NFC West: Trindon Holliday
It was as good as it had to be. Russell Wilson's passer rating was 123.1, eight different players caught his passes and he wasn't sacked or intercepted. Seattle raced out to a huge first-half lead, so Wilson didn't need to put up gaudy stats to win. But he was 4-of-5 for 64 yards on third-down plays in the first quarter, when the game was still in doubt, and he was still flinging it around in the fourth quarter as the Seahawks padded their lead.
Marshawn Lynch struggled to find room against Terrance Knighton and a Broncos defensive front focused on stopping the run. But Seattle's yards-per-carry average got a boost from Percy Harvin's 15-yard and 30-yard runs on jet sweep plays, and Lynch was able to muscle into the end zone on second down from the 1-yard line after a pass interference penalty in the end zone set up the game's first touchdown.
Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning won his fifth MVP award for a season in which he threw a record 55 touchdown passes. But he was a mess all night against Seattle's pass rush, throwing two interceptions. Led by Cliff Avril, Seattle's line moved Manning off his spot all night and batted down some key passes while the big, physical defensive backs made life miserable for Broncos receivers before and after the catch. The "Legion of Boom" lived up to its name, outmuscling the top-scoring offense in NFL history.
Total domination. And yeah, the Broncos had to get away from the run because they were down 15-0 before they had a chance to run their offense. But Seattle's front bottled up Knowshon Moreno and Montee Ball, holding Denver to 27 yards rushing on 14 carries, forcing a fumble (that Denver recovered) and stripping the Broncos of any chance to maintain any level of balance on offense.
Harvin barely played all season. Finally healthy, he was a difference-maker in the biggest game of his career. Seattle's 22-0 halftime lead looked tough to overcome, but the 29-0 lead they had 12 seconds into the half after Harvin's 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown looked impossible. Seattle's kick coverage team held electric Denver return man Trindon Holliday in check.
Give Pete Carroll the grade for the full year, as every move he made seemed to pay off. He had enough faith in his defense to let Manning start the game with the ball after he won the coin toss and to kick a first-quarter field goal instead of going for it on fourth-and-short inside the Denver 10. He also stayed aggressive even as his team was rolling early, calling timeout on a Denver fourth-and-2 from the Seattle 19 with 1:06 left in the first half. Seattle didn't even try to move the ball in the final minute after stopping the Broncos and taking possession, but it showed a coach in control of the game. You also have to hand Seattle defensive coordinator Dan Quinn the victory over Denver offensive coordinator Adam Gase in the matchup of hot head-coaching candidates.
The top three teams in passing yardage last season -- New Orleans, New England and Green Bay -- have combined to invest one first-round draft choice in receivers since 2006.
The implication is clear: Teams can flourish in the passing game without regularly investing early picks in wideouts, a point to consider as mock drafts widely project Justin Blackmon to the Rams with the sixth overall choice. The adage about the NFL as a quarterback-driven league seems to gain momentum.
But the broader context is this: Teams do not regularly draft wide receivers in the first round, regardless of where those teams rank in passing yardage.
Teams have chosen only 11 receivers in first rounds since 2006, the year Farr used as a start point. Teams have drafted 29 defensive linemen, 26 offensive linemen, 24 defensive backs and 14 quarterbacks in first rounds over the same period. Teams have drafted the same number of receivers as linebackers and running backs in these first rounds (allowing for some overlap between defensive ends and outside linebackers).
The chart shows round-by-round receiver selections since 2007 for 11 strong passing teams. I've chosen 2007 as the starting point because it encompasses the past five drafts.
The list includes the teams whose quarterbacks finished among the top 10 in Total QBR last season, plus the New York Giants, who won the Super Bowl thanks largely to Eli Manning's strong play. These teams have drafted fewer receivers than other teams on average, but slightly more of them in the first and third rounds.
None of these teams has drafted a receiver in the fourth round since 2007; teams tend to grab them in the third round, then wait til the last three rounds to fill out their rosters.
Houston, with Andre Johnson to anchor its receiving corps, has drafted only one receiver in any round over the five-year period in question (Trindon Holliday, a sixth-round choice in 2010, was a returner).
The NFL is a passing league. Receivers are important, but drafting one early isn't always a requirement for success. The Saints have drafted only two receivers in any round since 2007, yet they had the most prolific offense in the league, with tight end Jimmy Graham a big part of their success.
How teams use weapons in combination becomes critical, too. A No. 1 receiver becomes more effective with a strong option from the slot taking off pressure. Teams with gifted tight ends have another advantage.
Do the Rams absolutely, positively have to draft a wide receiver sixth overall this year? Of course not. But if they can find the next Calvin Johnson or even the next Hakeem Nicks -- two of the seven first-round wideouts drafted by teams in the chart -- what would be so bad about that?