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The fault in our star wide receivers

The news you hate to hear: Why drafting a #1 WR in the 1st round is essentially dropping a #2 on your playoff hopes.

Kelvin Benjamin unable to reel one in.
Kelvin Benjamin unable to reel one in.
Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

As this 2014 season has rolled on, I’ve heard the 12’s desire for a big, true, #1 WR. We are in the midst, after all, of possibly the greatest single collection of rookie receiving talent ever. The league currently holds seven rookie WR with at least 50 catches already: Jarvis Landry, Odell Beckham Jr, Kelvin Benjamin, Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Jordan Matthews, and Brandin Cooks.

It’s easy to look at that list and recognize what those WR are: 2nd rounder, 1st rounder, 1st rounder, 1st rounder, 1st rounder, 2nd rounder, 1st rounder. That’s right, the 2014 draft produced five 1st round WR…and they’ve all caught at least 50 passes. And I know you all wish that one of them was ours. The envy is real. But the things that generally get overlooked because of how impressive and sexy this year’s WR hit rate is, are: 1) what is the effect of drafting a WR in the 1st round on the team as a whole; immediately and moving forward? 2) what is the point of drafting a WR in the 1st round to a team that doesn’t plan, or know how, to use a WR to the extent expected of such a purchase?

I first started connecting these dots in mid-November:

At that time, and simply judging the 2014 class, the league had a 17-33 record (.340 Win%) after drafting a 1st round WR. (The updated figure three weeks later: .338 Win%).

More recently, our own Zach Whitman posted this tweet:

I looked at that tweet; obviously the top 7 offenses by DVOA rank; then I presumed that those names are the receptions leaders for those respective teams; finally, I mentally considered those names as a draft guy, and replied with:

Of the top 7 offenses by DVOA in the league, only ONE of them is led in receptions by a 1st round draftchoice.

The theory continues to build. Let’s cast a wider net and look back a few years.

In the last 5 drafts, there have been 17 WR drafted in the 1st round; 12 prior to this year.

2013- Tavon Austin, Deandre Hopkins, Cordarelle Patterson

2012- Justin Blackmon, Michael Floyd, Kendall Wright, AJ Jenkins

2011- AJ Green, Julio Jones, Jon Baldwin

2010- Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant

Let’s call a "Hit" any player that has 50 catches this year. Hit rate in 2014 = 100%. Hit rate from 2010-2013 = 50%. Combined 2010-2014 = 65% hit rate. That’s actually a very impressive number. But, what is that player providing to his team?

The winning percentage of teams with a 1st round WR from 2010-2014 is….

.467...A losing record.

Of the 17 teams that have chosen a 1st round WR in the last 5 years, exactly FOUR (24%) currently hold playoff positions. And that includes Atlanta/Julio Jones getting in with their losing record in the abysmal NFC South. It is entirely possible that the true price of drafting a WR in the 1st is not in the risk of him busting, but the probability of not maximizing the resource at positions that yield higher return on investment. For example: although LB is often considered a low value position in the 1st round, a pick of Luke Kuechly may yield higher immediate (and longterm) returns than the drafting of a Kelvin Benjamin. And an even better investment is drafting a Star Lotulelei.

Meanwhile, back in that DVOA tweet…those top 7 DVOA offenses…6 of them hold playoff spots (and New Orleans may replace Atlanta soon, making it 7 of 7). And on those top-7, playoff-bound offenses, the percentage of teams that are being led in receiving by a player drafted AFTER the 1st round is…86%.

Is it possible that playoff teams have discovered WR’s don’t carry enough value to be drafted in the 1st round? Is it perhaps time that we start to think of WR the same way RB’s have been thought of for the last 5-10 years? As a position that can be waited for till day 2 and beyond??

But some of this information is cart-before-the-horse. One giant asterisk on the top 7 DVOA offenses? They all have top 10 Quarterbacks.

Once you have a top 10 Quarterback, you no longer need a 1st round WR.

I mean, it’s so logical once you think about it. When is the last time a WR won the MVP award? Trick question because it’s never happened. And it’s never happened because WR’s can’t throw themselves the ball. Out of 58 league MVP’s, 95% have come from two positions: RB and QB. It’s a simple breakdown of touches: your bellcow RB’s will get you 20-25 carries a game plus a catch or three, a QB touches the ball every play. A stud WR? I’ll get you their average touches in a bit.

Everything starts and stops with the quarterback. It has always been that way, and it always will be. Bad quarterbacks will kill the careers of Hall of Fame WR’s, and Hall of Fame QB’s can make undrafted WR into pro bowlers.

When you have Peyton Manning throwing to you, a 3rd round pick like Emmanuel Sanders becomes the 4th most productive WR this year. With #1 overall pick and #7 overall passer Andrew Luck at QB, 3rd round pick TY Hilton is #2 in the league in receiving. And with a resurgent Ben Rothlisberger (#4 in passer rating) throwing him the ball, the entire NFL is being led in receiving by 6th round draftpick Antonio Brown. QB’s elevate WR’s.

So if/when Seattle fans are pleading for that #1 WR, what you’re really saying transitively is that you don’t think Russell Wilson is the guy. Period. You don’t think he’s the caliber of player that elevates those around him like the trio I just mentioned (and the generations of elite QB’s prior). It just is. And if that’s what you’re saying, say that. At least then we can debate things directly, honestly. I’m not saying that, however.

Alternately, you could say that the receiving numbers aren’t good (and never have been) because of team philosophy or playcalling. I AM saying this. Because it’s simply a matter of fact. Pete Carroll’s philosophy is to play a ball-control, run-first offense. He is never going to produce a pro bowl WR. He’s not trying to. He’s said it, and practiced it from Day 1.

They say "hindsight is 20/20", but really hindsight is also seen through rose-colored glasses.

Percy Harvin…"oh, he’ll totally change our offense with his versatility, blah, blah, blah". Harvin came in as a guy that averaged 5.2 receptions/gm in Minnesota; he left as a guy that averaged 3.8 R/G as a Seahawk. His rushing attempts dropped from Minnesota to here as well. I won’t even tell you what Seattle did to his Y/A.

Golden Tate…people really decided they liked/missed Golden when they saw him putting up 6.5 receptions a game and top 5 receiving yards in Detroit. Know how PC used him? To the tune of 2.8 receptions/gm in his Seattle career. A max of 4.0 R/G in his 2013 season here. Clearly the best depiction of how the Seattle offense minimizes WR potential. WR’s leave here and numbers spike. Also, Golden is proof that the WR blame doesn’t fall on John Schneider for not being able to identify WR talent in the draft, so please stop suggesting that.

Sidney Rice…"oh, it was so nice having that big outside target like Sidney here." Know what he did for us? He caught 2.9 passes a game. Just a smidge less than the 3.0 R/G he averaged in Minnesota.

Big Mike Williams…"oh, he was such an awesome big target in the slot, and he was so useful in the redzone." Know what he actually produced? 3.2 R/G…and 3 TD’s. Not 3 TD/gm, not 3 TD/year…3 TD’s total.

Hell, even Kris Durham’s numbers doubled after leaving here.

It’s important that we don’t mystify the players that we miss; to create tall tales of players who were simply notable for being tall; etc.

If you look at the five year history of the PCJS regime, the Seahawks have never had a WR average over 5.0 R/G (leaders: 2014 Doug- 4.1, 2013 Golden- 4.0, 2012 Sidney- 3.1, 2011 Sid-3.6, 2010 BMW- 4.6). You know what #1 WR’s get? About 6.0 receptions/gm. Take away the #1 WR and you don't lose 6 receptions...those throws still go somewhere, just not as effectively. You probably still get 4 of those catches from a mediocre receiver. We'll call it 3, just to be conservative. Is spending a 1st rounder on a WR really worth a net gain of 3 catches a game??

I don't think the Seahawks think so. I don't think it's coincidence or bad luck that, in 5 years, this team hasn’t found a receiver worthy of a minimum of 5 catches a game. Well, look at Golden’s numbers this year…they did find one…they just didn’t care.

Basically, the reason you don’t draft a WR in the 1st if you’re Seattle is the same reason none of us would expect a big free agent WR to come here without a significant overpay…WE DON’T THROW THE BALL. It’s a misappropriation of draft capital. Drafting a 1st round WR here would be like spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a Lamborghini when you don’t know how to drive a stick-shift. It defeats the purpose.

What you do instead is build a roster. We don’t need to find a #1 WR in the draft. We just need to find pieces that provide unique skillsets. Find that outside/redline/highpoint guy. Find that big redzone target. Find your bubble-screen/YAC guy. Whatever he is. Let the beginning of the new tall tale be how the Seahawks went to the ends of the earth, and the draft, to find some special player no one had ever heard of, and then turned him into a thing of legend.

When it comes down to it, we can be just as effective giving 10 unique targets 2.2 catches each at the appropriate time, as we could forcing the ball to only 4 receivers 6 times each. Remember: Doug Baldwin has a SB ring...Cris Carter does not.

It’s the recipe we used on Sunday vs Philly. It’s a recipe that can work in Seattle for weeks and years to come. And I'm entirely confident that Schneiz is cooking up the next batch right now.