The lesson of the year: Don't screw up your wide receiver depth
The Seahawks are better off thanks to their receivers, which only emphasizes how badly they need to improve the depth: Seaside Joe 1374
The best case I could use to argue why teams should always be open to finding the next Patrick Mahomes if they don’t already have Patrick Mahomes: The NFL’s leading receiver in catches and yards left the Kansas City Chiefs and Mahomes is still leading the league in passing yards and touchdowns for a team that could win the Super Bowl.
Even though Tyreek Hill has been so dominant that he’s also lifted up an AFC team to an 8-4 record, Mahomes hasn’t missed a beat with far less thrilling options in JuJu Smith-Schuster and Marquez Valdes-Scantling.
The premise of this article would be so much easier were it not for Mahomes, so that’s why I want to open it up with the exception that proves the rule.
Teams with dominant passing weapons are thriving in the NFL in 2022. Teams without any are either gearing to pick early in the draft… or send those picks to teams that have been doing a lot better this season in part thanks to dominant passing weapons.
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Every NFL season, I have a “theme” that I think should rule the headlines of what’s working and not working in the league at a given time. One year it could be teams focusing on running the ball and stopping the run. Another it could be that general managers will be much more active on the trade market. I believe earlier this year, I felt this could be “the year of the tank,” as many teams appeared to be positioning themselves for a franchise quarterback in the draft over trying to be their best selves this season.
My predicted themes don’t always work out, but they’re usually based on teams copycatting whoever just won the Super Bowl.
So for 2021, my theme was: Weapons, weapons, and more weapons.
Maybe instead of this being the year of the tank, we are witnessing a continuation of weapons, weapons, weapons. Next year should also be weapons, weapons, weapons.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers won the Super Bowl not only because of having Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Rob Gronkowski as Tom Brady’s top-three options, but depth including Antonio Brown, Scotty Miller, and Cameron Brate. Of course, a lot more goes into a winning roster and Tampa Bay had plenty else going for it, especially on defense, but it is sensible to me that Evans, Godwin, Brown, and Gronkowski were the best top-four in the league that season.
Then the Los Angeles Rams won the Super Bowl with Matthew Stafford throwing to Offensive Player of the Year Cooper Kupp, plus Odell Beckham, Jr., Robert Woods, Tyler Higbee, and Van Jefferson.
And now, if it weren’t for the Chiefs, I’d have a very simple argument for why top-end receiver/tight end talent and depth at those weaponry positions is again the theme of another season. It should send one clear message to Pete Carroll and John Schneider when they re-stock the roster in 2023:
Tyler Lockett, DK Metcalf, and your efficient tight ends room is actually still not enough!
As great as Metcalf and Lockett are, the Seahawks are an overachieving 7-5 football team with maybe the NFL’s worst run defense, so perhaps the only thing separating Seattle from being as ugly on film as the Falcons or Rams or Texans or Broncos or Saints or Panthers is the fact that Geno Smith DOES get to throw the ball to two top-20 wide receivers.
Seahawks fans are blessed this year because they’ve gotten to see 22 touchdown passes in 12 games, as compared to EIGHT each for the Broncos, Steelers, and 10 for the Panthers, 11 for the Giants, and 12 for the Browns, Patriots, Titans, and Rams.
The Giants are one tie better than Seattle at 7-4-1, but aren’t we lucky to get to watch Geno, Lockett, Metcalf, and these tight ends instead of Daniel Jones throwing to Darius Slayton and Richie James?
And New York was the franchise that signed Kenny Golladay, drafted Kadarius Toney, drafted Wan’Dale Robinson, and became super try-hards for ensuring wide receiver depth. They failed on a massive scale, but the idea was right. It’s not only the quarterback that is wrong and I believe that we’re seeing plenty of quarterbacks around the NFL of similar skill to Daniel Jones who have been lifted up higher thanks to a much better complement* of weapons.
*I did it right!
Let’s review some successful 2022 football teams:
11-1 Eagles - Drafted DeVonta Smith, traded for A.J. Brown, and tight end Dallas Goedert was on pace for 1,000 yards perior to a Week 10 injury.
10-2 Vikings - Justin Jefferson is on his own level; the Vikings added T.J. Hockenson (225 yards in five games with Minnesota) to shore up needed depth for Kirk Cousins
9-3 Cowboys - Drafted CeeDee Lamb at a time that Dallas already had Amari Cooper, Michael Gallup, and Dalton Schultz; now it’s mostly just Lamb’s team
9-3 Bills - Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis
8-4 Dolphins - Traded for Hill, drafted Jaylen Waddle
8-4 49ers - Brandon Aiyuk, Deebo Samuel, George Kittle, and now Christian McCaffrey (McCaffrey has 31 catches for 258 yards in his last five games)
8-4 Bengals - Tee Higgins, Ja’Marr Chase, Tyler Boyd, Hayden Hurst
Now so far, all that Seaside Joe has given you is a narrative. Most writers would think of a narrative and then build the entire argument around supporting that point, trying to convince you that they’re right. My intention is not to convince you that I’m right… I don’t even know if I’m right!
My intention is only to find out what is most truthful and then share the results. So instead of cherry picking to support my arguments, like an “analytics expert” would, I find it more helpful to attempt to pick apart and find flaws in the narrative before suggesting that you should take it seriously.
In this case I could show you all these good teams with great weapons. However, am I leaving out examples that could prove that there is no causation—or even correlation—between elite receivers/tight ends+fantastic depth at those positions and success during the 2022 season?
I don’t think so.
Let’s review some hugely disappointing 2022 seasons:
1-10-1 Texans - Never had any intentions to enter the season with any weapons other than Brandin Cooks, himself a blasé number one when your quarterbacks are Davis Mills and Kyle Allen
3-9 Broncos - Denver’s “talent” was only built around a premise that a) Jerry Jeudy was a good draft pick, b) Courtland Sutton is the same player he was in 2019, and c) K.J. Hamler was a good draft pick. So far, it seems like the answer to a/b/c is all “No, he isn’t”
3-9 Rams - All the depth of 2021 was eradicated and though Cooper Kupp was great pre-injury, Allen Robinson was the worst free agent signing of the offseason
3-10 Bears - The cost of trading up for Justin Fields was losing a 2022 first round pick that could have been used to get Justin Fields some help; Darnell Mooney, Equanimeous St. Brown, Dante Pettis, and now Chase Claypool is not the level of cast that can elevate Fields
4-8 Jaguars - Christian Kirk will only reach 1,000 yards because they’re force feeding him and Zay Jones without any other players to throw to
4-8 Panthers - Without D.J. Moore, the only team that would be worse off today is the Rams; and Moore is okay for a number one
4-9 Saints - Their intention was to add Chris Olave to a room with Michael Thomas and Jarvis Landry, but Thomas only played in three games and Landry is probably playing the final games of his career
5-8 Packers - The loss of Davante Adams seems to be having a much greater impact on Aaron Rodgers than the loss of Hill for Mahomes; the rise of Christian Watson could prove to be a counterpoint for building through the draft at a cheaper cost
How the Seahawks can use this information
Other notes of interest here would be how Olave and Garrett Wilson have had immediate impacts on their teams, the potential boost that the Lions will get from Jameson Williams for the final five games, the fact that Drake London is now Atlanta’s only weapon, and the recent surge by Davante Adams that could get the Raiders back into the AFC playoff picture.
Seattle has two good wide receivers and the offense has developed in such a way that Will Dissly, Noah Fant, and Colby Parkinson have combined for 81 receptions on 96 targets (84% catch rate), 863 yards (over 10 yards per target), and six touchdowns.
But how much longer can the unit stay together?
Of the 55 players who have at least 500 yards this season, the eight oldest receivers are 32-year-old Adam Thielen (580 yards), 30-year-olds Tyler Lockett (836), Davante Adams (1,176), and DeAndre Hopkins (574 in six games), and 29-year-olds Stefon Diggs (1,202), Mike Evans (761), Mack Hollins (566), and Brandin Cooks (520).
The argument that Lockett’s age is no factor would be, “Well, look, these guys are built different and they are special!” Every great receiver has been “built different.” Let’s instead look back to last season to see if we’re noticing wear and tear from 2021’s oldest receivers.
The Chargers did not fortify their WR position and Keenan Allen has missed more than half of the season. He’s showing signs of being 30. The Titans traded for 30-year-old Robert Woods, and his career seems to be winding down. The reasons that Arizona has held onto 34-year-old A.J. Green are unclear.
Go back to 2020, and 31-year-old Cole Beasley was a second-team All-Pro, then his career (and public persona) went down from there. T.Y. Hilton and Julio Jones have basically aged out in their early 30s. Antonio Brown fell off of a cliff from maybe the NFL’s top wideout to a complementary piece, and not just because of “Antonio Brown.”
Notice that these downfalls are not just the byproduct of slower legs, but injuries, and that’s something that needs to be EXPECTED by fans as players reach 30: Less “he could get hurt” and more “he will get hurt.”
Over-30 players will get hurt more often, and any injury could be the last after a certain age. There is a massive youth movement going on in the NFL, especially at wide receiver, so Seattle HAS TO anticipate that even as good as Lockett is right now, he could be a much different player in one or two years.
And that’s even more notable given that Lockett’s cap hit in 2024 is $24 million.
What the 2023 Seattle Seahawks can’t afford is reaching a point where Geno Smith only has DK Metcalf as a weapon. That passing offense is far too one-dimensional and Lockett’s skillset is so much more different than Metcalf’s, while the more “Lockett-like” players simply haven’t proven capable of playing in the NFL. Certainly relying on 32-year-old Marquise Goodwin would also be anthethetical to the last 300 words I wrote.
Many times this year, I’ve advocated for drafting a receiver in the first round and that won’t change today. Whether it is with their first pick or their fourth pick, I don’t see any downside to Seattle getting younger and adding important depth to the wide receiver position, although Tuesday’s mock draft with Michael Mayer also hits the point home at tight end; Travis Kelce has something to say about Mahomes’ success.
Dee Eskridge was an understandable shot at adding a weapon in the 2021 draft, but whether Pete Carroll still believes in him or not, the Seahawks should not be relying on Eskridge to be Lockett’s heir apparent during next year’s gameplan. Nor should Dareke Young, Bo Melton, or Penny Hart should be treated as good prospects.
Almost every receiver I’ve highlighted today was a first or second round pick.
Seattle could also choose to make a blockbuster trade, similar to Brown, Hill, or Marquise Brown. However, this would have to be for a young player still on his rookie contract, somebody who would be up for an extension that lines up with Lockett’s potential exit. It would just be easier to draft a player, although rookies come with fewer guarantees that players who’ve been tested in the league.
The Seahawks should draft a wide receiver. They could probably get away with one more year without making any moves, but then the pressure increases in 2024 to get a solution that is ready to contribute immediately.
Or they could get Patrick Mahomes.
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