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What should Seahawks fans expect from the young receiving corps?

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Carolina Panthers Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

There has been a lot of talk, from national media pundits, on social media and even among fans of the Seattle Seahawks regarding what the team’s corps of receivers will look like in 2019. Obviously, the loss of Doug Baldwin is a significant factor in these matters, and on top of that is the fact that behind Tyler Lockett and Jaron Brown there is very little experience in the receivers room.

Specifically, it appears that many fans feel they may have seen enough of David Moore, and are ready to move on to see which of the three receivers the Hawks drafted in April can come in a make a splash. However, before handing the starting job to one of the new guys, whether that be DK Metcalf, Gary Jennings or John Ursua, let’s take a look at how good Moore’s development has been in the context of having been a seventh round pick.

In the years since the NFL lockout in 2011, and the subsequent adoption of the current CBA which reduced the amount of time players could spend with coaches, receiver development has been an area of concern. This is nothing new, as for decades many coaches, such as Mike Holmgren, have lamented that it can take two or three seasons for a receiver to learn the nuances of the position in the NFL. Moore is no exception to that, which is part of what makes his 2018 season so spectacular.

Since the adoption of the current practice time restraints in that 2011 CBA, there have been 46 receivers who have been drafted in the seventh round. Obviously, the four wideouts taken in the seventh round of the 2019 NFL Draft have yet to have a chance to make an impact on the field, so we’ll only look at the 42 who were selected from 2011 to 2018. Of those 42 receivers, six were chosen in 2018, so we only have a single season of data on them, but that gives us 78 player seasons of data for the first two years of a player’s career for seventh round receivers drafted under the current CBA. Here’s where Moore’s 2018 performance ranks among those 78 seasons in a variety of different categories:

  • Receiving yards, single season: 455 in 2018, third best of 78 in sample
  • Receptions, single season: 26 in 2018, third best of 78 in sample
  • Touchdown receptions, single season: 5 in 2018, best of 78 in sample (second best performance in this category is two).

The obvious rebuttal from fans is that while Moore’s second season ranked highly in the sample for the categories mentioned, he did absolutely nothing as a receiver in his first season. Thus, the question becomes where does he rank when his two seasons are combined? The results are somewhat amazing given that, as noted, he had absolutely no production in his first year, but here they are:

  • Receiving yards, first and second season combined: 455, third best of 36 in sample
  • Receptions, first and second season combined: 26, fourth best of 36 in sample
  • Touchdown receptions, first and second season combined: 5, best of 36 in sample

In short, Moore’s first two seasons have far outperformed the expectations for seventh round receivers, but what happens if we expand the sample to include other rounds? How do Day 3 receivers in general perform? Expanding the sample to look at all Day 3 receivers, we find that between 2011 and 2018 there were 157 receivers drafted by NFL teams, with 24 of those drafted in 2018. That means we have 290 player seasons of data from their first and second years, and we have 133 players that have seen two years pass since being drafted whose performance we can compare to that of Moore.

Where does Moore’s 2018 season rank compared to any single season of the other 156 receivers?

  • Receiving yards, single season: 455 in 2018, 26th best of 290 in sample
  • Receptions, single season: 26 in 2018, tied for 33rd best of 290 in sample
  • Touchdown receptions, single season: 5 in 2018, tied for 10th best of 290 in sample

What happens when we combine the seasons and remove the 2018 draft class for which there is only a single season of data?

  • Receiving yards, first and second season combined: 455, 22nd out of 133 in sample
  • Receptions, first and second season combined: 26, 30th out of 133 in sample
  • Touchdown receptions, first and second season combined: 5, tied for 12th of 133 in sample

Basically, Moore has not only been exceptional for a seventh round draft choice, he’s outperformed expectations for any receiver chosen on Day 3 of the draft through his first two seasons. That’s no promise that his development will continue at the same rate of improvement, but it shows how difficult it is for receivers to develop into contributing members of the team no matter where they’re drafted on Day 3.

So, the issue then becomes what the team can expect of Ursua and Jennings as rookie receivers selected on the final day of the draft. Obviously, expectations should be low, but with the amount of turnover at the receiver position for the Hawks, there should be an opportunity for them to perform, especially on the outside. There’s been plenty of discussion among fans about which receiver will take over in the slot for Baldwin, and to me the most logical conclusion is Lockett.

The thing about the offense the Seahawks run is that the outside receivers have fairly simple duties, as a very large percentage of the routes they to run are either go routes or curl routes. Those routes are far easier to run than other, more complicated routes, and makes the outside receiver position a fantastic place for a developing rookie to learn. Metcalf, Jennings and Ursua should be able to step in as rookies and contribute on the outside, with Lockett moving inside to the slot and dominating.

The reason to expect success from Lockett inside is that over the final five weeks of the 2018 season he lined up in the slot about equally as often as he lined up on the outside, however, his production from the slot disproportionately outpaced his production when he lined up outside. Small sample caveats and all that, but during that five game stretch Russell Wilson posted a passer rating of just 112.5 when targeting Lockett from the outside, but a perfect 158.3 when Lockett was targeted from the slot. Yes, it’s a small sample, but in the offense the Hawks run, slot receivers have a significant advantage over outside receivers, particularly when the defense aligns in order to take away the deep outside routes.

In summary, expect Lockett to slide inside to the slot and have a fantastic 2019 season, while Metcalf and Jennings fight with Moore for the jobs on the outside. There, their size and speed will allow them to fulfill the basics of those roles while learning the intricacies of playing receiver in the NFL and giving them time to develop into the weapons their athleticism gives them to potential to become.