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Inside the Film: Jermaine Kearse is better than you think

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A continuation of the “Inside the Film” series; Kearse’s 2016 season and why its was quietly better than billed.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Los Angeles Rams Richard Mackson-USA TODAY Sports

Coming off a career year in 2015, Seattle Seahawks’ receiver Jermaine Kearse was poised to be a significant contributor to the team’s offense last season; In fact, he had just signed an extension for $13.5 million across three years. That big year didn’t come, however, as Kearse was riddled with offensive pass interference calls, interceptions on balls thrown his way, and a catch rate of just 46%. Many media pundits and vocal fans called for Kearse to be cut, that it was his last year in Seattle with the only reason for him staying being a large cap hit.

This week on “Inside the Film” I take a look at what contributed to Kearse’s down year and if he can bounce back in 2017:

Inside “Inside the Film”:

Some of the stats thrown around for Kearse (such as catch rate) are patently wrong primarily because they do not account for throwaways by the quarterback, inaccurate passes, and good plays by the defender. To counter that I charted every passing target for Kearse and came up with a very different result.

The first thing that jumps out is that Kearse had a total of 27 inaccurate passes thrown in his direction. Along with that, the completion percentage jumps up almost 30% when you account for inaccurate passes. While ideally, you want a receiver to come down with 100% of his accurate targets there were six drops and six passes defended. The passes defended counted as a half towards accurate targets because usually a pass defended could have been a better throw to a spot for only the receiver.

Offensive Pass Interference

Along with these stats, Kearse was also charged with 6 offensive pass interference penalties which was almost assuredly the highest attributed to a single player in the NFL. Taking a look at these pass interference calls though yields a similar result to his targets, only one or two good calls and a fair amount of bad calls.

“It is pass interference by either team when any act by a player more than one yard beyond the line of scrimmage significantly hinders an eligible player’s opportunity to catch the ball. Pass interference can only occur when a forward pass is thrown from behind the line of scrimmage, regardless of whether the pass is legal or illegal, or whether it crosses the line.” - NFL Football Operations

Week 2 vs the L.A. Rams

Rams safety Maurice Alexander seeks out Kearse and pops him, which is not a case of offensive pass interference. It appears that if a penalty were to be called on this play it should have been illegal contact on Alexander.

Troy Hill, cornerback, is playing in off coverage. Kearse runs a comeback route to the sideline and gives Hill a jab to keep his hands off him, standard practice for a wide receiver and also not worthy of a pass interference call. It does not significantly hinder Hill from making a play on the ball and is not why he slipped.

Week 6 vs the Arizona Cardinals

On this play the defensive back initiates contact with Kearse, to counter that he hand fights with the defensive back to try and win the route. Again this a case of a bad offensive pass interference call that could have easily been called illegal contact on the defense for making contact more than five yards down the field.

Week 11 vs the Philadelphia Eagles

While this could technically fall under pass interference the league has set a standard over the past years that as long as a player doesn’t make an attempt to physically block before the ball is in the air then it is deemed a legal play. In this case, Kearse runs a slant which impedes the corner, but he doesn't make contact with the player. This means by the league's standard that is not offensive pass interference.

Week 12 vs the Tampa Bay Buccaneers

This is blatant offensive pass interference, Kearse's shoulder checks the defender and Baldwin piles on neither of them even attempt to try and run a route. This, however, is an isolated case of blatant offensive pass interference.

Week 16 vs the Arizona Cardinals

This is an interesting case. Kearse makes contact with the cornerback but he seems surprised by it, as if he thought the corner would move. The receiver has the right to his route and the corner clearly impedes his route. We’ve seen Seattle defensive backs get called for almost this exact thing, or not get the call at all and the play stands. While he does make contact this does not appear to be offensive pass interference, but it is counted as a half because of the contact.

Kearse was flagged six times for offensive pass interference but in reality only committed one or two actual cases of pass interference. It’s not clear if this is due to the league cracking down on Seahawks receivers or just a case of extremely bad luck coupled with a reputation after the first few flags. Either way, the penalties do not reflect the actuality of Kearse’s play.

I took a look at nearly every pass thrown to or near Jermaine Kearse that were credited to him, there is a surprising number of throwaways and inaccurate passes over the course of the 2016 season.

As well as looking at all of his redzone targets, of which there are roughly three to five quality targets in there compared to multiple bad targets or throwaways.

Overall, Kearse had a more productive year than he was credited for. Moving on, Kearse is set for a comeback campaign — a healthy Russell Wilson, plus an improved offensive line and backfield, should really open up the passing game to get quality targets not only to Kearse but to all the Seahawks receivers.