Super Bowl 2014: Seattle's wide receivers are average, or are they?

Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

Some consider Seattle's wide receivers one of the weakest links on the roster. If that's true, the other units must be really good.

Even before Richard Sherman made himself a household name with a fuming post-game rant following the NFC Championship game, the Seattle Seahawks still had plenty of star power. Their 25-year-old quarterback Russell Wilson has quickly become one of the league's most recognizable faces in his second season. Their veteran running back Marshawn Lynch has been among the NFL's most endearing characters ever since the play now known as the Beast Quake. Sherman led a defensive unit that finished No. 1 in the league while hitting hard and playing fast.

With so much glamor on one team, it's easy to see how a specific position group might get lost in the shuffle. Perhaps that's what happened to Seattle's wide receivers.

While Sherman's message to 49ers wide receiver Michael Crabree drew national headlines, Seahawks wide receiver Doug Baldwin was making waves of his own. Baldwin said, emphatically, the Seattle wide corps is not average following the victory over the 49ers. It's not an unexpected defense for a proud athlete, but it may challenge conventional wisdom. It's also not the first time Baldwin has had to defend Seattle's pass catchers.

In December, Tom Pelissero of USA Today wrote the Seattle wide receivers could be the team's downfall in January. Baldwin took note.

On Sunday, a pair of ESPN NFL analysts compared Seattle's wide receivers to appetizers. Baldwin heard that too.

"I was able to watch a special on ESPN with Keyshawn Johnson and Cris Carter," Baldwin said after the NFC Championship. "They were talking about the wide receivers for the Seattle Seahawks. They said that we're not the main entrees. They said that we're the appetizers. I'll take that. We're the appetizers. But we're one hell of a good appetizer."

There is no question the undrafted free agent plays with a chip on his shoulder. Leading up to the NFC Championship game he said the chip is so large, it's actually a boulder. Baldwin and the other receivers have used the criticism as motivation. The good news for them, they're likely to receive plenty of fuel for the fire leading up to the Super Bowl.

Matched up against Denver, Seattle will face the Broncos' prolific passing attack. That, of course, includes Denver's heralded wide receiver group. The trio of Demaryius Thomas, Wes Welker and Eric Decker is regarded by some as the best in the NFL. Ask 100 NFL fans if they would take the Denver trio or Seattle's so called "average" receivers and the majority, maybe even all of them, would likely to pick the Broncos. But does Denver really have that big of an advantage? Let's take a look.

Team A: 9.3 yards per target, 62.2 percent catch rate, 15.2 percent of targets result in a reception of 20+ yards.

Team B: 8.7 yards per target, 64.3 percent catch rate, 12.1 percent of targets result in a reception of 20+ yards.

Based on the general consensus among NFL fans, Denver has to be Team A in the above scenario, right? Wrong.

At least on a per target basis, Seattle's group of wide receivers were more efficient than Denver's. They also were more efficient at creating plays of 20 or more yards when targeted. Seattle's three most-targeted receivers this season were Baldwin, Golden Tate and Jermaine Kearse. Two undrafted free agents and a second-round pick. All three fared well on a per target basis with Baldwin's 10.7 YPT the second-highest regular season mark among receivers with at least 25 targets, according to Advanced NFL Stats.

Here's a closer look at the data from this season (including playoffs):

Player

Receptions

Targets

Yards

20+ Rec

YPT

Catch %

20+ Rec %

Seatte

Golden Tate

69

109

942

12

8.6

63.3%

11.0%

Doug Baldwin

58

83

914

17

11.0

69.9%

20.5%

Jermaine Kearse

25

44

415

7

9.4

56.8%

15.9%

Sidney Rice

15

35

231

5

6.6

42.9%

14.3%

Ricardo Lockette

5

7

82

2

11.7

71.4%

28.6%

Percy Harvin

4

5

38

0

7.6

80.0%

0.0%

Seattle WRs

176

283

2622

43

9.3

62.2%

15.2%

Denver

Demaryius Thomas

107

163

1618

23

9.9

65.6%

14.1%

Eric Decker

94

150

1393

20

9.3

62.7%

13.3%

Wes Welker

83

124

854

12

6.9

66.9%

9.7%

Andre Caldwell

18

33

226

2

6.8

54.5%

6.1%

Denver WRs

302

470

4091

57

8.7

64.3%

12.1%

Denver holds obvious advantages in the general counting stats. The Bronco receivers have more catches and more yards. Decker and Thomas both have very good numbers, overall and by efficiency standards. You also have to credit their consistency for producing such good numbers over a larger sample size. None of this is to say the Broncos don't have very good receivers. They absolutely do and the matchup between the Denver receivers and the Seattle secondary should be excellent.

Instead, the big takeaway here is while some have called the Seattle wide receivers a liability and a downfall, they've actually been among the most-efficient in the game and more efficient than a group some regard as the best. If Tate or Baldwin were targeted 150 times this season, they likely would have racked up more than 1,300 yards and been lauded for their "breakout seasons."

All of this is without once mentioning Percy Harvin who is expected to play in the Super Bowl. Even with Harvin, Seattle's wide receivers can't match up with Denver's in terms of accolades. None of them have ever topped 1,000 yards in a season or made the Pro Bowl as a receiver.

Because of that, some will likely continue to doubt them and call them average, pedestrian and whatever else. My guess is Baldwin, Tate and company wouldn't want it any other way.

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