One of the NFL's best receivers notched a -2.3% DVOA last year. Does a target-by-target breakdown show he was better than that?
12 Apr 2013
by Andy Benoit
The 2013 "State of the Team" articles will run daily through the NFL draft. These offer a snapshot look at a team’s roster, with players classified by color based on how they fit their role. My analysis is based on film study, not statistics, although we will try to note when my judgment differs significantly from FO's advanced stats, and explain a little bit why. Starters are in bold, and you will notice that many units are listed with 12 starters rather than just 11. This denotes the extra playing time that nickelbacks and third receivers usually get in today's NFL.
Some players colored pink as "just a guy" are younger low-round picks who just haven't seen much playing time, but keep in mind that 99 percent of the time, there’s a negative reason why such a player has rarely seen the field.
Players colored red as "upgrade needed" are not necessarily bad players. Sometimes, this simply means the player is a decent backup who should not be starting.
Since I generally don't do analysis on special teams, those categorizations are based strictly on FO stats, with any comments written by Aaron Schatz. We're only listing kickers and punters, as most teams go into training camp without specific players set as return specialists.
The Seahawks did a great job simplifying their passing game early last year to help their rookie quarterback, and in turn that rookie is on his way to stardom. (A little improvement as a sophomore would put him in the "blue" category.) As Russell Wilson grows, so will the sophistication of Darrell Bevell’s offense. We saw more read-option elements down the stretch last season; expect to see those continue to expand with a versatile weapon like Percy Harvin stepping into the slot. Also likely to expand will be Seattle’s three-receiver passing game. Most of what the Seahawks did in the air last season took place out of base personnel, which meant a heavy dose of play-action, rolled pockets and other defined-read concepts. These concepts often worked because defenses were adamant about putting an eighth man in the box against Marshawn Lynch. That’s a schematic advantage that will apply to whatever sets the Seahawks are operating out of this season.
QB: Russell Wilson, Josh Portis; Lost: Matt Flynn
RB: Marshawn Lynch, Robert Turbin, Michael Robinson (FB); Lost: Leon Washington
Wilson should only be better in Year Two. He’s very comfortable playing on the move; he’s smart; he doesn’t have the strongest arm but he throws with great trajectory downfield and, most of the time, good enough velocity at the intermediate and underneath levels. Lynch is a tenacious high-volume runner in the middle of his prime. He’s serviceable on third down though Turbin is the more preferred option there.
WR: Sidney Rice, Percy Harvin, Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin
TE: Zach Miller, Anthony McCoy; Lost: Cameron Morrah
All four of Seattle’s wideouts can line up anywhere along the formation. That’s a huge asset for play-caller Darrell Bevell. Rice is this group’s most dynamic downfield threat. Harvin will be the feature of the short area and underneath/intermediate passing attack. His acceleration and change-of-direction are outstanding. Baldwin and Tate both tend to go up and down, but both are slightly overqualified (in a good way) for their respective backup roles. It will be interesting to see how Miller plays in 2013. He looked like the epitome of an average tight end throughout last season, which is fine. In the playoffs, however, he exploded with two big catches late in the Wild Card win at Washington and over 100 yards serving as the focal point of Seattle’s zone-beater concepts against Atlanta in the Divisional Round. What should we expect in 2013?
LT: Russell Okung LG: James Carpenter C: Max Unger RG: Paul McQuistan RT: Breno Giacomini
Backups: G J.R. Sweezy, G John Moffitt; Lost: Frank Omiyale
When healthy, Okung can be an innately dominant force. Football seems to come easy to him (particularly run-blocking). Carpenter must prove he can stay on the field for more than half a season. The mobile Unger has good short area mechanics that make him a nice fit in this zone scheme. McQuistan and Giacomini are not special but neither will stall many drives. Thanks to various injuries inside last year, Seattle’s young depth up front is fairly well developed.
The Seahawks have the defense that every team wants right now. Their tremendous outside cornerback tandem allows for suffocating coverage with single-high safety looks. That means there’s always a free roamer or eighth defender in the box. This defensive line is dynamic inside and outside. These linebackers are smart and athletic. Pete Carroll’s scheme is easy to execute, hard to defeat and subtly complex on third-and-long. Whatever holes are on this defense defense rarely have a chance to open up. Consequently, new coordinator Dan Quinn should be able to replace Gus Bradley just fine.
DE: Cliff Avril, Red Bryant, Bruce Irvin, Michael Bennett, Chris Clemons
DT: Brandon Mebane, Jay Howard, Tony McDaniel, Clinton McDonald; Lost: Alan Branch, Jason Jones
Clemons is the best player in this bunch, but the fact that Carroll and GM John Schneider signed Avril and Bennett tells you there is not a lot of optimism about the veteran’s chances of fully recovering from his January ACL injury. Avril and Bennett are both quality edge rushers who can also play the run. Bennett, in fact, is a better run-defender than pass-rusher. Whatever reps he gets in nickel will likely come inside, as he doesn’t have the speed-power combination that the undersized but explosive Avril and Irvin have. What would be most sensible is playing Bennett at end in the base D and sliding Bryant inside to fill Branch’s large but overlooked void. The question is whether Bryant, who is built like Branch, would have the quickness to handle one-gap assignments. Mebane does most of the two-gap work; he’s a high-octane dynamo with great lateral ability. If the Seahawks don’t move Bryant to tackle, they’ll let Howard, last year’s fourth-round pick, and McDaniel, a free agent pickup from Miami, compete for a starting job.
OLB: K.J. Wright, Malcolm Smith, Heath Farwell; Lost: Leroy Hill
ILB: Bobby Wagner, __________
At this point, Wagner isn’t quite a sure-thing to become elite, but it’s hard to look at his ascension as a rookie and not see Pro Bowls on the horizon. He has great fluidity and a high football IQ. His progress as a sub-package player was very impressive. He also really needs a backup. Wright is a good athlete who knows how to mix things up in traffic. Smith is largely untested but did a good job filling in with the first unit when Leroy Hill was out last year.
CB: Richard Sherman, Brandon Browner, Walter Thurmond, Jeremy Lane; Lost: Marcus Trufant
S: Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Jeron Johnson
You can’t get much better than Sherman and Browner on the outside. You may have heard both are physical. They’re two of the few players in football who can play zone coverages with press-man techniques. The only drawback is neither is any good on the inside, which makes the healthy return of Thurmond as critical as it is unguaranteed. Seattle spent last year grooming Lane for the slot. He’s built like an outside guy, but his laudable showing as a starter last December should be enough for coaches to prioritize getting him on the field. Whoever is in the slot will have an easier time than typical NFL nickelbacks because, in this scheme, Chancellor is often able to roam the seams and deep-underneath areas. He can play that way because of Browner and Sherman’s effectiveness in press and because of Thomas’s incredible range as a centerfielder.
K: Carson Wiggs; P: Jon Ryan; Lost: Steven Hauschka
2012 undrafted free agent Wiggs (out of Purdue) was in camp with the Seahawks last year and is now on top of the depth chart, but there could be a rookie addition as well.
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