Why Jermaine Kearse is More Valuable to the Seahawks Than to Your Fantasy Team
It's been said many times before in fantasy football analysis, but allow me to say it again: Some players are good at football. Some players are good at fantasy football. These are not always the same players.
Apart from the obvious players who are good at "real football" but are useless in fantasy like a franchise left tackle or a road-grading fullback, there are some skill position players who will play for multiple years and earn plenty of money in professional football doing things that don't help your fake football franchise win a title.
Tight ends who block well, receivers who flourish on special teams and pass-protecting tailbacks who play on third down all have limited fantasy appeal, but are a coach's best friend when putting together a 53-man roster. And there may be no coach who values a player like this more than Pete Carroll of the Seahawks.
In an article about then "fringe of the roster" wideout Jermaine Kearse, Carroll was quoted as saying "We're looking for guys to make this team because they can play special teams first." Obviously Kearse did just that, earning his way onto the team with his special teams ability and later getting a chance as a receiver due to multiple injuries at the position.
His performance last season all but secured him a spot on the 2014 Seahawks, but does he have fantasy value? Let's take a look and see if this "real football" value can be a "fake football" steal as well.
Beware of the Small Sample Size
Jermaine Kearse was one of the best receivers in the NFL last season according to our Reception Net Expected Points per target metric. When the ball was thrown at Kearse, he was among the most efficient and productive players at his position.
The problem with that? Kearse only caught 22 passes, leading to a very, very small sample size. Among receivers with 20 to 40 receptions, Kearse finished second in Reception NEP per target, but that meant he finished just ahead of not-very-good veteran receivers Tiquan Underwood and Jarius Wright.
There are some good players on the list that come in behind Kearse (like Reggie Wayne and Randall Cobb, both limited by injuries), but production over 22 catches is never worth banking on. That, and Kearse mostly looked solid within the metric due to his big-play ability.
Efficiency like Kearse's is very difficult to maintain at higher levels of volume. Kearse posted a 0.93 per-target Reception NEP average last year, and no player with more than 60 catches had a higher average than that in the NFL in 2013. The players with the highest volume to post a better per-target efficiency than Kearse were Marvin Jones and Doug Baldwin.
Yes, that's the same Doug Baldwin who currently sits ahead of Kearse on the Seattle depth chart. On 50 receptions last year, Baldwin posted an equally impressive 0.95 Reception NEP per target, second-best in the NFL among receivers with 50 or more catches. This is a true case of "anything you can do, I can do better."
This speaks to a bigger issue in Seattle that will put a damper on Kearse's fantasy value. The Seahawks have only completed 526 passes over the last two seasons. For perspective, Peyton Manning completed 450 in 2013 alone.
No Seattle wideout has caught more than 65 throws since Russell Wilson was installed under center, with only three topping the 50-catch mark over the last two years. Kearse, then, faces an uphill battle as the third receiver, which averages a catch total in the mid-20s in the Wilson-era Seattle offense.
Add in the competition from second and fourth-round rookie receivers Paul Richardson (who I really like after watching his tape) and Kevin Norwood, and Kearse's spot on the field on offensive plays is tenuous at best. Sidney Rice's departure has opened the door for these three players to earn the targets of a third receiver, but again, that's just scraps compared to an average third receiver on a more pass-happy offense.
But there's one other glimmer of hope for Kearse's fantasy value.
Percy Harvin has never started 16 games in an NFL season, and has only appeared in 16 games once since being drafted. Over the past two seasons, he's played in only 10 games, including last year's disappointing lost campaign.
Harvin will (and should) be the top option on offense for the Seahawks when he's suited up and ready to go, but how often will that be? That question holds the answer to Jermaine Kearse's fantasy value.
Are you willing to draft a player strictly as an injury contingency plan for Percy Harvin? Will you "handcuff" Harvin with his likely replacement in the starting lineup? In an average fantasy league, I wouldn't.
With Doug Baldwin going undrafted in standard scoring leagues and barely cracking the 15-round mocks in PPR leagues at Fantasy Football Calculator, it doesn't make much sense to roster Kearse if Baldwin is available for free as well.
Baldwin is a potential breakout star in his own right, with more experience and a depth-chart advantage on Kearse. But should Percy Harvin hit the sideline for a prolonged period of time in 2014, have your waiver-wide clicking fingers ready to snatch up Kearse immediately.
And if you play daly fantasy football, plan on using Kearse in the event of a Harvin injury. He'll be dirt cheap as a limited producer in the Seattle offense, but will likely produce in the event of a move into the starting lineup. This makes him a nice late-round flier in best-ball leagues with deep benches, as well.
But unfortunately, as things stand today, Kearse is a better "real" football player than he is a "fantasy" football player. And I'm sure that's alright with him.