Impact Analysis: Seattle Seahawks wide receivers
by Bryce McRae
on October 1, 2008 @ 12:07:47
The Seattle Seahawks could be forgiven if they felt their team was cursed as they sent what seemed an endless stream of wide receivers to the infirmary.
Try not to wince while reading the following injury list:
With all those players going down, the team needed to make moves just to field healthy bodies. They signed wide receivers Billy McMullen (Washington Redskins) and Koren Robinson (Green Bay Packers); they also acquired wide receiver Keary Colbert from the Denver Broncos.
In addition to the injuries from training camp on, the team has also been missing wide receiver Deion Branch (knee), who is coming off a torn anterior cruciate ligament suffered in January.
Of the receivers listed, Engram and Branch are close to returning. With both of them back, a position of weakness could turn into a position with some depth this week.
Why you should care
This isn't like the Atlanta Falcons, a run-first offense, are welcoming back a pair of unproven wide receivers. Seahawks receivers averaged 194.0 receiving yards and 15.1 receptions per game last year, good for sixth and fifth in the league, respectively. They finished ninth with 173.3 receiving yards and seventh with 12.7 receptions per game in 2006. Over the last two years, they have thrown the ball extensively to their receivers. A lack of adequate options at tight end has helped that.
As well, the running game has shown signs of improvement with the emergence of running back Julius Jones over the last two weeks, though it remains to be seen whether he can ran well against a solid defense. Former league MVP Shaun Alexander, now a free agent, averaged a paltry 3.5 yards per carry in his final two seasons in Seattle while injuries plagued him. The club had no reliable ground attack. If the running game can remain potent, it could keep defenses honest.
Welcoming back familiar faces
Coming off the team's Week 4 bye, the team looks set to see the return of a pair of veterans to their receiving corps - Engram and Branch.
Engram returned to practice Monday, Sept. 29, and will likely be back in the starting lineup as the slot receiver in Week 5. His versatility is vital - he has the ability to play all three receiver spots, but he works best from the slot.
Engram caught 94 passes for 1,147 yards and six touchdowns last year, his best since entering the league in 1996. From 2005 to 2006, he averaged 53.4 receiving yards, 4.55 receptions and 0.20 touchdowns per game when healthy. However, he has played in just 20 of a possible 32 games. In 2007, though, Engram, already known to be quarterback Matt Hasselbeck's favorite target, emerged as their most reliable threat, too.
The other receiver expected back, Branch, practiced Monday, Sept. 29, and should make his game debut in Week 5. Initially, his role will be as a backup, though Branch was working with the No. 1 offense in practice.
If Branch does play in Week 5, it will be just two days short of the eight-month anniversary of his surgery; Dr. James Andrews, who performed the surgery, said everything has healed. For Branch, the mental aspect of the injury could be the bigger hurdle to overcome. Wide receivers generally have an easier time coming back from anterior cruciate ligament injuries than running backs.
As for Branch's production, the former New England Patriot has contributed decent numbers over his seven years in the league. Since joining the Seahawks in 2006, Branch has played in just 25 games, compiling 1,386 receiving yards and eight touchdowns on 102 catches. The 25 games is the issue as he has dealt with injury problems since entering the league.
The rest of the crew
In the absence of the familiar targets, McMullen has stepped up the most amongst the healthy guys. Cut by the Redskins at the end of training camp, McMullen has received seven and nine targets in his last two games, respectively. Those targets have resulted in seven receptions for 124 yards (17.7 yards per catch). He has done little in the National Football League prior to this season, with just 45 receptions, 601 yards and three touchdowns in his four previous seasons in the league (45 games); he didn't play a down in 2007.
Colbert has suited up for just one game this year (Week 3), when he received two targets that translated into one reception for eight yards. In four seasons since a breakout rookie campaign (47 receptions, 754 receiving yards, five touchdowns), he has just 63 receptions, 678 receiving yards and two touchdowns total.
Taylor, in his second season out of Auburn University, has played in just 11 games in his first two years. In that stretch, he has caught only 10 passes for 88 yards. The team was high on Taylor and considered him a front-runner to win the starting flanker spot entering camp, but he has slid down the depth chart with some unimpressive efforts.
After stints with the Minnesota Vikings and Green Bay Packers (50 receptions, 677 receiving yards and two touchdowns in 27 games), Robinson (knee) signed with the Seahawks before Week 3. He has not seen the field yet, though. He is expected to play in Week 5. Robinson previously played for the Seahawks (2001-2004) and is familiar with their offense.
Michael Bumpus, a rookie receiver, was targeted five times in Week 2 and followed that with three targets in Week 3. He has turned those targets into four receptions for 38 yards and one touchdown.
The final guy on the list, Jordan Kent, is on the team's practice squad. He is in his first season out of the University of Oregon and has been active for just one game. His size - 6-foot-4, 219 pounds - is a positive, along with his speed. However, he is raw and hasn't displayed enough to get on the field much despite the team's great needs at the position.
Tight end John Carlson has enjoyed a solid start to his career (12 receptions, 168 receiving yards), especially for a rookie tight end. He has been a reliable target in the face of all of the team's injuries.
The New York Giants have the fourth-ranked defense in the league (252.3 yards allowed per game); however, they have been generous to this position despite some inferior opponents. The Giants are allowing the third-most receptions per game to this position. They have also allowed the 11th most receiving yards per game to the position, with one touchdown per game tacked on. The receivers could be a decent play against the Giants this week.
The Packers are missing their top cornerback, Al Harris (spleen), and could be susceptible to the passing game as they have to bump all their cornerbacks up a spot on the depth chart. The remaining two teams listed above are in or near the top 10 in receiving yards allowed per game to this position.
Fantasy football outlook
With the Seahawks finally able to field some healthy receivers, there could be some decent fantasy additions in their corps.
Engram is someone to look at in all fantasy leagues; he is available in nearly half of leagues polled. He'll have to get up to speed, which may take a couple of week, but the team won't know until he hits the field. Still, he caught 94 passes last year, showed a rapport with Hasselbeck and has seven years with the Seahawks. He should be viewed as a low No. 3 or high No. 4 wide receiver with more value in point-per-reception leagues, at least until he gets his bearings.
Any owners looking at Branch should do so mainly to have him as a reserve. If you have the room, stash him on your bench to wait and see how he does when he returns. Speed was never a big part of his game, but it may still take him a while to return to his previous form.
McMullen could remain on your roster for at least a couple of weeks. He received the most targets among the team's receiver last week (nine), and he could remain as the team's split end; Engram should return as a slot receiver, while Branch is a flanker. It will be interesting to see how he fits into the equation, though, and he will likely have little value in the near future.
With the exception of those owners in very deep leagues, Robinson should not be added. Bumpus and Wallace don't deserve consideration, either.
Colbert, Taylor and Kent are all receivers to avoid in fantasy leagues for various reasons. Colbert failed to receive enough targets to warrant a look in all but the deepest leagues. Taylor was sliding down the team's depth chart even with Engram and Branch out. Kent is on the team's practice squad.
If you own Carlson, it wouldn't be unexpected to see a slight drop in his targets with two of Hasselbeck's favorite targets returning. However, he remains a decent fantasy backup.
Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will actually benefit the most from the return of some familiar faces. He was forced to throw to a miscellaneous cast, a group he acknowledged he wasn't comfortable with because he wasn't sure where they would all be. He comes out of a bye week with some extra rest and prep time as well as some receivers with which he has chemistry. He could return to being a borderline No. 1 fantasy passer with these developments.
About Bryce McRae
Bryce McRae is a Managing Editor with KFFL and has been involved in fantasy sports since 1999. He joined KFFL as a volunteer writer in March 2005 before becoming a Hot off the Wire Analyst in March 2006. He began working in his current capacity in September 2008. His work has appeared on fantasy sports sites such as Yahoo! and CBS Sportsline as well as in print. He graduated from the University of British Columbia in 2008 with a B.A. in History and U.S. Studies.
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