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Why Phillip Dorsett could bump John Ursua off Seahawks roster

NFL: Cleveland Browns at New England Patriots Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Tuesday the Seattle Seahawks made another less than splashy signing that some fans loved and some fans hated in adding Phillip Dorsett. With his blazing 4.33 speed in the 40, Dorsett could team up with Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf to form an extremely fast trio of receivers that can challenge nearly any opponent deep. However, looking at Dorsett’s past production and combining it with an analysis of the receivers Seattle has had in the past would seem to indicate that the Hawks might have added Dorsett to play in the slot.

For starters, while many fans were quick to point out how Dorsett lining up opposite of Metcalf would present problems for defenses, but here are what Dorsett’s catch rate splits look like on short passes versus deep passes during his career.

Phillip Dorsett deep versus short targets split

Season Catch Rate - Short Passes Catch Rate - Deep Passes
Season Catch Rate - Short Passes Catch Rate - Deep Passes
2015 62.50% 36.84%
2016 93.55% 27.27%
2017 90.91% 28.57%
2018 60.00% 47.37%
2019 62.50% 20.00%
Career Totals 70.92% 33.80%

For those wishing for context for these numbers, the catch rate for the entire league during these years was 70.1% on short passes and 41.1% on deep passes. That means Dorsett has a five year track record of below average performance on deep passes and a five year track record that comes in at about average on short passes.

Now, if the Seahawks signed him to be a deep threat lined up on the outside, then that would likely not be a very good use or application of his talents based on his prior performance. Specifically, in the Air Coryell, the outside receivers are typically running deep routes in order to occupy the safeties and stretch the defense, but as the numbers above demonstrate, that is not Dorsett’s strong suit. On the flip side, a league average catch rate on short passes is a great metric for a slot receiver in Brian Schottenheimer’s version of the Air Coryell offense.

To get right to the point, a large portion of the purpose of having two deep threats opposite each other at wideout in the Air Coryell offense is to force defenses to play with two high safeties, which lightens the box and creates more space to run the ball. Dorsett on the outside doesn’t force a defense to keep two safeties deep, as he’s not enough of a threat to warrant that second safety. In short, a defense facing Metcalf and Dorsett on the outside can keep a single safety deep and shade towards Metcalf’s side of the field, which makes putting Dorsett on the outside no different than having Jaron Brown or David Moore on the outside.

However, what adding a player like Dorsett who can provide league average performance from the slot does allow the Seahawks to do is to put Metcalf on one side and All Universe, All Time Great Deep Threat Tyler Lockett on the outside opposite Metcalf. Now that is a pair of deadly dangerous deep threats on the outside that the opponent has to respect and which almost requires two safeties to be kept deep.

Taking things a bit further, however, here’s every wide receiver the Seahawks have added since Pete Carroll and John Schneider arrived in 2010 who went on to record 400 or more yards in a single season.

  • Doug Baldwin
  • Tyler Lockett
  • John Ursua
  • Phillip Dorsett
  • DK Metcalf
  • Sidney Rice
  • Jermaine Kearse
  • Golden Tate
  • Mike Williams
  • Paul Richardson
  • David Moore

What may not immediately jump out to most readers is how typed into a role each of these receivers is. Specifically, here are the athletic profiles of every single bigger bodied outside receiver from that list, and be sure to pay specific attention to the 3-cone and shuttle times.

Phillip Dorsett comparison to Seahawks outside receivers

Category Phillip Dorsett DK Metcalf Sidney Rice Jermaine Kearse Golden Tate Mike Williams Paul Richardson David Moore
Category Phillip Dorsett DK Metcalf Sidney Rice Jermaine Kearse Golden Tate Mike Williams Paul Richardson David Moore
Height 5096 6033 6034 6007 5102 6036 6003 6005
Weight 185 228 200 209 199 218 175 219
40 4.33 4.33 4.53 4.58 4.42 4.54 4.4 4.43
20 2.47 2.53 2.64 2.65 2.50 2.58 2.58 2.53
10 1.54 1.48 1.58 1.60 1.54 1.66 1.56 1.59
Bench 13 27 NA 14 17 15 N/A 26
Vertical 37 40.5 39.5 34 35 32.5 38 36.5
Broad 122 134 119 119 120 121 124 124
3-cone 4.11 4.50 4.34 4.12 4.34 N/A 4.23 4.38
Shuttle 6.70 7.38 7.09 7.03 7.12 4.50 7.09 6.98

Now, in contrast, here are Baldwin and Lockett compared to Dorsett, with John Ursua included since many fans believe him to be destined to be the second coming of Baldwin from the slot.

Phillip Dorsett compared to slot receivers

Category Phillip Dorsett Doug Baldwin Tyler Lockett John Ursua
Category Phillip Dorsett Doug Baldwin Tyler Lockett John Ursua
Height 5096 5096 5097 5091
Weight 185 189 182 178
40 4.33 4.48 4.4 4.56
20 2.47 2.53 2.59 2.65
10 1.54 1.54 1.55 1.58
Bench 13 6 N/A 17
Vertical 37 37 35.5 37
Broad 122 123 121 120
3-cone 4.11 4.26 4.07 4.16
Shuttle 6.70 6.56 6.89 6.77

Honing in on specifically on the shuttle times for these wide receivers, there appears to be a strong demarcation between the wideouts who line up in the slot for Seattle and those who line up on the outside. Ignoring everything else, the slot receivers have 3-cone times of

  • 6.56, 6.89 and 6.77

while the outside receivers have 3-cone times of

  • 7.38, 7.09, 7.03, 7.12, 6.98, 7.09 and 6.98.

Just to add to this, knowing that the Hawks often look for specific physical and athletic profiles for certain positions, just the similarity in height and weight between Dorsett, Lockett and Baldwin are a little ridiculous.

  • Heights: 5’ 9-3/4”, 5’ 9-3/4”, 5’ 9-7/8”
  • Weights: 185, 189, 182

So, what that means for the Seahawks receiving corps heading into 2020 is that as of now it would appear as though the starters would be Metcalf and Lockett on the outside, with Dorsett in the slot. Lockett, of course, would likely be the first backup for the slot, which could mean Ursua as the third option, and third slot receiver on the depth chart isn’t exactly a very secure spot. On top of that, the Hawks typically keep extra players at positions with heavy turnover, and with four of their top five wide receivers from 2019 returning, it’s not a position where depth is as much of a concern.

In contrast, there are question marks galore at running back and on the offensive line, where injuries and free agency departures have created the potential for a lot of new starters. Exactly how many new starters won’t be known until September, but the changes in those position groups will likely lead the team to keeping extra players at running back and on the offensive line.