By: Steve Picciano (Twitter: @RandomGrenades)
Player Analysis: The Seattle WRs
The summer dumpster-dive tour, looking for unknown and undervalued talent that you shouldn’t forget when putting the finishing touches on your dynasty roster. We stay in the NFC West, but move up the coast to the beautiful city of Seattle, home to one of the great fish markets in the country. The fish heads we’ll be looking at today are those of the Seahawks’ WRs, probably one of the least respected in the league when it comes to name recognition, despite the fact that they’ve made the playoffs the past five consecutive years, including two super bowl appearances, with largely the same group of WRs.
The elder statesmen of this group are Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, who have been with the team since 2011 and 2012, respectively. Both signed extensions going into the 2016 season, but as we’ll see, both had very different seasons which may affect the long-term makeup of the corps. Beyond are a small group of young but unproven WRs who may be fighting for a time-share for both the WR2 and WR3 positions on the team.
Depending on your league, value can be found in this group at both the top and bottom ends, which sets it apart from other groups you may be looking at. How can that be, you ask? Simple, there’s no love for the ‘Hawks WRs.
It’s hard to believe that a player coming off of back-to-back top 10 finishes could be considered a “value”, but Baldwin is still fighting to get respect out there in the FF community. Last time I looked, his ADP in standard formats was slightly below WR10 and seen as a mid-3rd round target.
Baldwin has been a solid performer for Seattle starting in his rookie season when he finished with a respectable 51/788/4 line on 85 targets. As he completed his third season, it appeared numbers like these were going to be his ceiling as he posted a similar 50/788/5 line, coming out of his sophomore slump.
According to analysis of his third season by PFF, he owned the 9th lowest drop rate in the league (missing only 2 of 65 catchable passes), and had the second highest catch rate for passes of 20+ yards (13 of 19 passes). All-in-all, he finished the 2013 season grading out as the 12th most productive WR. Going into his fourth season, something important happened. Seattle awarded him with a 2-year extension that recognized how productive he was for the team and he responded with another solid 66/825/3 line, increasing his targets to 98.
While he was the team’s most productive WR, Baldwin soon became known around the FF community as the dreaded, but necessary, bye-week filler or “match-up” player at best. That is, until the 2nd half of his fifth season when he exploded for a gaudy average of 6 receptions, 96.9 yards and 1.7 TDs from week 10 – 16, which as any FF owner will tell you, is money-time. Baldwin’s production seemed something of an aberration, registering three 100+ yard performances and four multi-TD games during that stretch. He finished the year with a 78/1069/14 line on 103 targets. You read that right, his catch rate was just over 75%, and the push was enough to land him the #9 WR spot in PPR leagues.
Seattle management took notice by once again extending him, this time to a big-time 5 year/$47.5 million contract. However, FF owners still had doubts about whether or not they would see a repeat performance, so while he was now firmly on the radar, he wasn’t being pursued as vigorously as other top 10 WRs.
Baldwin did not disappoint his team or FF owners by turning in another top-notch year with a 94/1128/7 line on 125 targets. Again, a catch rate over 75%, so it’s no fluke. This time, even though his TDs were down, he ended the year as the #6 WR in PPR leagues.
Perhaps it’s the fact that Russell Wilson is perceived to be a “running” QB that makes people shy away from Baldwin, but he continues to haul in the deep passes over 20 yards with an average of 14.2 over his 6 NFL seasons. Whatever it is, if he’s available in your league, you have to put him up there with the top guys at this point, especially with the RB situation in Seattle becoming so mixed up. He’ll turn 29 during the season, so stay away from long-term contracts, but be prepared to offer top-dollar if you need to.
The road for Kearse has not been the same as for Baldwin. The production of his rookie season was negligible, but he steadily improved each year through his fourth, peaking with a serviceable 49/685/5 line on 68 targets in 2015 as his rookie contract expired. Seattle retained him with a new 3-year/$13.5 million contract, but unlike Baldwin, Kearse was unable to improve on his previous seasons. In fact, he had a bit of regression to a 41/511/1 line even though his targets increased significantly to 89.
At $2.2 million this year, Kearse is fairly affordable for the Seahawks to keep around, especially given his familiarity with the offense. However, it would not be a surprise to see Kearse’s role diminish as the team tries to find out more about its younger WRs, whom we will discuss next, and with $5 million due in 2018, Kearse could definitely be a cap casualty after this season unless he can significantly increase his production, which seems like a long-shot based on what we’ve seen so far.
That being said, I would avoid owning Kearse in all but the deepest of leagues. He’s best left on the waiver wire to consider as an emergency bye-week or injury filler.
I’ll examine the two younger WRs together since they’re very similar in what they bring to the team and the fact that they both have some injury red flags.
Richardson could be the most talented forgotten man in the NFL, let alone in Seattle. He was an early 2nd round selection in the “super-draft” of 2014, going ahead of WRs such as Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, Dante Moncrief, John Brown and Martavis Bryant. Richardson was widely touted for having true speed (4.40 at the Combine) and good hands, but also for having as fragile frame and a history of knee injuries, some of the same things we’ve heard about John Ross.
Richardson didn’t disappoint in his rookie year, having a solid camp and contributing a 29/271/1 line on 43 targets, most of which occurred from week 11 onward. This included his growing use as a deep threat, registering three 20+ yard receptions in the last 4 weeks and adding another in the opening round of the playoffs before once again tearing an ACL. His second season was very brief, returning from an IR designation in week 10, only to injure a hamstring muscle after pulling in a 40-yard reception. He started to have that “what if” aura about him. Seattle even seemed to be moving on by drafting a similar player, Tyler Lockett, early in the 3rd round of the 2015 draft.
Lockett, whom we’ll discuss next, had a more impressive rookie season and it looked very much like he would push Richardson out until he suffered a very serious compound fracture in his lower leg in week 16. Queue the return of Richardson, who had played sparingly throughout the year. Richardson had been averaging 2.6 targets/game and had been a healthy scratch 4 times prior to Lockett’s injury. He made the most of his opportunity by hauling in 8 of 12 targets for 82 yards and a TD in the last two games, including a couple of the most impressive catches of the season.
Richardson continued his increased production through Seattle’s limited playoff run, bringing in another 7 of 9 targets for 131 yards and another TD over two games.
As mentioned above, Lockett was drafted in the early 3rd round of the 2015 draft, seemingly as insurance if Richardson couldn’t return from his ACL injury, or perhaps as his expected replacement. All seemed to be going according to plan as Lockett posted an impressive 51/664/6 line in his rookie year with 41/597/1 and cemented himself as one of the best returners in the NFL, thereby increasing his value on the team.
There are certainly no issues with Lockett’s skill-set, but there has to be some concern with the injury he suffered in week 16. Reports are that he’s planning to give it a full go at the start of training camp, and I have to wonder if he wouldn’t be better off by giving his leg more time to heal. After all, he’s dealing with this (look away if you must):
Richardson is making it very difficult for Seattle to move past him. When on the field and healthy, he’s as dynamic a pass catcher as there is, and he continues to be one of the fastest. He’s entering the final year of his rookie contract in 2017, and the team needs to know what to do. Conversely, it’s unknown if Lockett will be 100% when he first returns, but is under contract for two more years, so the team can play it a bit more safe with him.
I honestly wouldn’t be surprised to see these two combine in a 50/50 split to fill the WR2 role that Jermaine Kearse has been holding onto. I know that the FF community abhors time-share situations, but in this case it might actually benefit both players health-wise. They have the speed that Kearse lacks to stretch the field and open things up.
What I’m most interested in seeing is if Seattle uses more 3-WR sets in 2017 to off-set their inconsistent run game. According to PFF, Seattle ran 3-WR sets the 6th least (40.5%) and 1-WR sets the 2nd most (17.9%), so it would be a paradigm shift to do so but given that they were 25th in rushing yards with 1591 and a paltry 3.9 YPC average, it may be time to make that change.
I would target both Lockett and Richardson as mid-to-late round players with a cautious eye on how they’re being used early in the season. Contracts should be on the low-end, league minimum if you can get away with it. Since both players are still relatively young (both just 25 this year), I’d recommend a contract length at the league average of 3 years. Long enough to retain the players if they are able to produce, but short enough so you don’t get stuck with dogs if they can’t. I would not recommend trading for either player in their current situation.
Rookies & Beyond:
The remaining players in the WR group don’t do anything to really capture one’s attention, sorry to say. Kenny Lawler and Davis Moore were both 7th round picks (’16 & ’17, respectively) while Tanner McEvoy, Marcus Lucas, Kasen Williams, Darreus Rogers, Rodney Smith and Cyril Grayson complete a field of UDFA and FA signings from the past three years. The one player to perhaps keep your eye on is Amara Darboh, who was selected in the 3rd round of the 2017 draft. At 6’ 2”, 215, Darboh is more of a physical mirror of Jermaine Kearse, and I would not be surprised if he starts to split time with Kearse as the WR3/4 as the season progresses. I would classify Darboh as a sleeper/deep-sleeper and should only be rostered in dynasty format as a UDFA project with a 2-3 year time horizon for development.