The crop of wide receivers drafted in 2014 may go down in history as one of the most dominant classes of all time. Dangerous playmakers selected throughout the first four rounds have ascended the ranks of NFL wide receivers to become dynamic options for their teams: Odell Beckham Jr., Sammy Watkins, Allen Robinson, John Brown, Martavis Bryant for starters. The list goes on and on, with depth scattered throughout the entire draft.
The Seahawks drafted a wideout in 2014, as well. Their first pick just so happened to be Paul Richardson, a wide receiver selected with the 45th pick out of Colorado. Drafted with the highest pick of any Seattle receiver in the Pete Carroll era (ruling out the Percy Harvin trade which sent away 1st and 3rd round picks), the Seahawks obviously see potential greatness.
Unfortunately, injuries have limited Richardson’s playing time. After rehabbing a torn ACL suffered at the end of his rookie year, he sustained a hamstring injury in his only 2015 appearance. This ended his sophomore season as soon as it started.
Seattle has an impressive stable of offensive weapons heading into 2016. The depth chart at wide receiver is stacked with Angry Doug Baldwin, Tyler "No-E" Lockett, and Jermaine "Bubble Screen" Kearse, while Jimmy Graham and Luke Willson reside at the tight end position. With so many established weapons on the roster, where does Paul Richardson fit into the equation?
Digging into this, the first and foremost skill that P-Rich brings to the table is pure, unequivocal speed. He might not be able to turn on a dime as well as Lockett, but the dude is a burner and his wheels frighten the quickest of corners. He ran the Combine 40-yard dash at a clip of 4.40 seconds, but that does him little justice.
Russell Wilson is not a slow human being. He is, in fact, quite fast. Observe how quickly Richardson accelerates and the ease at which he catches up to Wilson down the left sideline. This is some serious game speed:
This straight-line pace should translate into electric playmaking ability. Richardson had one catch in the lone game he played in 2015, and he made it count:
After utilizing Baldwin-esque footwork at the line of scrimmage, P-Rich easily accelerates past the corner for a 40-yard gain down the left boundary. A subtle stumble is all that stands in the way of a long touchdown reception. There is no reason not to expect Richardson, after a full offseason of practice, to become the home-run threat that Seattle envisioned when they drafted him.
Richardson’s speed also opens up other patterns for him. Despite growing pains at route running, he seemed to grow adept at comebacks, curls, and slants as his rookie year went on. Watch the cornerback in the following play:
You can see how much respect the defensive back has for his acceleration. As the corner stumbles trying to change direction, Richardson curls back for an easy reception, breaks a tackle, and gains an extra 11 yards after the catch.
Richardson continued to demonstrate YAC ability throughout his rookie year:
Despite three converging defenders, he hauls in a bullet from Wilson and tacks on an additional 12 yards. Although there is a limited sample size of receptions, Richardson’s speed and savvy clearly provide ample opportunity to create yardage on every play, a la Harvin.
Being one of the most blistering wideouts on the planet is rendered useless if you can’t reel in tough catches. P-Rich must use a lot of lotion, because, damn… He has some soft-ass hands. The following video shows the most famous play of Richardson's young career and is an excellent demonstration of his ability to pluck balls out of the air:
While the cornerback is in solid position, Richardson makes an acrobatic catch to complete the big play. He displays the hands that could elevate him from a speed demon to a true deep threat. Continuing to show a propensity for contested catches could catapult Richardson into significant playing time.
One of the staples of the Seahawks offense is improvisation. Wilson is the most elusive quarterback in the NFL, turning sure sacks into chunk yardage. Wilson’s ability to keep plays alive is invaluable to Seattle’s chain-moving mantra and detrimental to defensive backs’ coverage.
Most route concepts don’t account for more than a few seconds of pass protection, so plays break down when Wilson begins to scramble. Richardson demonstrated a knack to work back to the quarterback throughout his rookie year. Watch as Patrick Peterson, one of the best cornerbacks in the league, can’t cover through the scramble drill:
Richardson recognizes that the play has broken down and that Wilson is in trouble, so he doubles back and flies in to snag an 8-yard reception.
This skill is exemplified again in Philadelphia, on a long third down:
On a 3rd and 15 just before halftime, Wilson avoids an oncoming Fletcher Cox and surveys the expanse in front of him for an open receiver. Richardson flashes into the middle of the field, providing a target beyond the sticks for a conversion. An aptitude for getting open when all hell breaks loose should continue to elevate Richardson’s playing time.
While he has only shown flashes of the abilities illustrated above, Richardson has the capability of becoming a dangerous weapon in Seattle’s explosive offense. Just imagine him lined up on the opposite hash of Lockett with Baldwin in the slot and Graham in line. If that crew doesn’t terrify defenses, I don’t know what will.
Despite his injury issues, it finally looks as though Richardson is healthy again.
The top two spots on the depth chart look to be manned by Baldwin and Lockett, but I see no reason why Richardson can’t usurp WR3 from Kearse. Don’t get me wrong. I love me some Jermaine. But Richardson has a skillset deserving of significant playing time and if he taps into his potential, he needs to see the field.
Wilson’s ascension to the elite tier of quarterbacks will likely coincide with a more successful and voluminous aerial attack in the Pacific Northwest. If Richardson can stay healthy in 2016, he will prove that he deserved to be picked in the second round of one of the deepest wide receiver drafts of all time.