Nate Burleson is toolsier than Bob Villa. He easily leads the team in broken tackles. He's agile, quick, has hops and is a superlative threat in the open field. Why then is he so damn bad?
He's 62nd of 80 in DVOA. He's converting a hair over half of the passes targeting him into receptions. The regular excuses don't apply: He has a Pro Bowl quarterback, a quality supporting cast, has been with the team now for nearly two seasons, has not been injured, is not inexperienced, and never double covered. It pains me to say this, because I like the guy, but Nate's been pretty rotten his entire career. His one season posting a positive DVOA, 2004, came playing opposite Randy Moss. Moss missed some of the season, but as PFP 2005 points out, those missed weeks corresponded with Burleson's worst performances. Moss disrupts opposing secondaries, and receivers regularly become more productive playing opposite him in the sunny side of coverage. Not better, mind you, just more productive.
Nate just isn't much of a receiver. He runs sloppy routes, leading to minimal separation from corners, and tends to catch the ball in his body where it can be slapped away. It's easy to say "if he put it all together", but, Burleson, 26, and now a 5 year veteran, isn't likely to do that. It's tough giving up on someone so athletically gifted, and Burleson's contract isn't expensive, but it's foolhardy to expect him to become a significantly different player. The question then becomes "In what capacity is Nate Burleson most valuable to the Seattle Seahawks?" He's a hell of a return man, sure, but consider: Return men have short peaks, the Hawks have a good return unit, and very good return men can be found in the second day of the NFL draft (Steve Breaston) or in FA (Josh Cribbs). Plus, teams may overestimate the value of a returner and this year's WR class looks significantly thinner than last year's. The Hawks, once again, have a surplus of receivers. If Burleson could fetch a 3rd round pick, it would be pretty hard for Seattle to say no. The move would free money to resign DJ Hackett, and, by next season, Ben Obomanu or Courtney Taylor could step into the #4 WR slot. That's a pretty undemanding position.
We've wandered pretty far afield (damn sleep deprivation), let's get back on track. Burly has played much better the past few weeks. He would benefit immensely from a healthy Hackett. If Burleson could work against linebackers, dimebacks or zones, he would provide serious matchup problems for opposing defenses. The fabled fatal foursome the Hawks' tremendous depth at WR promised preseason never materialized in season, but may still in the postseason. If so, a lesser wide receiver, like Burleson, playing in the sunny side of coverage, could bust out at just the right time. Not be better, mind you, just more productive.