May 20, 2013; Seattle, WA, USA; Seattle Seahawks wide receiver Percy Harvin (11) participates in organized team activities at the Virginia Mason Athletic Center Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

Spreading the Wealth: The Seahawks and Number One Receivers


When the Seahawks acquired Percy Harvin they paid a fair steep price for a player they thought would be a number one receiver. In football, the term “number one receiver” is a bit of an ambiguous one, much like “ace” in baseball. Some people believe it refers to a particular level of ability whereas others consider it simply a position on the depth chart.

Both definitions apply to Percy Harvin and given that he’s gone for the time being Sidney Rice is the de facto number one. I wrote an article not so long ago about how I believe strongly that this team has good receiving depth and would be able to handle the loss without too much difficulty. However, it did get me thinking about what a number one receiver can mean to a team and what how hard this team has leaned on their top guy in the past in order to put Harvin’s absence into perspective. The chart below shows the production that the Seahawks have gotten from their top receiver (by receiving yards) in terms of both raw numbers and percentage of the team’s aerial attack over the last 5 years:

Year

Player

Receptions

Yards

Touchdowns

Percentage of Team’s Passing Yardage

2008

John Carlson

55

627

5

24%

2009

T.J. Houshmandzadeh

79

911

3

26%

2010

Mike Williams

65

751

2

22.5%

2011

Doug Baldwin

51

788

4

25.4%

2012

Sidney Rice

50

748

7

24.7%

2008-2012 Average

N/A

60

765

4.2

24.5%

One thing you notice here is that there isn’t a single 1,000 yard receiver in this group. Additionally, a different player has led the team in receiving yardage each year.It is true that Seattle has not been a dominant passing team for a while. Even last year the passing game was effective in terms of efficiency rather than volume. Percy Harvin could have been expected to better these numbers, and likely by a significant margin, but what is of more interest of what percentage of the passing yardage these players account for. For a frame of reference Calvin Johnson accounted for 39.9% of Detroit’s passing yards last year so none of these numbers strike me as particularly high. You could either view the Seahawks as a team who has seriously lacked a top receiver or one that has spread the wealth but the bottom line is the same.

The fact of the matter is that a single wide receiver, even an excellent one is only likely to account for around 25% of this team’s passing yardage. That number sounds high but if only a quarter of the passing production on this team is even affected by Percy Harvin’s average that’s pretty good news. It’s not quite as simple as that because the Seahawks may have used Harvin more than his predecessors and his presence opens up opportunities for other players when he’s in the lineup, but it still appears the loss isn’t catastrophic.  Sometimes the way sports is marketed and discussed implies that everything is driven by superstars and while that may be true in basketball it just isn’t the case in football. Quarterbacks are something of an exception but the reality of the situation is that a wide receiver isn’t going to win you any Super Bowls single-handedly.

When Harvin was acquired he did not make Seattle far, far more likely to win a championship in 2013 and alternatively his injury has not dimmed their chances by that significant of a margin. Sidney Rice and Golden Tate did a fine job last year and there is no reason, perhaps other than Rice’s susceptibility to injury, why they can’t do it again. Other than possibly Megatron, one receiver just doesn’t have the ability to make or break a season. In recent years on this team one receiver hasn’t even had the ability to make it to 1,000 yards.

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  • Micah Nelson

    Great insight, Megatron might be the only receiver that can be a true number 1 that is that dominant. Normally when a receiver is zeroed in on even 30 % of the time a double coverage will shut that down, but then someone else is open. The Lions didn’t have a running game almost at all last year thus creating much more oppurtunities for Megatron. Harvin would have been Seattles number 1 option but he brings so much more because of his speed and ability to spread the field out. In the last 5 years the Seahawks have been rebuilding and I last year the Seahawks really didn’t start passing until week 11. Things could be vastly different this year, especially if HArvin was healthy. Great Article.
    #GoHawks