Seattle needs to add at least one new receiver at some point in the off-season. The lack of production at tight end, however, has led some to wonder whether that’s an upgradeable position too.
Zach Miller’s numbers this season are not too different to most tight ends in the league. There aren’t a cluster of Gronkowski’s and Graham’s around and we may see a number of ‘copycat’ draft picks as GM’s try to emulate the Patriots and Saints. The thing is, both of those teams have great, Super Bowl winning quarterbacks and elite passing games. The Seahawks – sporting a rookie quarterback and leaning on the ground attack – are not running an offense that is going to be overly generous towards a tight end.
Part of the problem is Miller’s lack of production in Seattle compared to his time in Oakland. Fans feel underwhelmed by a guy who signed a big contract to join the Seahawks. Yet this is actually the greatest example as to why this isn’t a talent issue. Miller averaged 61 receptions per-year between 2008-10 for the Raiders. He has just 43 catches in 24 games for the Seahawks. According to Advanced NFL Stats, Miller has only been targeted 26 times this year with 18 completions. There are 31 tight ends in the NFL with more targets than Zach Miller. According to the websites ‘success rate’ (defined as ‘the proportion of plays in which a player was directly involved that would typically be considered successful’) Miller is ranked 6th in the league ahead of even Gronkowski and Graham. When the Seahawks use Miller, he generally has a positive impact. They just aren’t using him all that much.
In his final year with the Raiders (2010) he was targeted 92 times. That’s quite a substantial drop off compared to this years 26 targets in nine games. Miller is used largely to block and protect and his role within this offense shouldn’t be defined by the number of catches he’s making. And while ideally you’d like his touchdown numbers to be up, in Oakland he had a one score season in 2008 and only had three touchdowns in 2007 and 2009.
Drafting a tight end early will not automatically provide this team with a jolt of production unless they adapt the position to be more productive. And if you’re going to adapt, why not just put the responsibility on Miller? Although the Seahawks use a lot of 2TE sets, we haven’t seen a great deal from Anthony McCoy or Evan Moore. Spending a high pick on the position might be a wasted move whether it’s to compliment or replace Zach Miller.
The one thing that could provoke a change is the cap hit for Miller in 2013. He’s scheduled to eat up $11m in cap room in a year where the Seahawks may feel that money is better spent elsewhere. He could renegotiate his deal, but it’s unlikely he’ll ever see $11m next season whatever happens between now and the new year. Even in the most dramatic scenario where he’s released, is this really a position you spend a first round pick on?
The Seahawks clearly see the importance of the tight end position, which is why they spent $34m on signing Miller in the first place. That could hint towards a more productive role in the future for whoever plays tight end in this system and further investment. Whether it’s worth a first or second round investment remains to be seen. A lot will depend on how the Seahawks rate a relatively mediocre looking 2013 class at the position.
The two Stanford players are probably the most talented – Zach Ertz and Levine Toilolo. Ertz is a solid all-round tight end who blocks well for his size and is capable of making plays in he passing game. Toilolo is a 6-8 beast who has shown he can get downfield – he’s averaging 19 yards per catch this year. At the next level he might struggle to have the same success rate, but he could be a force in the red zone. Tyler Eifert is the latest tight end off the Notre Dame production line and warrants a mid-round grade. One to keep an eye on is Gavin Escobar at San Diego State. Statistically he’s one of the leading tight ends in the nation and he’s more of a pass catcher than blocker. He’s 6-6 and 255lbs and has the best shot to be that modern day athletic, receiving tight end. Dion Sims at Michigan State warrants some attention as a possible second or third rounder.
It’s around about now that the Washington fans bring up Austin Seferian-Jenkins – the NCAA’s leading tight end statistically and future NFL star. He’s not eligible for the 2013 draft and when he enters the league in 2014, it’ll be as a top-ten pick. It’ll be very difficult to keep ASJ in-state unless the Seahawks take major steps backwards next season. Or they make a big move up the board, which almost never happens for a tight end – however talented.
I’ve included three games of tape for Stanford’s Ertz below, vs USC, Notre Dame and Washington.