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Seahawks should target wide receivers early in 2023 draft
Seaside Joe 1335: Has WR overtaken QB as Seattle's top offensive need?
The Los Angeles Rams had one of the top receiving corps in the NFL last season and the effort to get there forced general manager Les Snead to do a lot more than simply drafting the Offensive Player of the Year in the third round in 2017. The Rams also signed Robert Woods to a sizable free agent contract in 2017 (and re-upped in 2021), drafted Van Jefferson in the second round in 2020, drafted Tutu Atwell in the second round in 2021, drafted Ben Skowronek in the seventh round in 2021, and signed Odell Beckham, Jr. in the middle of the 2021 season.
By the end of the Super Bowl, the Rams were down to Cooper Kupp, Skowronek, and Jefferson because of injuries. There was also the offseason signing of DeSean Jackson, released part way through the year because of an underwhelming return on investment.
In order to find a couple of good receivers, the Rams had to invest in the position over and over again, even after landing an awesome duo at the onset of Sean McVay’s head coaching career in 2017. The effort to fortify that one position has never slowed down for McVay and Snead. In fact, one of L.A.’s top needs headed into the trade deadline is wide receiver even though the Rams also signed Allen Robinson this past offseason.
The Philadelphia Eagles are fourth in scoring and general manager Howie Roseman spent three first and two second round picks since 2019 just to end up with A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith at receiver. The 6-1 New York Giants have taken a few heavy swings at wide receiver in the last couple of years and yet after trading Kadarius Toney this week, are basically back at square one.
Every team seems to treat the wide receiver position a little bit different but one thing is clear in almost any situation in which a franchise adds a notable wideout in the draft, trade, or free agency: Buyer beware.
Of the 16 wide receivers with a cap hit of at least $10 million this season, at least half are indisputably underperforming as we approach the midpoint.
Kenny Golladay has been benched, Keenan Allen has missed almost the entire year, DeAndre Hopkins just returned from suspension, Nelson Agholor somehow has the fifth-highest cap hit, Corey Davis has given the Jets 843 yards in 16 games since signing a big free agent deal in 2021, Curtis Samuel has given the Commanders 367 yards in 12 games over that same period of time, and Woods is a de facto number one receiver seemingly play out the end of his career in Tennessee.
Not only do teams have to be careful with which receivers they decide to sign to large contracts, they also have to have adequate fallback options if any of them get injured or suspended, as we’ve seen with situations on the Chargers and Cardinals this year, in addition to many others.
Nowhere is that more evident at this very moment than with the Seattle Seahawks.
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The Seahawks have one of the top receiving duos in the NFL, but just as the Rams learned last year, it only takes a little bad luck to force a change of plans at the position. Both DK Metcalf and Tyler Lockett are considered game-time decisions for Sunday’s important NFC matchup against the Giants. By the time you read this, one or both could even be ruled out before we even get to game-time decisions.
Where would the Seahawks turn to if one or both are out?
Obviously that’s part of football and something that Seattle would need to be prepared for year in and year out. This year, it leaves Marquise Goodwin, Dee Eskridge, and Dareke Young as the three remaining options. Penny Hart is even more injured than Lockett and Metcalf.
Goodwin’s experience eclipses the combined career snaps of Eskridge and Young many times over, which helped lead to two Seahawks passing touchdowns against the Chargers last week after Metcalf went to the locker room. There was not even a clear sense in training camp that Goodwin would make the roster, and then he missed Week 5’s game against the Saints, but Goodwin’s performance against L.A. solidified his importance to Pete Carroll in the event that Seattle needs to go to its reserves this season.
Just as the Rams had to do time and time again last season. As many teams are experiencing this year at the wide receiver position.
That’s why I continue to believe, as I’ve been harping on all year, that wide receiver has to be one of the Seahawks’ top priorities in the 2023 NFL Draft. Despite having Metcalf and Lockett signed through 2025, and even having spent a second round pick on Eskridge last year, Seattle can’t rest on its laurels that the position is “set” for more than the very next game.
And even if you feel so confident about the Seahawks at wide receiver next year and the year after that, Carroll said something interesting this week about Eskridge and the position that emphasizes why Seattle might be smart to get a couple years ahead of their inevitable need for GREAT pass catchers in the future.
As transcribed by Shane Lantz of The Seattle Times, Carroll noted that receivers can often take several years to catch up to the speed of the NFL and to develop a rhythm in an offense, comparing Eskridge’s “slow” development to that of Golden Tate from 2010 to 2013:
“It took Golden a while to get caught up with everything and to be able to express the beautiful talent he had,” Carroll said. “I’ve always looked at guys that are really natural athletes that everything comes really easy to them. Sometimes, they don’t pay attention to all the details because they can do stuff anyway, and they can make things look right and (Eskridge) is just like that. He is as natural as he could be.
“… This isn’t just unique to [Tate] and to [Eskridge]. A lot of young guys come into the league, and it takes them a while to realize how detailed the wide receiver position is so the quarterback can function accordingly, and that’s the whole key to it. You can see it; he’s blossoming right now. He’s really going, and we are going to keep working him and utilize him as much as we can.”
It’s not only Tate.
Doug Baldwin had a shockingly good first season, but rarely produced acceptable numbers during Russell Wilson’s rookie campaign the following year. It took multiple seasons for Baldwin and Wilson to get on the same page. Lockett was really inconsistent over his first three seasons, only getting going as a clear week-to-week threat in year four. And I’d argue that even if Metcalf has been the most productive receiver draft pick of the Carroll era, the Seahawks are still managing his growing pains in year four and working on his development into a true number one option.
That tells me that if the Seahawks want to give the next quarterback of the future—or Geno Smith—the absolute best chance to have an heir apparent to Lockett or an emergency fallback for Metcalf, then the 2023 draft could be a great time to strike.
Next year, Lockett will have a $16.75 million cap hit and Metcalf will have a $13.72 million cap hit. Both of those are set in stone, barring a stunning trade to get Lockett’s $9.7 million base salary off of the books. (Not something I would ever expect, just a fact.)
Lockett’s cap hit in 2024, however, is $24 million. Metcalf’s is $24.5 million. That’s over $48 million on two wide receivers, the elder of whom will be 32 that season. At that point, the Seahawks would save almost $10 million by releasing or trading Lockett. And even if they don’t do that, surely Seattle would still want to know that they had a great replacement plan in place—someone who isn’t anything like Metcalf.
The Seahawks should want to find another immaculate star and it might take two to four years for that player to develop into a formidable option.
That’s why I think that given their other needs and the probabilities of certain positions being drafted in the top-10, wide receiver is certainly an option with Seattle’s first pick in 2023. If not, then I at least expect receiver to be a priority with one of the Seahawks’ first four picks next year.
If we’re talking about top-10 picks at receiver, we’re talking about TCU’s Quentin Johnston, a name I’ve mentioned at least once before on Seaside Joe. Here’s what PFF had to say about Johnston, ranking him as the top receiver in next year’s class:
In nine years of college grading, I can say with certainty we have not seen a wide receiver quite like Johnston. At a rangy 6-foot-4, 215 pounds, he is a terror with the ball in his hands. His broken-tackle rate over his career is unlike anything we’ve graded, with 40 forced missed tackles on 89 career receptions.
That’s what you’d expect from a receiver with a running back-esque build like Deebo Samuel, not a pterodactyl like Johnston.
Though he might stand eye-to-eye with Metcalf, the two receivers are very different and could complement each other well for years to come. If Seattle went this direction with a first round pick, the Seahawks could have the most dangerous trio in the NFL next season. As well as an obvious replacement plan in place for Lockett in 2024.
Other First Round Names
Jordan Addison, USC
Jaxon Smith-Njigba, Ohio State
Josh Downs, UNC
Kayshon Boutte, LSU
Cedric Tillman, Tennessee
Oftentimes, the top-ranked wide receiver prospect doesn’t become the best receiver. Justin Jefferson was the fifth receiver off the board in 2020. This doesn’t mean that you can always wait-and-see though. Ja’Marr Chase and Jaylen Waddle are doing excellently too and they were the top wideouts in 2021. DeVonta Smith went next, but then it was Toney, Rashod Bateman (who I like, but gets hurt a lot and it’s hard to tell if he’s good when he’s playing with Lamar Jackson), and Elijah Moore.
The second round has been a blessing and a trap for wide receiver prospects.
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I know a lot of people will say, “Well, I wouldn’t want the Seahawks to draft a QB because now I believe in Geno Smith.” And that’s fine! But for me, I will be open to drafting a QB with the first pick even if Geno Smith were to win MVP and the Super Bowl! I just think that QB is that important and if it so happened that Denver’s pick happened to fall to number one, and Bryce Young is sitting there, then the Seahawks should either draft him or trade the pick for three first rounders.
Nobody’s offering three first rounders? Then draft the best QB prospect I’ve seen in the last 10 years.
But that’s just one scenario. If Seattle is choosing between the third or fourth-best QB prospect or the top edge rusher or the top cornerback or receiver, then maybe it’s best to keep building around Geno Smith and take one of the intriguing QB options on day two or day three. I get that too. My opinion is to be open to QBs at all points in the draft.
Trade a 2023 first rounder for a 2024 first rounder?
I’ve been meaning to address this for weeks, but I’ll touch on it now. This year, the Eagles had three first rounders. The Saints wanted to have two first rounders. So Philadelphia traded a mid-first round pick to New Orleans for a 2023 first round pick. As it stands, this could turn into a top-five pick for the Eagles.
Next year, Seattle has two first round picks. But they might be best served to push one of those first rounders into 2024, when it might be a better time for them to draft a QB. Not only do I think the QB class will be better in 2024 (and teams that draft a QB in 2023 will probably take themselves out of the running for QBs in 2024), but the Seahawks might be able to hold off their need for a QB one year because Smith is playing well.
I still think Seattle should draft a QB at some point in the draft no matter what. But trading their second of two first round picks for a 2024 first round pick might pay huge dividends in the future.