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Don’t Walk: Stability and the Seahawks receivers

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Rookies? Where we’re going we don’t need rookies.

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Imagine a dimension where Russell Wilson never existed.

We know in this alternate reality Matt Flynn doesn’t work out either, because he’s had his chances with other teams since and if he actually didn’t suck (and it was just his bad luck to be in our timeline and get hit by a dangeruss meteor) he could have made it with the Raiders or Jets. I mean in a universe of infinite Flynns there’s probably one Flynn who’s fixing his bloody marys with the pulp of NFL defenses and stirring giant margaritas using his Lombardi Trophy—their rims salted with a mix of Brock Os-Wyler’s lemon dust and extracts from a caged Aaron Rodgers’s tears—but let’s try to stay at least a little bit grounded.

So the simulated Seahawks from 2013 onward are still cycling through quarterbacks out of the draft and making halfhearted or harebrained trades trying to fill that need. Such instability frustrates fans and doesn’t lead to success on the field. Until it does of course. There’s a king in every crowd, right? Eventually you figure they find their guy. Hey it even happened for the Raiders! The Jets? Not so much.

Here’s a less hypothetical way to envision the scenario: Just look at Seattle’s receivers room since Pete Carroll and John Schneider arrived.

Of course by nature of containing more variables, the total personnel in a position group will be more dynamic than any single starting position. Yet Seattle’s path in that time reveals not just constant change and attrition on the fringes but persistent effort to introduce new top weapons in the passing game. And for a long time these installations didn’t quite work. Or when they did for one moment, they were gone the next.

Yes, you can point out Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, the Seahawks’ two top producers of receiving yards in 2015, and draw a line backward to 2012 or 2011 saying they’ve been here all along. But anyone who lived through those seasons (and offseasons) knows those players were never meant to be the featured performers. No, as far as starting pass catchers were concerned, for the most part Seattle’s front office planned, and the football gods laughed.

Let’s go back:

2010: The whole roster is in flux then obviously, but Seahawks sign all-time draft bust and reason to stay in school Mike Williams following two years away from football. He’s actually pretty good! Seattle also drafts Golden Tate and discards former ace receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh right before the season then trades Deion Branch midway.

2011: Enter: Sidney Rice and Kris Durham. Also pick up Baldwin and Ricardo Lockette as undrafted rookies. After Williams suffers career-ending injury, unheralded Baldwin leads the team in receptions and yards.

2012: Seahawks ignore receivers in the draft (it works out pretty well for them) but add former Brown Braylon Edwards as a free agent, sign Kearse, plus try out weirdo old dudes Antonio Bryant and Terrell Owens. Exeunt: Bryant and Owens. Durham gets cut in camp too, and Edwards is gone by December. With Tate emerging and Rice healthy, Baldwin gets buried in the rotation but Seattle turns awesome at football, so …

2013: It’s hard to remember now but before the offensive line started playing like rag dolls, receiver was considered the Seahawks’ only real need. With a rising quarterback, tailback who seems like a time traveler, four offensive linemen on their way to big contracts elsewhere (with the other a prime Max Unger), breakout playmakers at every level of the defense—everything else is just juice. But if you look at it in continuity, this summer between 2012 and ’13 is already the most flush with talent Seattle’s receiving group ever got in this span. You have Kearse and Baldwin, definitely not yet who they will become but on the trail. And you have Tate established as a legitimate starting wideout. And Rice coming off a full 16-game season. The only earlier time Rice played all the games he caught 1,300 yards, so he still carries that possibility. And whose arrival in Minnesota in 2009 helped precipitate that same 1,300-yard year by Rice? Percy Harvin. AND you go get Percy Harvin.

Harvin had entered the NFL with four straight seasons generating at least 9 AV, something done by only six other wide receivers in my lifetime: Chris Collinsworth, Jerry Rice, Joey Galloway, Randy Moss, Tory Holt and A.J. Green.

In 2013 with the Seahawks Harvin adds zero AV. Sidney Rice adds 2, and his career ends on a Monday night in October. In St. Louis.

(Seattle wins the Super Bowl anyway.)

2014: Tate is gone. Rice gives up. Harvin becomes a gadget and a locker room brawler and then a Jet. With receiver now a genuine need, the thickest draft for wideouts in NFL memory plays right into Seattle’s hands! That’s what happens right?

Sammy Watkins, Mike Evans, Odell Beckham, Kelvin Benjamin, Brandin Cooks. Okay, so all those guys get taken before the Seahawks trade down from the 32nd pick, but there remain players like Davante Adams, Allen Robinson, Jarvis Landry, Donte Moncrief, John Brown and Martavis Bryant available in between the points Seattle chooses Paul Richardson in the second round and Kevin Norwood in the fourth. I’m not saying I could have done better. That draft I was enamored with Cody Latimer; he of the eight career NFL receptions. (Norwood has nine.)

2015: The cups keep moving. Always: uncertainty. Last year we question how or when Richardson might recover. We wonder can Chris Matthews blossom for real like he did in the Super Bowl. Seahawks move up in the draft to grab Tyler Lockett. And I’ve so far excluded tight ends in this conversation but acquiring Jimmy Graham clearly counts as a design to galvanize the receiving group.

So there you have it; a stream of new faces, drama, ins and outs and injuries. And look up there: I didn’t even mention Chris Harper. The Seahawks have never found stability at receiver under Pete Carroll. They’ve never found their "Russell Wilson"—and I don’t necessarily mean one player as transcendent or rare as Wilson because let’s not be greedy. I just mean a situation that changes the process; that settles the process.

Until right now.

Present Day: Seattle did not deal future considerations for any freaky franchise playmaker. Schneider didn’t draft a wideout in the second or third or fourth or fifth rounds. They didn’t even let Jermaine Kearse wander out past the woodchips, even though almost everyone expected he would and most were okay with that.

Even though Matthews and Norwood are gone, Lockette is lucky to be alive, and both Graham and Richardson remain unknowns—the Seahawks basically said that’s cool, they’re good.

And I think they’re right.

After leading the league in touchdowns in 2015, Baldwin seems to have fully unfolded as an NFL player. If he keeps improving, or if he even maintains his performance while offensive line and other factors better support the passing game, Baldwin is treading a course to be a real star receiver.

Kearse’s numbers as the second starter (49 catches for 685 yards), though unspectacular by volume-passing standards, are 85-90 percent of the best Seattle receiver’s (averages of 58 and 778) in every Carroll-coached season except Tate in ’13 and Baldwin last year.

Lockett’s (51 for 664) were about the same—and he didn’t begin to figure heavily in the offense until week seven. That gives the Seahawks three (3) receivers nearly as good or better than their typical top threat, before even considering what a repaired Graham might do when he gets back (48 for 605 in 12 games).

I made fun of the Paul Richardson draft pick above but even he appears fully mended at last, for now. P.Rich (my brother calls him "Preach") ramped up to his targets in the last month of 2014, doubling his season total with 15 catches in four games—signaling perhaps if he exorcises his bedeviling injuries he could be a fledgling Kearse himself, and with more speed.

Evoking Richardson at all comes with a caution, and I can’t expect to know what’s going to happen. You certainly can’t count on everything going right. If the aforementioned history is any guide, one of these guys will probably unexpectedly retire or get charged with a crime before September, Baldwin will regress to third-starter form and Richardson get kidnapped for an experiment by Matt Flynn’s extra-dimensional evil genius double.

Beside, receivers are like a basketball team. Even in health you cannot just distribute more touches and top production for everyone like your name is Russell Winfrey; there’s a limited balance of usage. Two years ago Richardson was coming untracked when the team didn’t have Lockett as an alternative. Then again, if the quality of that usage is a rising tide, something something boats. (See: Golden State Warriors.)

I also can’t prove stability or continuity offers a receiving group any advantage over just assembling talent, the way we like to talk about with offensive lines. Yet the clear change in pattern suggests the Seahawks saw in this collection something worth keeping together.

From 2010 to 2014 Seattle acquired each offseason an average of 2.4 new receivers. Not camp bodies or inactives but players who actually played in games. These same additions combined on average to supply 4.8 AV in their first seasons. That’s equivalent to adding one Deon Butler and one Ben Obamanu every year. In 2015, newcomers Lockett and Graham together contributed 15 AV, with Lockett responsible for 9 points by himself. Gameday bucket goes boom!

An intended influx finally paid out on the field, so Schneider opted to end the musical chairs. Furthermore, the new deal for Kearse shows staying put wasn’t purely a matter of saving cap.

In case you believe I’m too conveniently leaving out the fact Seattle did select Kenny Lawler in the draft because it doesn’t fit my thesis, I tend to suspect the 243rd pick represents rather a flier at a best available special teams guy than a concerted aim at injecting production into the position group. If anything I imagine C.J. Prosise to be more impactful in the passing game, based on what Carroll said about catching balls in his draft day call.

That’s not an evaluation of Lawler specifically. I’m not a scout. You know what they say about big hands. He may indeed make the team. It's like a young version of Chris Clemons and Brandon Browner. If he ends up a contributor or even if his competition pushes the development of Kasen Williams or Kevin Smith, or otherwise pushes a weaker link off the roster, so much the better. But if he doesn’t I don’t care.

Or maybe DeAnthony Arnett or Deontrae Cooper or one of the other bodies found in undrafted free agency leaps out instead, or Travone Boykin converts to wide receiver. It doesn’t matter and that’s the point. Lawler won’t be a redux of Durham or Harper or Norwood because it’s not a particularly meaningful draft investment and he comes at a time of low need.

Here’s another example:

Down the street from my house there’s a spot that used to be a fairly dilapidated corner store, the kind of place that’s good for a trip for beer or condoms or maybe certain cheap bathroom cleansers in a pinch—but not that reliable if you’re actually hungry and know what’s good for you. Not that I’m above eating off-brand Doritos or stale Saltines late at night—life is only as long as you live it. But the thing is in the last four or five years I learned that when I eat natural, seasonal foods I feel a lot better and have more energy. It even gives me reason to keep my own stock of condoms at home! I’ll admit this pattern of healthy eating peaked around 2013, but I’d like to keep it going (if you know what I mean).

The rundown store closed a while ago and for the last six months I’ve seen it undergoing renovations and wondered what kind of business was going in there. Would it be an art gallery? A salon? A real estate broker? A graphic design boutique? I live in a transforming neighborhood and see this stuff happening all the time. Most of the new nonsense offers nothing I can use. But when I walked past last night I finally realized what it was: another convenience store, only now the kind that sells organic chips and cookies, actual produce, kombucha, fresh-pressed juice and serves handmade sandwiches with beers on draft.

So, more of the same, just… better. Huh.

I mean, it would be too expensive to shop for all my groceries there, but it’s nice to know I can run out while cooking and in thirty seconds have an actual onion instead of Phil Bates and Bryan Walters buying a thing of Lowry’s seasoning that’s been on a steel shelf for five years.

What does this say about the 2016 Seattle Seahawks receivers room? Nothing, obviously.

But for the first time since Russell Wilson solidified the quarterback situation in Seattle, the Seahawks having matching stability on the other end of his throws. And it tastes to me like fresh blueberries.