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Four years into his career, Paul Richardson has entered the game

NFL: Houston Texans at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

I remember the hype surrounding Paul Richardson around Field Gulls when he was drafted. I mean, at time I felt like the conductor. How could you not after seeing his highlights at Colorado?

Richardson’s scouting report contained good and bad, like anyone else, with the bad including this: “Has been injured and durability could be an issue.” (h/t to Mookie for the first comment on that thread.)

After Richardson played sparingly as a rookie, hauling in 14 catches over his first 11 games before integrating into the offense late in the year and catching 15 passes for 169 yards over the final four games, he tore his ACL in the divisional round of the playoffs. His absence from the Super Bowl is not something that is ever talked about, and Chris Matthews having a game might be a reason why, but Richardson was certainly starting to figure it out a little bit prior to that injury and that’s another disappointment you can lay on that game.

Richardson managed to return the following November, but he caught a single 40-yard pass in which he also damaged his hamstring, ending his second season that quickly.

With a rookie year of learning and a sophomore year of recovering, then hurting, it was easy to forget just how good Richardson had the potential to be. Some fans, frustrated with his lack of availability, wondered if he should even make the team in 2016. They could forget about the fact that inside of him was a player who could do this:

But Richardson managed to stay relatively healthy in 2016, which made it all the more deflating that he had just 24 targets and 13 receptions through 13 games. He averaged 15.85 yards per catch, but didn’t score and six times received zero or one target. Then finally, truly finally, the Jermaine Kearse on Pete Carroll and Russell Wilson started to wear off.

In Week 16 against the Arizona Cardinals, Richardson received 49 snaps (compared to 66 for Kearse) and was targeted five times, catching four passes for 42 yards and a touchdown.

In Week 17 against the San Francisco 49ers, Richardson played 43 snaps (37 for Kearse) and had seven targets, four catches, and 40 yards.

In the playoff win over the Detroit Lions, Richardson had a WR team-high 55 snaps, four targets, and one of the wildest touchdown catches you’ll ever see.

You can hear Cris Collinsworth call Richardson, “What, their third at best receiver out there?” Implying that at least two of three of Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, and Jermaine Kearse are better than Richardson, if not all three. Not that anyone could really blame Collinsworth at the time, given that he was so unproductive for almost three full seasons.

In the divisional round of the playoffs against the Atlanta Falcons, Richardson set a career-high with 83 yards on four receptions, despite his snap count going back down to 38, well behind Baldwin and Kearse.

But Richardson is not being ignored anymore.

Richardson has 36 targets this season, matching his total from all of 2016. However, last season he averaged 13.7 yards per catch and 8.0 yards per target. This season he’s at 17 Y/C and 10.4 Y/T. Last season he caught one touchdown. This season, he has five. He’s currently on pace for 50 catches, 855 yards, and 11 touchdowns, but I think his current trend suggests that he could become a number one-type target over the second half of the year and do even better than that, at least in catches and yards.

On Sunday, Richardson played a WR team-high 56 snaps, more than any player on offense besides the offensive line and Russell Wilson. He had career-highs in catches (6), yards (105), and touchdowns (2). He also just very matter-of-factly looks like he’s become the star that many expected him to be three years ago.

He looks like the Paul Richardson at Colorado, except now he’s doing it in the NFL. That’s basically the ideal of any draft prospect: Can he replicate what he did at the college level against that kind of talent against professional talent? Richardson is replicating his college self against pro defenses. Finally.

When you look at it that way, we can start to remember that his rookie season was just a rookie season. His second season was ruined by injuries, and that will probably always be a concern, but it “excuses” his lack of production and potentially why his third season took so long for him to get back up to speed.

But over his last 11 games, including playoffs, Richardson has 57 targets, 37 catches, 587 yards, and seven touchdowns. That’s a catch rate of 65%, 15.86 Y/C, and 10.3 Y/T. A yards/target over 10 is definitely in the “elite” territory. Not that Richardson is the total package of “elite” but that Y/T mark is where you’ll find the Antonio Brown types.

A free agent in 2018, Richardson’s play and necessity for an increased workload may demand that John Schneider extend him before that can ever happen. Knowing that he still just has one career 100-yard game and was a minor contributor for about 75% of the time that he’s been in Seattle, that should hopefully help negotiations along without too much of an emphasis on how good he’s been recently or how good his potential could be in the future. As Wilson throws the ball more and has more games like he had on Sunday (please more games for Wilson like that), players like Richardson are not ones you want to lose.

Especially since this is the Paul Richardson that they’ve been trying to find for so long.