Blog by Rodney Stokes Jr
The Seattle Seahawks are one of a few teams that don’t exactly have a go to guy at any receiving positions. Well, they had Jimmy Graham who was having a decent season to his standards but nothing that made him the threat he was in New Orleans. With Graham out it was expected that the receiving corps of the Seattle Seahawks would take a hit and that it could alter the season. Both of those things happened, kind of. The receivers didn’t necessarily take a hit as much as they have been a hit and the season has been altered towards the Seahawks regaining their 2013 and 2014 Super Bowl poise. Is it possible that a star pass catcher could possibly be a hindrance for Seattle’s offense? Is there cause to believe that the assortment of what some would say are “unknown” receivers is actually the offenses true star power?
For those who aren’t familiar with the term “QBR” or otherwise known as Total Quarterback Rating, its a standard that rates an entire quarterbacks performance based on situation. For example a guy who throws a 25 yard pass downfield gets more credit than a guy who throws a 2 yard pass that has a catch and run for 25 yards. The QBR rating was created to better identify which quarterbacks were playing at a high level as opposed to those whose stats made it “look” like they were playing at a high level. Some agree with it and some don’t, I’ve based my report off of the QBR standard as well as yards per attempt which correlates alongside of it.
Let’s start with Percy Harvin, the first big signing for the Seahawks during the Russell Wilson era. Harvin came over from the Minnesota Vikings by way of trade in 2013 where he was an all-purpose machine in receiving yards, rushing yards and kick return yards. In his 4 seasons as a Viking, Harvin averaged 7 touchdowns a year and aside from his 2012 season never saw less that 1500 total yards of production. He ended up sitting out the entire regular season except for the game against Minnesota and and added promise in 2 playoff games, including the Super Bowl, for the upcoming 2014 season.
In 5 games (2014) with the Seahawks, Percy Harvin was able to accumulate 22 catches for 133 yards. In fact he was more productive as a running back (11 carries for 92 yards and 1 touchdown) than he ever was lining up at receiver. Russell Wilson finally had what looked to be a true go to guy but it never panned out the way anybody envisioned it. When Harvin was on the field Russell Wilson’s QBR rating was 60.4 which in 2015 would put him right above Jay Cutler and Matt Ryan and outside the top 15 for QB rankings. His 7.07 yards per attempt would place him in the likes of Blaine Gabbert and Matthew Stafford on a team that at the time was 3-2 and suffering a bad loss by the Cowboys. When Harvin was traded away to the Jets everything fell into place for Russell Wilson. In his next 11 games the Seahawks went 9-2 and Wilson increased his QBR from 60.4 up to 66.4 and his yards per attempt increased by more than an entire yard as he went from 7.07 to 8.22. Not only did Russell Wilson increase himself as a QB but he also was able to stretch the field without his “go-to” receiver.
Insert Jimmy Graham, the heralded savior of the Seahawks receiving corps. Graham was a solid player in the Seahawks offense but he wasn’t the game changer that everyone believed him to be. He made it through 11 games with 605 yards and 2 touchdowns which is good but for some reason it just felt like the star TE wasn’t being utilized enough.
It turns out that when he was used less in game (if not at all) it created more opportunities for receivers and increased Russell Wilson’s overall QBR. Graham has a much larger sampling size than what Harvin had so I decided to go by targets and take the games where he was targeted 5 times or less versus the games where he was targeted more than 6 times. In the 6 games where Graham was targeted more than 6+ times in a game Russell Wilson averaged a QBR and about 7.99 yards per attempt. The QBR isn’t so hot but the YPA looks good, and through those 6 games the Seahawks went 3-3. Without Graham as the focal point of the offense however, Russell Wilson’s QBR shot all the way up to 74.88 in the 5 games where Graham saw a maximum of 5 targets. Even more impressive is that the 7.99 YPA that was seen before goes all the way up to 9.18. Not only is Russell Wilson more improved as a QB but he’s also able to spread the field as a passer and as a result is throwing for more yards per play.
Here’s the next stat for you, in the 3 games without Jimmy Graham, Wilson has a QBR of 96.56 and very similar yards per attempt average at 9.19. Put together the numbers where Graham was used less and even absent from the team entirely and you receive an 83.01 QBR rating for Russell with a limited or non existent Graham vs 55.35 QBR rating for Russell when making Graham the main focus. Now of course there’s always things in the data that have more weight from one side to the other like the records of teams, the ranking of defenses that were played and of course the run game. However it should be noted that in the games where the Seahawks either got rid of their star receiver or he was out by way of injury the team has gone 24-5 while only going 10-7 with those guys on the field.
Every year those outside the organization are always mentioning that Seattle needs a top receiving target, you know the 6’3 220 pound receiver from that power 5 school. I say that what Seattle has going on now is a good thing, the receivers that Russell has on the field week in and week out thoroughly understand what’s needed of them and they know that at any time the ball could come there way. I don’t have a copy of the playbook but when watching the offense it feels like they have three go to options on any given play as opposed to just the one. That’s not to say that Jimmy Graham or any other receiver can’t come to Seattle and be the guy but if I had to take a model for success, it would be the one without the star receiver.
Follow Rodney Stokes Jr Twitter: @sostocked21