The Seattle Seahawks have one major question mark on offense entering this season. That question mark revolves around the team's starting quarterback situation as nobody knows yet who will be the starter.
What the Seahawks do know, however, is that they have a fine wide receiving corps just waiting to establish itself once given the opportunity.
As a franchise, the Seahawks do not receive much national attention. On offense, the only attention they receive is regarding the running of Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks receivers are never talked about as possibly being one of the better groups in the NFL.
They are nowhere near the best right now, but they do have the potential to challenge the Green Bay Packers, Pittsburgh Steelers and Detroit Lions in the future. Right now, the Seahawks need Sidney Rice to prove that he can play 16 full games for us to accurately assess the group.
Rice was signed to a big deal prior to last season after one big season in Minnesota with the Vikings.
The then-24-year-old obviously has an abundance of talent, but came with two very significant worries. He had only actually played to his potential for one of his four seasons in Minnesota and was coming off a season when he couldn't stay healthy.
Rice's health proved to be a problem again last year during his first season with the Seahawks. He missed the first two games of the season before landing on IR after Week 12. Rice never really got going but did manage 484 yards in what was essentially only eight starts.
Regardless of his production, the Seahawks need Rice on the field because he will make the team's other receivers so much better.
The Seahawks have a really good receiving corps, but they only have one player who can draw coverage. That one player is Rice. The team's other receivers are excellent complementary pieces, but none of them are leading-receiver types.
With Rice stretching the field and drawing coverage, players like Ben Obamanu, Golden Tate and Doug Baldwin would excel. Obamanu, Tate and Baldwin are all smaller receivers (although Obamanu is still 6'1") who, along with Mike Williams, played well without Rice on the field last year.
Their diversity and congruency as a group is incredibly impressive. A wide receiving corps can't just be an accumulation of talent, it has to be constructed with each piece thought out as part of an overall picture.
Unless you have receivers like the Packers and Steelers, where each player is diverse enough to run every route and has the physical abilities to go deep, beat defenders in one-on-ones or play as possession receivers, you have to bring in players who fit with each other.
Seahawks quarterbacks only threw the ball 506 times last year. In comparison, the Lions threw the ball 666 times and the Packers 551 times. It is the lack of quality quarterback play that prevents the Seahawks from airing it out. Because the Seahawks don't air it out, their receivers must work to impress on less opportunities.
Just like Aldon Smith got a huge amount of praise last year for excelling with lesser opportunities, the Seahawks had a rookie receiver doing exactly the same thing.
Twenty-eight receivers were selected in the 2011 NFL draft. Doug Baldwin was not one of them. Baldwin joined the Seahawks as an undrafted free agent out of Stanford. Despite not being drafted, Baldwin finished fourth among all rookies in receptions and yards last year.
Even though he had one of the highest averages per reception, 15.5, Baldwin was one of only seven rookies to eclipse 33 receptions and one of only four to go over 50. If you haven't watched Baldwin play, it is difficult to understand his versatility.
Like a leaner Jordy Nelson, Baldwin can beat you as a possession receiver with his route running, or escape you with his speed. He may not be the most physically imposing player, but just like a Lance Moore or Eddie Royal, he doesn't fear taking hits.
Along with Baldwin, the Seahawks still have another young receiver on the roster in Golden Tate.
Tate was drafted in 2010, but is still developing as a receiver. What is very comforting for Seahawks fans is that he was the only receiver in the NFL to not drop a pass last year. At least according to ProFootballFocus that is.
He is not as dynamic or versatile as Baldwin, but Tate has the ability to be the next Wes Welker if he can refine his game and develop the mental understanding a possession receiver needs. Tate doesn't have the benefit of playing with a settle quarterback situation like many young receivers do. If he were in Randall Cobb's position then he would be getting more recognition.
Tate finished last year with 35 receptions and 382 yards. Of the Seahawks other receivers, he is the one who would benefit most from Sidney Rice's presence on the field.
If Rice is healthy, defenses will be worried about his ability to beat them deep. With that in their minds, defensive coordinators will allow for softer coverage underneath, giving Tate more space to work in. With more space, his reception total and average should skyrocket.
The Seahawks tried to replace Rice last year with Obamanu. Obamanu and Mike Williams were both asked to draw coverage, but Williams doesn't scare defenders at all. Obamanu is a 28-year-old receiver who gave the Seahawks solid production the year before last.
Standing at 6'1", he was the biggest of the team's three best receivers. He finished the season with 37 receptions for 436 yards and two touchdowns. If all goes to plan for the Seahawks next year, then Obamanu will be the fourth-choice receiver instead of finishing the season with the second-most receiving yards on the roster.
Last year, the Seahawks played most of the season without their leading receiver and an injured quarterback. This year, they will potentially get Rice back and the level of quarterback play should rise regardless of who is under center.
If Matt Flynn or Russell Wilson win the job, then they should be improvements over Tarvaris Jackson. If Jackson staves them off, then he is fully healthy and working with the same pieces from last year. That consistency can only be good for a quarterback who has never really had any consistency before.
In turn, it will also be good for the Seahawks receivers.
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