For some reason, I initially thought that Kris Durham was drafted in 2010 and that last season was his second in the NFL. I guess that's just how much it's seemed like he's disappeared during his pro career.
In reality, Durham was a fourth round pick last year out of the University of Georgia, where he had some success but mostly will be remembered for injury and playing alongside A.J. Green. However, another thing that I thought about Durham was that he was even more successful at college than he actually was. During his first three years at the school, he caught 32 passes for 450 yards. Total.
It wouldn't be the next year that he broke out for a big season, because he missed the next year with a torn labrum. However, when he returned for his senior season, Durham caught 32 passes for 659 yards, a 20.6 yards per catch average. The big play ability he showed during his final year, combined with his 6'5", 215 pound frame got teams interested. His 4.43 40-yard-dash on his pro day got him drafted in the fourth round after a college career marred by one season-costing injury and three years where he didn't do much at all.
There were the parts about Kris Durham that made you want to believe that he could be an excellent wide receiver, but then there were also the parts about Kris Durham that made you worry. The hard part for us to accept as Seahawks fans is that so far the parts that make you worry are a reality and the parts that make you salivate are the fantasy.
Now, let me stop you right there Kris Durham SuperFan. This is not an article that is giving up on Durham after two days of training camp and one lost season. If it were, the title would have been something like "Bullshit Durham? Why Seattle Needs To Cuts It's Costner." But this is an article that wants to point out the reality of the situation and acknowledge that the Seahawks aren't relying on Durham to step up this year. There are enough pieces here to make up for the fact that maybe Durham will not break out or even contribute much during his second year. We have to acknowledge that possibility.
It was a year ago at this time that a lot of people were saying the same thing about Golden Tate, and Tate was a second year player after being a second round pick. As a rookie, Tate had 21 catches for 227 yards and returned 16 punts. He had a punt return of 63 yards and a reception of 53 yards. Tate had showed things on the field, mostly early in the year, that allowed you to see why he was highly regarded. It's comparable to a pitcher throwing 100 miles per hour. Randy Johnson could crank it up as a minor league pitcher but he had absolutely no idea where the ball would be when it crossed homeplate .0000005 seconds later, if it even crossed home plate. However, a team looks at that and says, "If we can fix that problem, this guy is going to be special."
I've seen that "100 mile per hour fastball" in Golden Tate and so I believe he's been worth keeping around based on things I've seen. I have not seen that from Durham yet. That's 21 catches as a rookie for Tate and 3 catches and a torn labrum as a rookie for Durham. If Golden was on the chopping block, Durham certainly needs to step his game up over the next few weeks.
I do fully acknowledge that Durham has his own sort of "100 mile per hour fastball" in that he does possess something that you can't teach: the big body and the fast 40. He'd be a model of what you'd like a receiver to look like, but he needs to do more than just look the part. I found it interesting that when I was on Football Outsiders looking at Durham's profile page, they actually had a sim score for his rookie year. It was only 3 catches and the sim score is hardly applicable, but the player that he was compared to piqued my curiosity.
Who remembers Brian Finneran?
I didn't just find it interesting because, "hey, white!" but also because I didn't realize how big Finneran was. At 6'5", 210 pounds, you can see where the comparison doesn't just stop at "White receiver." These were big white receivers. Finneran was actually an undrafted free agent in 1999 that signed with the... Seattle Seahawks. He didn't catch on in the Northwest, but he signed with the Eagles and caught 2 passes for 21 yards as a rookie. By his second season he had made it with the Atlanta Falcons (and had lots of success in NFL Europe) and he caught 7 passes for 60 yards in 2000. It was finally in his third season that Finneran broke out, catching 23 passes for 491 yards, a 21.3 YPC average.
The path that Finneran has taken really looks like a potential model for the path of Durham, even if it feels like we're cheating because of the white-receiver comp, they really do match up. Finneran had a career-year in 2002, his fourth in the league, when he caught 56 passes for 838 yards and 6 touchdowns. It would be the only time in his career that he would start every game, and really the only big season that he had. Finneran retired after 2010 with 238 catches for 3,093 yards after nine seasons with the Falcons. Though he wasn't much of a star receiver, he played an important role for Atlanta for a very long time and that's not necessarily easy to find.
If this is the ceiling of Durham, could you really ask for a whole lot more out of a fourth round pick? Not every 6'5" receiver with speed turns into a true number one, and if they did, Durham wouldn't have been available in the fourth. There have always been other things to consider and we can't ignore them simply because we like the "idea" of Kris Durham.
In January it might have been fair to consider Durham as the favorite to land the job opposite of Sidney Rice, but plenty has changed since then. First of all, Tate is probably the favorite as of today, even if I think he'd be more appropriate playing a more versatile role and not being locked in as the number two receiver. But if Tate doesn't take on that second wideout position, Durham isn't the fallback option anymore:
The reported news that Matt Flynn is hooking up well with Deon Butler is interesting. Butler has shown us some interesting things during his three years as a Seahawk, but he also has dealt with health and consistency issues. Still, we can't pretend that just because Durham is newer and taller, that he's ahead of Butler anymore. Especially if that's the guy that Flynn ends up liking more.
Antonio Bryant has been signed. The version of Bryant that isn't a complete headcase or injured is a really good wide receiver. He's one of the most experienced players on the roster. I noted last week that Bryant is a longshot, but if Pete Carroll sees that Bryant is healthy and believes that he can have another big year, that's not going to be ignored.
It's rarely brought up, but Ben Obomanu made eight starts last season and had some nice catches. He's the least exciting perhaps, but sometimes you aren't looking for exciting, you're just looking for reliable.
Finally, Phil Bates, Lavasier Tuinei, and Ricardo Lockette all have an opportunity to do some positive things in camp and pre-season in order to secure a spot on the 53-man roster. This is where the question could inevitably be asked if Durham isn't only just fighting for a starting job, but for a job at all.
How many receivers are the Seahawks going to keep? If Doug Baldwin, Sidney Rice, Golden Tate, and Deon Butler are locks, then do you have just two spots left? Two spots for Durham, Bryant, Bates, Lockette, Obomanu, and possibly Tuinei to fight over. It's not a good time to be called out for dropped passes, even if it's early in camp.
Going into this article, I thought a few things about Kris Durham that turned out to not be true, but I thought them because of how exciting a healthy and productive version of Durham would be. I've given him the benefit of the doubt because nobody else on this roster competing for these spots has quite the combination of size and speed that Durham has. But being a professional football player at the highest level requires a whole lot more than measurables and pro-day numbers. Durham needs to go out there and be more like the version of the player that we all want him to be, and less like the version of the player that he's been, because I will no longer keep pretending that he's done all these things that he hasn't done yet. I won't keep thinking that he's going to figure it out tomorrow and be the next 1,000-yard receiver for the Seahawks.
At this point, I'd be plenty happy with the next Brian Finneran.