural.” It included a number of collaborations with other well-known musicians, including Eric Clapton, Dave Matthews, Wyclef Jean and Cee-Lo Green. The album’s smash hit was “Smooth,” a song co-written and sung by young vocalist Rob Thomas of the band Matchbox Twenty. “Smooth” was the No. 1 song on the Billboard Hot 100 for 12 weeks, and it holds the distinction of having been the final No. 1 song of the 1990s. The Santana-Thomas collaboration exposed Santana to a new generation of appreciative listeners.

In 2012, the aging but still skillful Santana Moss has broken out of a long TD slump with the release of the Redskins’ passing game from the clutches of mediocrity. The key Santana collaborator has been young QB Robert Griffin III. With Moss having caught five TD passes in his last six games, a new generation of appreciative fantasy owners has been exposed to the sort of TD production Moss last attained in the early-to-mid 2000s.

The two revivals have some obvious differences, of course. Carlos Santana goes back a little further than Santana Moss, having played for the masses at Woodstock early in his career, while Moss can only claim to have played for Herman Edwards early in his career. And I’m not sure how much the aforementioned collaborators have in common. Robert Griffin III is one of the most spectacular playmakers to come into the league in years. There are no adequate superlatives to describe how impressive his rookie season has been thus far. As for Rob Thomas … uh, I’ll let you draw your own conclusions about the quality of his career thus far.

For fantasy owners, the compelling question is whether the Moss revival is sustainable. I think it is, at least for the rest of the season — though it’s easy to understand why the Moss surge is being viewed suspiciously in some quarters.

Moss had largely fallen off the radar of fantasy owners entering this season. He produced 584 receiving yards and four TDs in 12 games last season and was only the third-most-productive pass catcher in Washington’s mediocre aerial game, behind Jabar Gaffney and Fred Davis. Although there was optimism that RG3 would be able to reinvigorate the ’Skins’ passing game this season, it was expected that Davis and the newly acquired Pierre Garcon would be the rookie’s top targets.

Davis is out for the rest of the season with a torn Achilles, and Garcon has been struggling to come back from a foot injury that could conceivably put him on the shelf for the rest of the season, so Moss has been granted an opportunity to reassert himself as a principle component of the ’Skins’ passing game. But while Moss has been scoring a lot of touchdowns, he hasn’t exactly been a high-volume receiver. Yes, he has had five TD catches over his last half-dozen games, but Moss has amassed only 17 total receptions over that span, with an average of 41.7 receiving yards per game. Moss isn’t even a starter despite the Garcon injury — Leonard Hankerson and Josh Morgan have been starting for the Redskins.

In Washington’s loss to Pittsburgh last week, Moss caught four passes for 21 yards and a touchdown, with a long gain of only eight yards. But what’s significant, I think, is that Moss was targeted a season-high nine times. He hadn’t been targeted more than five times in any other game this season (though he entered last week’s game averaging a steady 4.0 looks per game, with no fewer than three in any contest). Moss was on the field for 25 snaps against the Steelers, up from 17 snaps against the Giants the week prior.

I don’t think the increased targets and snaps for Moss in Week Nine were a mere anomaly. More likely, they reflect the needed expansion of his role. Last week’s game against Pittsburgh was the Redskins’ first game without Davis, and it appears that Moss was a large part of the plan for filling the void. Moss is much better after the catch than Hankerson (Moss is averaging 6.7 yards after the catch this season to Hankerson’s 4.0), and he’s more effective in the red zone than Morgan (who has nine TD catches in 57 career games).

Moss, 33, hasn’t finished a season with more than six TD receptions since 2005, when he had nine in his first year with the Redskins. His career high in TD catches (10) came with the Jets in 2003. Moss might never again be as busy a receiver as he was two seasons ago, when he had 93 receptions for 1,115 yards, but he has a reasonable chance to finish with 9-10 touchdowns, and I think he can be a useful third receiver or flex play for fantasy owners the rest of the way.

Ain’t got nobody (at wide receiver) that you can depend on? Santana might be able to hit the right notes for you.

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