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Do the Seahawks need a dominant receiver who regularly commands a double team?

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Arizona State v Arizona Photo by Ralph Freso/Getty Images

The 2019 NFL Draft is just a couple of weeks away, and the Seattle Seahawks leading receiver over the past several years, Doug Baldwin, is reportedly recuperating from a third surgery this offseason. As such, it is not difficult to understand why some observers have begun to predict that the Hawks could use an early draft choice on a wide receiver that has the potential to develop into a dominant force.

The need for receivers is obvious, as there is little proven talent on the roster behind Baldwin and Tyler Lockett, and that talent level drops precipitously should Baldwin decide to hang up his cleats, which reportedly is a possibility.

“Waiting to see what Doug Baldwin decides on his future” is not what any Seahawks fan wants to hear heading into the 2019 season, but after knee, shoulder and reportedly hip procedures this offseason, Baldwin walking away would not be that much of a surprise.

In any case, as reported, wide receiver N’Keal Harry of Arizona State visiting the Hawks certainly indicates an interest on the part of the team to at least kick the tires on receiving talent largely viewed as top end in the draft. DraftScount.com lists the 6’3”, 225 pound Harry as the number two available receiver in the draft, and so he comes with the potential to be that big-bodied, dominant type receiver that Pete Carroll has sought after since his arrival nearly a decade ago.

One of the commonly repeated phrases when discussing prototypical big receivers is that they have the potential to routinely draw a double team from defensive backs, allowing other receivers to get open. Is that the case? One of the beautiful things about the current data age is that this is something that while we have not had this data in years past, it is something that is possible to evaluate at a basic level given the rapid expansion of data on these types of details.

As such, what may have simply been an untestable belief or concept decades or years ago is now something for which we often have data. How often wide receivers command double coverage is one of exactly these types of things.

And that data is pretty telling - of the hundreds of player seasons for the dozens of wide receivers across the league, only seventeen times between 2014 and 2018 was a wide receiver double covered on more than ten percent of offensive snaps. Further, no wide receiver in any season was double teamed more one out of six offensive snaps. In short, even the most dominant wide receivers in the game, guys like Odell Beckham, Antonio Brown, Mike Evans, Calvin Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins are only double teamed on one out of every ten or one out of every eight snaps on which they run a route.

With that being the case, it seems fairly easy to dismiss the idea that any receiver is going to command a double team regularly, as no NFL receivers command a double team regularly. Obviously, this does not take into account situational football, such as plays in the red zone or third down, where a dominant receiver like a Johnson or a Jones may command a double team from the defense more often. Thus, it’ll take digging deeper into the data to determine the value of a dominant receiver in those higher leverage situations.