There is no more beautiful sight in football than watching a quarterback receive the snap, drop back in the pocket, survey the field and uncork a bomb deep down the field. The drama of the moment is only increased by the TV angle, cutting off what is going on down the field to keep the audience in the dark. As the camera follows the ball in flight, the stage is set for the wide receiver to truly put on a show. Like a superhero arriving at the climactic moment of a Marvel movie, this is the chance for the receiver to announce to the world who he is. Whether it’s catching the ball over the top of defensive backs, one-handed grabs or utilizing their blazing speed to separate from coverage, wide receivers have a flair for the dramatic. It is a trait shared by the best pass-catchers leaguewide, and it’s an area where the Seahawks excel.
When Russell Wilson tosses the ball in the air, Seattle fans know to expect something breathtaking.
The Seattle Seahawks have two very good wide receivers, as well as a stable of interesting talents behind them. As we detailed recently, Russell Wilson is a bona fide superstar, but even he would admit that his wide receivers are a big reason why he is as successful as he is.
While the top two spots on the Seattle depth chart are locked in, there is a battle for every spot behind them. We will go through each, one by one, and determine what their role for the upcoming 2020 season could be.
Players on the roster:
When considering Seahawks wide receivers, diminutive dynamo Tyler Lockett and rookie phenom D.K. Metcalf are the first names that spring to mind. Combining for 140 receptions, 1957 receiving yards and 15 touchdowns, these two made up the bulk of Seattle’s passing game. Forty-three percent of the time Russell Wilson dropped backed in the pocket to pass, he was targeting one of these two receivers. The Seahawks’ passing offense begins and ends with these two.
Tyler Lockett was ranked by Pro Football Focus as the 13th-best wide receiver in the league, ahead of more nationally prominent names such as Desean Jackson, Allen Robinson and Odell Beckham Jr. Breaking the 1,000 receiving yards mark for the first time last season, Lockett has announced himself as a top pass catcher in the league. His individual stat line this season was 82 receptions, 1,057 yards and 8 touchdowns. Those are good numbers, but they could have been even greater. As we detailed in the running back section of Seattle’s offseason preview, the Seahawks ran the football on 44% of plays last season, the third-highest rate in the league. Because of this, Seattle only threw the ball 341 times over the course of the 2019 season, 21st in frequency. The lack of targets hides just how amazing Lockett truly is.
NFL.com agrees, as it has Lockett ranked as their second-best receiver of 2019, citing his insanely high catch rate of 74.5% – 12.6 percentage points higher than his expected catch rate – and indicating his ability to make tough grabs. Also referenced in this piece is his unbelievable ability to get separation down the field, where on 22.7% of his routes he was able to get wide open. What these stats indicate is that he is amazing at using his speed and route running to create a lot of separation from defenders, and even when they can stick with him, he has the ability to make the catch anyways. It is because of this he is Russell Wilson’s top target and together they make one of the most lethal passing combinations in the entire NFL. Were Seattle to utilize this to a greater degree, the rest of the country would know this as well.
Much like his counterpart, D.K. Metcalf also has top-end speed, posting a 4.33 40-yard dash at last year’s scouting combine – one of the top marks for any position. But that is where the comparisons would stop between these two wide receivers. Where Lockett uses superior route running to gain separation, Metcalf uses pure physicality to make grabs when a defender can actually keep pace with him. He is a behemoth on the field, measuring in at 6’4, 229 lbs. At that size he simply towers over many of the league’s defensive backs. When you mix together his size and speed, it’s easy to see why there were comparisons to future hall of famer Calvin Johnson Jr. He definitely has the look, but most encouraging was that he provided flashes of what Johnson brought to the field as well. He was able to create regular separation, make tough grabs in traffic and gained the trust of Russell Wilson. This resulted in Metcalf’s finest display of the season: 7 catches, 160 receiving yards and a touchdown in Seattle’s wild card playoff win versus the Philadelphia Eagles. In a game where Seattle struggled to move the ball in any other facet, Russell regularly looked to DK to provide consistent offense. While there are certainly flaws in the young receiver’s game as well, drops and three lost fumbles being the main ones, it certainly seems that the floor for Metcalf is a high-end number two receiver. But if he clears up the turnovers, increases his route tree and improves his concentration, his ceiling could be… well…the second coming of Megatron.
The Seahawks have no clear-cut third receiver on the team. This is a bit of a problem considering Seattle’s love of using “11” personnel, a formation that consists of three wide receivers, one tight end and one running back. Seattle ran this 74.3% of the time on offense in 2019. Last season, they platooned the role of the number three receiver, utilizing David Moore, Jaron Brown and Malik Turner to fulfill that role on offense. They combined for 48 receptions, 766 receiving yards and 5 receiving touchdowns. That’s not bad production, but issues arose in terms of reliability. None more so than Malik Turner’s key drop in Seattle’s divisional round loss to the Green Bay Packers in last year’s playoffs. Turner before that play had only been on the field for 242 snaps that entire season, an average of about 13 per game. While the drop is on him, the Seattle front office is also at fault for not finding someone more reliable to be on the field during one of the biggest plays of the season. What a team looks for in its wide receiver depth is someone to complete that specific play when the top options are taken away by a defense.
Does Seattle have someone like that on the roster this season? Maybe, but there are no sure things. Out of the receivers currently on the roster, the ones most likely fighting for this role are Philip Dorsett, David Moore and John Ursua. Each brings something a little different to the table.
Philip Dorsett is a former first round-pick out of the University of Miami and is built much like Tyler Lockett. He was projected as a nuclear deep threat coming out of college, with a blazing-fast 4.25-seconds 40-yard dash. Only… that hasn’t exactly happened. In five seasons, he has only recorded 124 receptions for 1634 receiving yards, less than 30 catches per season. That’s not what you want from a first-round talent. Quarterback play can’t really be blamed here, as the only two quarterbacks who have thrown him the ball in his career have been Andrew Luck and Tom Brady. Maybe the Seahawks are the team that finds the right role for him and is able to utilize his unique gifts, but he hasn’t lacked for either opportunity or surrounding talent so far in his career. Indications are not strong he will be able to do so going forward.
The only returning depth player that saw regular snaps in this role last season is fourth-year pro David Moore. Unlike Dorsett, Moore was unheralded coming out of college. A 7th-round pick out of Division III East Central Oklahoma, Moore has had to fight through position battles each of his previous three seasons to maintain a role. While a ferocious competitor, the results on the field have been mixed. In 2018 he looked the part of a proficient, deep ball receiver on route to 26 receptions during his breakout season. He looked on the rise and could be a contributing factor going forward. Unfortunately, he was unable to really bring that momentum forward into 2019, with injuries and inconsistent play plaguing him the entire season. He was targeted 34 times over 14 games, catching only 17 balls. That 50% catch rate is what is most concerning about his game, and a continuation of a trend from 2018 as he only caught 49% of passes thrown his way that season as well. If he cannot improve in that facet of the game, then he will struggle to be more than a depth player. For him to really cement himself as the receiver Seattle needs, he must catch the ball on a much more consistent basis.
I tabbed John Ursua as a competitor because he presents an interesting case. Small stature (5’9, 175 lbs) and less than ideal speed dropped him down draft boards despite amazing production during his senior season at the University of Hawaii (89 catches, 1343 yards, 16 touchdowns). While that impressive production did not translate during his rookie season, he was on roster for the entire year and active for three games. Casual fans may recognize him because the only catch he made was a doozy—an 11-yard reception on 4th & 10 to extend Seattle’s final drive in week 17 against San Francisco. Tackled at the one-yard line, Ursua made the play that seemed to win Seattle the NFC West title and a top seed in the playoffs. For reasons that shall not be named, Seattle did not win that game, but Ursua showed a glimpse of what he could bring on the field going forward. Productive out of the slot, shifty and good hands would make up his word cloud. He’s competing for a spot on a team that actively encourages underdogs to seize large roles. A good preseason could put him in competition with the veterans ahead of him for the third spot on the depth chart.
After those names, the wide receiver depth is a smorgasbord of relative unknowns. There is a good chance Seattle rolls with the five names already listed, meaning that all other names on the roster are competing for one or two spots behind them on the team. Freddy Swain was selected in the 6th round of this year’s draft and will be competing for a returner job as well. Stephen Sullivan was selected in the 7th round and as a converted tight end seems much more like a long-term project at receiver. Aaron Fuller was picked up as an undrafted free agent out of the University of Washington and was their leading receiver in 2019. Seth Dawkins and Cody Thompson are large undrafted receivers, while Penny Hart has the size of a Tyler Lockett or John Ursua. What has really made the Seahawks a special team is the opportunity they give to unheralded prospects, especially at the receiver position. Doug Baldwin went undrafted out of Stanford and became one of Seattle’s greatest ever wide receivers, while players such as Jermaine Kearse and Ricardo Lockette made real contributions to championship teams. Any one of these names that are relegated to a sentence right now may be warranting a full paragraph written in a preview at this time next year, because that is just how Seattle rolls. They give everyone a fair chance to make an impact.
What the receiver position really comes down is that we will be seeing a lot of Lockett and Metcalf receptions next season. Both are pro bowl-caliber receivers who are special players with the ball in their hands. After that, the significant drop off in talent means that Seattle could look to play less “11” personnel next season, opting to maybe bring on an extra tight end or running back instead of a third wide receiver. If they continue to play the same way as last season, I think we as fans will see the same type of platooning of the third wide receiver spot that Brian Schottenheimer implemented last year, unless one of the young receivers on roster really takes a big step forward or they sign someone else in free agency to better fill that spot (Looking at you Josh Gordon). Worst-case scenario, we know at least there will be two guys Russ can trust. If the team continues to not have someone reliable in that third receiver role, it could cost them big, as we found out last season.
Opening Day Projection:
WR1: Tyler Lockett
WR2: DK Metcalf
WR3: Philip Dorsett
Also on roster: David Moore, John Ursua, Freddie Swain
Practice Squad: Stephen Sullivan, Aaron Fuller
Cut: Seth Dawkins, Cody Thompson, Penny Hart