Willie Snead used to study Lance Moore’s game.
Back in 2009, when the high-flying Saints passing attack drew everyone’s attention on its run to the Super Bowl, Snead was a freshman at Glade Central High School in Belle Glade, Florida, a budding talent trying to learn to play receiver on the fly.
Snead, the son of a coach, had always tried to study the next level. A former and future quarterback with dual-threat capabilities, Snead often watched Tim Tebow and tried to pattern his game after the former Florida and Broncos quarterback.
But Snead played receiver in his first two years in high school, and Moore caught his eye. A little later, as a Ball State receiver trying to make his name in the Mid-American Conference, Snead became even more aware of the former Saint’s path to stardom.
“I respect anyone that’s undrafted or low-round guys that worked to get where they’re at,” Snead said. “Antonio Brown, Lance Moore, Julian Edelman, all of those guys are MAC guys that came from the bottom to get to where they’re at right now.”
Little did Snead know he’d someday break through in New Orleans and draw constant comparisons to Moore.
The parallels between the two are obvious. Both MAC stars initially went undrafted, signed their first NFL contracts in Cleveland and spent their first season bouncing around practice squads in New Orleans. Throw in the pair’s lack of eye-popping size or speed, and it’s easy to see why Snead’s emergence conjures up visions of Moore in New Orleans.
“It is a good comparison, but at the end of the day, me and Lance are two different people,” Snead said. “I learn from Lance, and I want to be better than him. I feel like that’s what he would expect from me.”
The man who quarterbacked both players sees one key similarity.
In a passing game heavily predicated on finding the holes in zones and altering routes to find the open space, both Moore and Snead are excellent route-runners who have the ability to make routes look the same to defensive backs but serve as open books for Drew Brees.
“It was very easy to read (Moore’s) body language, because (so much of what) we do with this offense is according to the look, the route’s run a certain way, (we had) so much trust in Lance,” Brees said. “Willie has a lot of those same attributes, and I think that’s why the comparison is made with Lance.”
Brees, better than most, can also see the differences.
Moore, for all of his ability to make tough, contested catches in the air, was more of a finesse player. The Toledo product had a suddenness to his movements that helped him create separation.
Snead, who ran a 4.6 second 40-yard dash at the NFL Combine to Moore’s 4.52, would like to improve his burst.
“Speed,” Snead said. “That’s always something that I can work on. Quickness, but speed is going to be vital to being able to run away from people and separate.”
Snead, listed two inches taller and 10 pounds heavier, brings a brawny, powerful element to his skill set. When Snead makes a catch in the open field, his strength, balance and history as a running quarterback — not to mention the Tebow influence — make him difficult to bring down on the initial hit.
“I’m really physical,” Snead said. “I’m not going to say he doesn’t run block or anything, but I’m a physical guy. I’ll stick my head in there and block.”
Moore also played with a flashier style than Snead.
The former Saint was one of the league’s better end-zone entertainers, dreaming up the kinds of touchdown dances that prompt endless debate now. Snead, at least in his first season, hasn’t followed in those footsteps.
“Willie Snead is a guy that is playing really well right now, and maybe not doing the touchdown dances or having the same antics as I had,” Moore said. “But he is definitely showing up each and every Sunday and making plays for those guys.”
Snead has made his mark faster than Moore did in New Orleans.
With three games left in the season, Snead already has more receptions (52) than Moore did in all but three of his eight seasons in New Orleans, and Snead’s yardage (798) is already higher than all but two of the seasons Moore put together. By season’s end, Snead could make a run at Moore’s best season, a 2012 campaign when the former fan favorite caught 65 balls for 1,041 yards and six touchdowns.
But Snead finds a new inspiration in Moore now. Firmly established now by this breakout season he’s having, Snead now sees himself aiming for the kind of longevity the 10-year veteran has been able to enjoy in a league where the future is often difficult to ensure.
“That’s what I want to do, be an eight-, nine-year vet,” Snead said. “Just keep building and keep getting better.”
Moore, for his part, recognizes the same kind of drive in Snead that propelled him through the practice squad, NFL Europe and into a key role for one of the league’s most prolific offenses.
“I think it’s pretty fair. Obviously, he is a young guy who came up the hard way, bounced around a little bit and found a place he is comfortable in and he is making plays,” Moore said. “I think a lot of times, specifically undrafted guys, it’s a matter of what you do when you finally get an opportunity, and if you actually get an opportunity, and some guys never get that true fair shake at it.”
Snead, like Moore before him, is making the most of the chances he earned.