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|Lance Moore just might be the NFC South's most productive receiver.|
Posted by ESPN.com's Pat Yasinskas
He has more catches than Carolina's Steve Smith and Tampa Bay's Antonio Bryant. He has more touchdowns than Atlanta's Roddy White.
He has, for most of the season, taken the place of Marques Colston as the No. 1 option in New Orleans' high-flying passing game.
If you want to go out on a limb -- and that limb's a heck of a lot shorter than it was at the beginning of the season -- you could make a case that Lance Moore is the NFC South's best receiver. No, not in terms of pure talent because Smith, White, Bryant, Coltson and, probably four or five other guys, have an edge on Moore there.
But let's just talk production for the moment. Moore, a guy you'd probably never heard of before this year unless you're a die-hard New Orleans fan, has the numbers. He's got 57 receptions for 724 yards and seven touchdowns. He's caught a touchdown pass in each of his last four games.
He's a fantasy football player's dream. In reality, Moore has become a dream of a football player.
"He's not a secret anymore," said Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden, who faces Moore and the Saints on Sunday. "He's caught a lot of balls down there. He's obviously a very reliable guy and, to me, that's the key for the Saints. (Quarterback) Drew Brees puts them into good plays every snap. He knows where to go, the hot receiver. He knows who to get it to and the audible. You have to have reliable, accountable people. To have a guy like Moore, who also is a talented guy, is a double-edge sword for a defense."
If it sounds like Moore might simply be in the right place at the right time, that's only because it's the truth. But the fact is the guy has become a staple in New Orleans' offense.
"I feel like I belong in this offense," Moore said. "I feel like they have to give me the ball because I am making so many plays."
Those might be the kind of words you'd expect from Smith, White or Bryant, who never have lacked for confidence and have the résumés to back it up. But Moore?
Heck, the guy really didn't even have a résumé until this year.
"These guys started on first base, not third base," New Orleans coach Sean Payton said. "He was a free agent from Toledo. He played over in Europe."
At 5-foot-9 and 190 pounds, Moore didn't even get a look in the draft when he came out of Toledo in 2005. Pretty much as a courtesy because he was a local kid, the Cleveland Browns signed Moore, but he didn't even come close to making the roster. The Saints signed him to the practice squad and he spent two seasons bouncing from there to the regular roster and got a free ticket to NFL Europa. He got enough playing time last year, making 32 catches.
But, when the Saints went to training camp this summer, Moore was a classic "bubble" guy because the Saints had Colston, veterans David Patten and Devery Henderson and 2007 first-round pick Robert Meachem. The way things have sorted out, though, Moore has had a bigger impact than all those guys.
The reason is simple: The Saints were going to throw the ball a lot, no matter what, and Moore has stepped up and been the one guy who has shown he can catch it on a consistent basis. He's a large part of the reason Brees is on pace to set the single-season record for passing yards.
"He's a guy that has very reliable and dependable hands," Payton said. "He knows exactly what to do on each play. He's obviously got a lot of confidence behind him with Drew and that's something he's earned. He's a great worker and very detailed at what he does."
Those are the qualities that earned Moore a spot in the league.
"It has been a long road, many ups and many downs," Moore said. "I think it is just a credit to continuing to work. That was my attitude. As long as I worked as hard as I could, then I could say "At least I tried." Working hard and making plays each and every day in practice started to pay off with the coaches believing in me and wanting to throw me the ball on weekends."
At least at first, the Saints were throwing the ball to Moore out of necessity. Colston and Patten each had some injury issues early on and, even with the door wide open, Meachem wasn't able to take advantage of the opportunity for playing time.
Even with Colston back in recent weeks and tight end Jeremy Shockey apparently healthy, the Saints haven't stopped throwing to Moore. The talented Colston probably will reclaim his spot as the No. 1 option in the passing game at some point.
But Moore isn't going to just go away. He's found a role in an offense that's going to keep throwing the ball. He's locked down a starting job for the present and future. True, Moore is no longer a secret. He's become a guy who just goes out and makes plays every week.
"I always felt like I was capable in my mind and it was just a matter of time until I got that real opportunity to show myself," Moore said. "Now is pretty much the time where I have been able to do that and be making plays for my team. The coaches have the confidence in me and I have the confidence in everybody else, so this feels good. There is still a long ways to go, but I am enjoying myself this season."