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How the Seahawks rank at skill positions within the NFC West

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NFL: Indianapolis Colts at Seattle Seahawks Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

On Monday, I first looked at how the Seahawks rank within their own division at all five offensive line positions, and I decided that they ranked third overall behind the Rams and 49ers. It was basically a toss-up between Seattle and San Francisco for second. Now I’m taking a look at the skill players who have to work behind and around that offensive line, and how do they rank in the NFC West:

RB - Chris Carson, C.J. Prosise, J.D. McKissic, Mike Davis, FB Tre Madden, FB Jalston Fowler

Rank in NFC West: 4th?

I personally support the idea that Carson can be the best running back in the division by 2019, and potentially one of the best in the NFL; that’s how good he was in his four game stint last year, but as we’ve seen with Thomas Rawls, you just never know what you’re going to get when these players return from injury.

Now, Carson could also become the best running back in the division by this upcoming season, but I won’t defend that position when Todd Gurley and David Johnson exist and we can’t say that they won’t be in the MVP conversation again. Johnson led the NFL in yards from scrimmage in 2016 and Gurley did it in 2017. They have their issues — Johnson missed virtually all of last season and Gurley was rather bad as recently as 2016 — but these are still two of the best bets in the league at a position where there are no great bets.

Somehow the San Francisco 49ers made Jerick McKinnon the second-highest paid running back in the NFL ($10.5 million in 2018) behind only Le’Veon Bell. That does not convince me that McKinnon has suddenly become a top-15 (forget top-3) running back, but we can’t pretend that the Seahawks have much hope to offer in the post-Marshawn Lynch era. Rawls got hurt. Carson got hurt. Eddie Lacy was terrible. Rawls was terrible. C.J. Prosise got hurt. Alex Collins got cut. Christine Michael was bad. Troymaine Pope has not been the player that many pretended he would be.

Though I’m not going to give into the idea that McKinnon will simply become the next Devonta Freeman or Tevin Coleman just because he’s working with Kyle Shanahan (Carlos Hyde was a pretty good player prior to working with Shanahan), he’s at least remained healthy and he’s still got pretty fresh legs with about 400 touches in the last two seasons combined. I believe that Carson is a better player, but let’s see how he works with Brian Schottenheimer, Mike Solari, and that he’ll actually be ready to start in Week 1, if he even wins the job.

For comparison, here is some info on broken tackles per touch, courtesy of Football Outsiders:

Broken Tackle%

David Johnson (2016), 22.3%

Todd Gurley, 23%

Jerick McKinnon, 21.4%

Chris Carson, 37.5%

Carson’s numbers come on limited touches of course, but it’s a good start and gave him a high probability of posting a broken tackle% above 20, like the rest of these guys.

I’d put Carson and company in either the third or fourth position within the division, with the potential to move up should Johnson or Gurley get hurt or underperform. The depth within the NFC West is also interesting, as Prosise probably has the highest ceiling of any “backup” running back in the division, if you can even consider him a true running back. He may still be more of a receiver. The 49ers drafted Joe Williams in the fourth round last year and then placed him on injured reserve before the season, with some saying that it was because they didn’t want to cut him even though he had been very underwhelming in the preseason.

If you’re wondering about Mike Davis, I don’t personally think he’s played well enough to earn any sort of spot on the final 53-man roster yet. Carson is the guy, Prosise is the guy you don’t want to quit on yet, McKissic is interesting but limited, and Davis will be fighting against whatever rookies/August vets they bring in.

The Niners also sport the only notable fullback in the division, Kyle Juszczyk, worth talking about at this point. We’ll see if that changes considerably for the Seahawks in 2018 with the new coaches.

Ranking: LA, Arizona, San Francisco, Seattle

WR - Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Jaron Brown, Marcus Johnson, Amara Darboh, David Moore, Tanner McEvoy, Cyril Grayson

Rank in NFC West: 2nd?

The clear best group belongs to the Rams (we’ve seen this pattern so far with most of their offensive line and now their running back and receivers; yes, LA is good) who have Brandin Cooks, Cooper Kupp, and Robert Woods as the starters. I think so highly of Doug Baldwin that I think he could be the best receiver in the division, but nobody comes close to having a 1-2-3 like this one. The depth is also interesting with Pharoh Cooper (an All-Pro returner, but not a receiver yet), Mike Thomas, Tavon Austin, and Josh Reynolds. They should be set well from one to five.

After that, I don’t think a team has a solid argument to prove they’re better than Seattle at receiver.

The Cardinals have Larry Fitzgerald, an all-timer, but at this stage I’d rather have Baldwin. I think Baldwin is the better receiver and probably has been for a few years now, even with Fitzgerald putting up 100-catch seasons. But it falls off quickly in Arizona after Fitzgerald, with their other receivers at the moment being Chad Williams, J.J. Nelson, and Brice Butler. Fitzgerald is going to be 35 this season and there’s very little to go off of with the other receivers on the roster, including deeper guys like Cobi Hamilton, Carlton Agudosi, and Rashad Ross. Clearly the Cardinals need to add some players to the competition and I think Seattle has the better overall group here.

The debate between the 49ers and the Seahawks is a little closer.

Pierre Garcon is a very good player, but he’s turning 32 soon and missed half of last season. Even healthy, I don’t think he’s as good as Baldwin, but it’s close. Baldwin is clearly the better bet for 2018 though. Marquise Goodwin enjoyed a breakout season (56 catches, 962 yards) but he struggled for years in Buffalo and still only caught 53.3% of his targets in 2017. That improved tremendously with Jimmy Garoppolo however (67.4%) so we’ll see if Goodwin continues to trend upwards with the new QB. Is he better than Lockett? That’s a really interesting question to think about, because I’d say the two are very, very close. Lockett has just been so inconsistent throughout his career as a receiver, but he could enjoy a breakout at any time; Goodwin has already had a breakout, he just needs to back it up with a better season ahead. But I’m not sure if San Francisco’s depth looks as good as Seattle’s.

Trent Taylor was a fifth round pick last year and caught 43 passes for 430 yards and two touchdowns. With Garoppolo he caught 17 of 20 targets for a good clip at 9.55 yards per target. Will that continue? Can he up the yards per catch to something like 13 YPC instead of 10 or 11? He may be a better #3 than anyone on the Seahawks if Darboh, Moore, Brown, etc don’t develop. There are six other receivers currently on the Niners roster and i don’t think any of them qualify as more interesting or proven than guys like Grayson, McEvoy, or Marcus Johnson. It’s sort of the same, which is why I think Seattle is either tied with the 49ers or slightly ahead because Baldwin is the best of the two groups. By a lot.

Ranking: LA, Seattle, San Francisco, Arizona

TEs - Ed Dickson, Nick Vannett, Tyrone Swoopes

Rank in NFC West: ??? (Woof)

Jimmy Graham was a simpler time. That was an easy choice for best tight end in the division, even with all the blocking issues. Now it’s anybody’s guess.

Seattle has one of the best pass blocking tight ends in the league with Dickson, but he can’t be expected to do more than catch maybe 25 passes at most. (He caught 30 last season when Greg Olsen was injured but I wouldn’t expect him to catch more than 25. It’s not what he was signed to do.) Last season, Dickson caught five of five targets for 175 yards in a game against the Detroit Lions, including a 64-yarder and a 57-yarder. But over the next 11 games, he totaled 19 catches and 166 yards.

Vannett has potential as a recent third rounder but he has not proven anything at this point and certainly had opportunities to expand his role in the wake of Luke Willson being mildly disappointing as a receiver. Swoopes is nothing but potential.

But which group of tight ends in the NFC West could you definitely rank ahead of this unit?

The LA Rams again have the best argument with Gerald Everett (2nd rounder in 2017), Tyler Higbee, and Temarrick Hemingway. In my conversation with Joe McAtee of Turf Show Times last week, he highlighted Hemingway as the guy to watch — not just among the tight ends, but among all position groups. Neither Everett or Higbee were fantastic in 2017 (combined to catch 41 of 77 targets for 539 yards) but you’d expect them to improve with more time.

The 49ers have a guy they really like in George Kittle (43 catches for 515 yards as a rookie) with 194 of those yards coming in the final three games; again, the Garoppolo effect. But Kittle had seven drops, lost time to Garrett Celek part way through the season and may not have been as good of an all-around tight end to his teammate, who we can all probably agree is not-fantastic.

The Cardinals are sporting Jermaine Gresham for the fourth time, and that is what it is. They have 23-year-old Ricky Seals-Jones backing him up for now. We’ll see how everything turns out in Arizona with the new coaches and quarterbacks, but the Cards may finish fourth in this position group too. I could also see them getting closer to the top because I don’t think any of these teams have a sure thing at tight end.

I guess in that case my tight end rankings would be: LA, San Francisco, Seattle, Arizona

That puts the Seahawks at 4th, 2nd, and 3rd in these respective offensive weapons groups. The Rams finished 1st, 1st, and 1st. The 49ers were 3rd, 3rd, and 2nd.

So the final skill positions rankings:

Rams

49ers

Seahawks

Cardinals

This is almost exactly as we saw it in the offensive line rankings, as LA is clearly first and Arizona is clearly fourth for now, but the 49ers and Seahawks are very closely packed in the middle. I would also say that the Cardinals have Larry Fitzgerald and David Johnson and I don’t want to undersell that Jermaine Gresham can play the sport of football well, so Arizona could be vastly underrated here. It’s just how I’d see it right now.