Monday, February 25, 2013
'Misled' into believing WR corps are weak?
By Mike Sando
Every NFC West team but the Arizona Cardinals could reasonably rank a wide receiver upgrade high on its list of priorities.
The Cardinals should be set at the position with Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Roberts and Michael Floyd.
One Seattle fan I heard from through the NFC West mailbag thinks the Seahawks are better than advertised at the position. I'll use the opportunity to take a big-picture look at NFC West teams' production when targeting wide receivers last season.
"I think many fans are misled into believing that we have a weak corps by the fact that the Seahawks are more of a run-dominant team," Brandon from Bremerton, Wash., writes via the mailbag. "Showing the number of targets and the efficiency of catching those targets would be a great measure of how receiving corps are ranked."
We can do that, Brandon. First, though, a few words of warning. Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson held the ball an NFL-high 3.64 seconds before passing when targeting wide receivers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. That bought time for his receivers to get open, often farther downfield. That helps explain why Wilson's passes to wideouts traveled 13.2 yards past the line of scrimmage on average, fifth-longest in the NFL.
Getting open is easier when the defense must worry about a dominant running back such as Marshawn Lynch and a dynamic scrambler such as Wilson. The way Seattle incorporated read-option wrinkles into the offense stressed defenses further.
Seattle ranked 31st in pass targets to wide receivers. That confirms what Brandon said about Seattle being a run-dominant team. But the Seahawks' wide receivers ranked eighth in percentage of targets resulting in completed passes. Seattle's wideouts ranked third in lowest percentage of dropped passes, according to the standard ESPN Stats & Information employs in-game charting. They were also sixth in yards per reception.
The first chart shows where NFC West teams' wide receivers ranked in various categories. Factors beyond the wide receivers come into play. The Cardinals ranked 32nd in expected points added on pass plays targeting wide receivers. I would blame the overall state of their offense, starting at quarterback, more than I would blame the receivers even if the wideouts didn't play as well as anticipated in some cases.
Seattle's efficiency when targeting wide receivers was good, but would it drop appreciably if the Seahawks became more of a throwing team? Or would Wilson continue to maximize the position, getting even more from his receivers as the group worked together more over time? Seattle ranked 19th through Week 7 and fifth thereafter in EPA when targeting wide receivers.
That's a run through some of the statistics. I'd say the Seahawks were better than anticipated at wide receiver. They went from hoping Terrell Owens would catch on to watching Sidney Rice and Golden Tate flourish. Each finished with seven receiving touchdowns. Again, Wilson had a great deal to do with that.
Adding another receiver through the draft would make sense, in my view.
Doug Baldwin has had some injury troubles. Rice had injury problems before last season. Ben Obomanu has been a valuable role player with special-teams ability as well, but he's scheduled to earn $2.3 million in salary for the 2013 season. It's probably time for a younger player to fill that role at lower cost. And if that younger player pushes Tate, Rice or Baldwin for playing time right away, all the better for Seattle.