The Seahawks passing game has come a long way in recent weeks. Russell Wilson looks increasingly comfortable, Sidney Rice and Golden Tate are making plays and the tight ends are getting more involved too. However, the team is still ranked 31st in the NFL for yards per game. Is that an issue?
In many ways, absolutely not. Pete Carroll’s vision for the offense is based around a strong running game and by nature the Seahawks are not going to be throwing as much as other teams. Meanwhile, Russell Wilson – however good he’s looked recently – is still a rookie. The team is unlikely to burden him with too much of a workload. He’s averaging 25 throws a game and that seems about right for this offense. They have a good thing going at the moment with Wilson – and more throws won’t necessarily mean even more success. It could just as easily have a detrimental effect.
The Chicago Bears, surprisingly, are the one team in the NFL averaging less receiving yards per game than the Seahawks. That’s a team with Jay Cutler and Brandon Marshall. They also sport an 8-3 record. The teams averaging the most yardage are the Detroit Lions (4-7) the Dallas Cowboys (5-6) and the New Orleans Saints (5-7). The Oakland Raiders are ranked eighth in the league for passing yards. Do we need to continue? Clearly receiving yards per game is a pretty irrelevant statistic when it comes to winning games.
In order to become a contender, the Seahawks need to find consistency. They have a good defense, a good offense and they can make plays on special teams. When all three units come together (vs New England, Dallas, New York), the results have been very promising. Too often, however, an entire unit has struggled and undermined the efforts of the others. Against Arizona and St. Louis, the offense never really got going and Seattle lost two very winnable games. The defense had their turn against Detroit and Miami, playing poorly in two last second defeats.
We’re unlikely to see that consistency emerge this season. You can’t rule it out – the New York Giants found it late last year and made a 9-7 record into a Super Bowl-winning season. The chances are this is a team that will continue to grow, be a bit frustrating for another year or two and like Atlanta or Houston, eventually emerge into a formidable outfit. Let’s not forget Seattle sports one of the youngest rosters in the NFL, with first or second year pro’s at many key positions.
Within that year or two, they’re going to have the opportunity to keep adding talent. And this is where we come back to the receiver situation. We’ve established the Seahawks don’t necessarily need to significantly improve their passing yards per game average, but are they still lacking that game changing receiver?
Matt Schaub (#13) and Andy Dalton (#15) are safely in the middle of the pack for passing attempts among starting quarterbacks. Yet the players they’re throwing to most – Andre Johnson (#3) and A.J. Green (#5) – are ranked much higher for production. Remember Jay Cutler and that league worst passing offense in terms of production? Cutler ranks #26 in the league for attempts (one place above Russell Wilson at #27) and yet Brandon Marshall is #6 in the NFL for receiving yards. Josh Freeman is #19 for attempts, Vincent Jackson is #9 for yardage. Seattle’s most productive receiver – Sidney Rice – is currently ranked #54 in the league for yardage. Golden Tate is at #80. Both players are behind Brandon LaFell, Donny Avery, Jeremy Kerley and Nate Washington.
It’d be unfair to be overly critical of Rice or Tate as both are doing fine jobs for Seattle in recent weeks. They’ve both been responsible for key victories. But is this an offense that lacks that one dynamic target? Someone who can feature alongside Rice and Tate and at least register enough yardage to overtake Greg Olsen for production? Someone who can work their way into becoming one of the most threatening pass-catchers in the league? The Seahawks might not need a hugely productive passing game overall to win, but they may need a better #1 target for Wilson. Of the top 15 receivers in the NFL for production, 12 feature on teams with at least a 7-4 record.
There’s likely to be a good crop of receivers available in next years draft. Markus Wheaton, Robert Woods and DeAndre Hopkins are all underrated due to a lack of elite size. Cordarrelle Patterson is a home-run hitter with game changing abilities. There are other players, such as Justin Hunter, who failed to live up to expectations in college but maintain an attractive skill set. There are tight ends like Tyler Eifert and Gavin Escobar who will probably be available after the first round.
However, the two players I’d focus on when looking for a dynamic passing threat are two players we’ve discussed already on this blog – Brandon Coleman (WR, Rutgers) and Zach Ertz (TE, Stanford).
Coleman would be a work in progress and wouldn’t guarantee an early return if you draft him in round one. He plays like a redshirt freshman featuring in an offense that likes to run the ball as a priority. It’s easy to overvalue players based on college production – not every player is fortunate enough to feature in an extreme spread, air-raid offense. A.J. Green started three years at Georgia and never had a 1000 yard season. Justin Blackmon had 1782 yards in 2010 alone. In two years at Rutgers, Coleman has just 56 receptions for 1215 yards. More importantly though, he has 16 touchdowns – including ten this year.
He remains relatively inexperienced and he may hit a steep learning curve in the NFL. He’s going to have to learn to run a lot of different routes, he won’t be able to rely as much on pure size and reach (he’s 6-6 and 225lbs). However, Coleman is the most physically impressive receiver you’ll see not named Calvin Johnson.
You want to know what he’s capable of? If you missed Rutgers’ game against Louisville last night, check out this 85 yard touchdown on the Scarlet Knights’ first offense snap of the night. He makes a difficult grab between two defensive backs, turns up field and out-runs the defense. He’s sprinting away from cornerbacks at 6-6 and 225lbs. At that size he’s naturally going to be a threat in the red zone and you’re going to be able to ‘pull a Matt Stafford’ by throwing passes only Coleman has any chance of completing. Yet he has that extra dimension of being a tremendous open field runner and YAC specialist despite the height. He’s a rare specimen.
It’s not clear whether he intends to declare for the draft or not at this stage, but he is eligible and would clearly be the best receiver among the 2013 class. He’s a player whose best football will come in the NFL. He has the opportunity to be a superstar. For more information and game tape, see this piece I wrote on Coleman back in October.
Ertz is a very different player entirely. He has similar height (6-6, 252lbs) but would play tight end at the next level with a lot of blocking responsibility. While it might not seem like an obvious direction for a team looking for a difference making receiver, it’s worth noting how crucial the tight end position is becoming in the league. Of the top-40 receivers for yardage right now, six are tight ends. Everyone has seen the impact of Rob Gronkowski (6-6, 265lbs) and Jimmy Graham (6-7, 265lbs). The great thing about Ertz is he’s over 10lbs lighter and yet still run blocks better than both players did entering the league.
It’s rare to see such a strong blocking tight end playing with Ertz’s frame. Stanford are able to keep him at the line for any play call – run or pass – and it completely opens up their playbook. Ertz leads the Cardinal for receiving yards with 818 from 63 receptions – and yet he plays an equally crucial role blocking for the vastly underrated Stepfan Taylor (Seattle should be all over that guy, even if running back isn’t a need). Crucially in terms of his NFL stock, Ertz is capable of lining up as a pure receiver or in the slot. The entire NFL is looking for a tight end with Ertz’s skill set. He could be the next great, productive tight end in the league.
With Seattle running the ball as much as they do and trying to exploit the play action passing game, Ertz could become Russell Wilson’s best friend. And while it might not lead to the kind of partnership that dominates the highlight reels, there’s no reason why Ertz couldn’t come in and instantly become a productive pass catcher and blocker. He looks NFL ready, more so than another former Cardinal tight end Coby Fleener. The Seahawks essentially could use Ertz and Zach Miller in the same way Stanford uses Ertz and Levine Toilolo – providing a big boost to the running game and developing the play action game they like to utilise so much.
And as always – the most important thing is touchdowns rather than yardage. Like Coleman, Ertz excels in this area with 15 career scores.
Both players will have to declare for the draft to gain consideration for 2013. Both players may leave the board within the top-15 picks if they do turn pro. But if the Seahawks are looking for another dynamic receiving option, these two players will probably be near the top of the list. Along with the top defensive tackles (Sheldon Richardson, Star Lotulelei, Sylvester Williams) and the top linebackers (Alec Ogletree, C.J. Mosley) – the likes of Coleman and Ertz could be near the top of Seattle’s draft board next April.
Note – Sheldon Richardson turning pro
No surprises that Missouri defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson announced today he will enter the 2013 draft. He’s had a terrific year and only some lingering character concerns will keep him out of the top-15 picks. He’d be an ideal fit for the three-technique in Seattle and he’s one to focus on during the draft process. Expect a number of non-Bowl eligible prospects to announce their intentions now that we’re getting into December. And also keep an eye on the top underclassmen who are competing in the bowls. They’re always liable to reveal their intentions in post-game press conferences.
Below I’ve included Richardson’s tape vs Alabama, South Carolina and Georgia: