What Might the Target Split Look Like for the 2015 Seattle Seahawks?
Russell Wilson would be considered by most to be one of the better quarterbacks currently in the NFL.
There would likely be an argument around where Wilson ranks among that group, but that is something for another time. What Wilson does well -- and what some will use against him -- is he takes advantage of the offense built around him. This upcoming season, that offense has a chance to look rather different.
Since Wilson came into the league, the Seattle Seahawks have been a run-heavy offense. They were just one of two teams last season, along with the Houston Texans, to call more run plays than passes, including plays that resulted in sacks. While Seattle doesn’t rely on the pass as much as other modern offenses, that doesn’t mean they’re not good when they throw the ball, according to Net Expected Points (NEP). NEP, of course, factors in on-field variables such as down-and-distance in order to compare a team or player’s production to historical expectation levels.
In 2014, Wilson tied for 14th in Passing NEP per drop back among 43 quarterbacks with at least 100 drop backs on the season. As a team, the Seahawks ranked 12th last season in Adjusted Passing NEP per play, showing above-average efficiency on the limited amount of passes thrown.
Seattle isn’t going to stray too far from the run this season, but the 2015 offense has the possibility to have more legitimate passing options than Wilson has been afforded in his first three seasons -- sorry, Percy Harvin. With some new additions and only so many targets to go around, it’s natural to wonder what the target share might look like for the Seahawks in 2015. Luckily, you clicked on the right article to try to find out.
Much has happened in the offseason, so it’s easy to forget Jimmy Graham is a Seahawk. Starting with his second year for the Saints in 2011, Graham has not had a season with under 120 targets. His 125 targets in 2014, which would have easily led the Seahawks, was a four-year low. In his three years as Seattle’s starting quarterback, Wilson has never targeted a player more than 100 times. Already, a conundrum. Graham is likely destined to see his overall targets decrease in 2015, but he could still become the most targeted player on the Seahawks and Wilson’s most targeted player ever.
Fewer targets could help lead to more efficiency for Graham. After being the fourth most efficient tight end by Reception NEP per target in 2013 among tight ends with at least 60 targets, Graham dropped to 13th in 2014 among 20 such players. There were injury concerns about Graham last season, and a decreased workload could help minimize those in the future.
Also in the offseason, Seattle spent a third-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft on Kansas State wide receiver Tyler Lockett. Teams don’t usually spend picks on players like Lockett without an intention to use them in a meaningful capacity the following season. Even while picks of Kevin Norwood and Paul Richardson have not worked out yet, the intention to use those receivers in meaningful roles was there. Lockett’s ability to move around the formation should make him a candidate to be an early impact player in the passing game.
Then there’s the Super Bowl star, Chris Matthews. Matthews saw 19 offensive snaps for Seattle in 2014, 16 of which came in the Super Bowl. On those 16 snaps, Matthews had five targets for four receptions, 109 yards and a touchdown. He may not be Seattle’s number-one receiving threat in 2015, but it’s hard to imagine Seahawks coaches failing to find a role for him during the season.
Where Do the Targets Go?
In each season since 2012 the Seahawks have increased the number of passes thrown during the regular season. That has also come with an increase in total plays, but it allows us to assume Wilson might attempt more than 452 passes this season. That breaks down to 28.25 passes per game. If we project Wilson to increase that number just slightly, we can estimate maybe 30 passes per game. Over a 16 game season, that would equate to 480 passes.
Using average target shares from Wilson’s first three seasons, this is what the Seattle offense could expect in 2015.
|Receiver||Percentage||Targets per 480 Attempts|
The numbers above represent a balanced amount of targets among the top pass catchers. Those averages are slightly skewed from the 2014 season, which saw Doug Baldwin as the most targeted player on just 14.5 percent of Wilson’s attempts. In both 2012 and 2013, the Seahawks had two receivers post a higher target share than 14.5 percent. In fact, Baldwin himself had a higher target share (17.1 percent) in 2013 when he was the number-two receiver behind Golden Tate (23.6 percent).
With more true receiving threats on the roster, Wilson could have his first targeted receiver at 25 percent of his passes. If we assume Graham is that number-one option that would equal 120 targets, just slightly below his 2014 output.
Of the top five targets from 2014, it’s possible only Baldwin and Marshawn Lynch repeat their place on that list in 2015. No matter how many passes are thrown downfield, Lynch will still remain a threat out of the backfield with 30 to 35 targets on the season. The rest depends on the development of Lockett and Matthews this season. If both improve in a way Seattle has planned, Lockett and Matthews would be likely to take playing time away from Jermaine Kearse and Paul Richardson.
Much of this, though, will be decided throughout training camp and the preseason. The averages above are a good indicator of how many targets there could be, but there’s still much to be decided for who will be on the receiving end.