Expect football stories to begin making their way back to the Super Bowl lead-up as the Richard Sherman discussion mellows. One such football narrative will be that the Broncos have a decided advantage at the receiver position. Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker will be described as world beaters, and Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse will be called average. Percy Harvin will be brought up as a possible savior for the unit, even though he was not needed to get here. The truth is receivers, more than any other position, are a product of the offense they play in. Knowing just how different these two offenses are, I decided to see what the receivers numbers would look like if they switched places.
There are a variety of ways to try and accomplish this switcharoo. First, let's take a look at how the players performed this season on their current squad.
The important figures are the relative ones. Receptions are a product of how many times a player is targeted, multiplied by their rate of catching those throws. Baldwin caught 68.5% of the throws that came his way. Kearse caught only 57.9%, which means he would end up with fewer receptions than Baldwin with the same amount of targets assuming his catch rate remained as it is. Yards receiving is a product of how many yards a player gets per reception. In this case, Kearse is the best of the group, so he would have more yards than any of the other receivers for the same amount of receptions. Lastly, touchdown receptions are a percentage of total receptions, called touchdown rate here. Some players catch more touchdowns than others. Kearse is a little nuts in this particular category.
Denver threw 252 more pass attempts over the course of the year. That equals nearly 16 more throws per game than Seattle. It shows up in the target counts above, where each of the Broncos top three wide receivers all had more targets than any Seahawk. Unless you can manage to gain 25 yards on each catch and a touchdown on every other throw, that becomes a far bigger factor in determining your production than talent. For the purposes of comparison, let's take a look at how the numbers would change if the relative production remained constant (catch rate, yards per catch, touchdown rate), but the targets were switched.
Tate was the most targeted Seahawk, so he gets Thomas' target number. Baldwin gets Decker's and Kearse gets Welker's. Likewise, Thomas gets Tate's, Decker gets Baldwin's and Welker gets Kearse's targets. This does not take into account how a player fits within a certain system, and how that can change when they switch. It also does not take into account the affect of a different quarterback who may be better or worse at throwing deep passes that could alter yards per catch. In short, these numbers do not mean that the receivers would actually produce exactly the numbers above if they switched teams, but it is directionally meaningful.
Give Seahawks receivers 30-40% more targets, and their numbers would inflate substantially. Take away 30-40% of the Broncos targets, and their numbers would dip substantially. National attention and reputation tend to reflect the big numbers more than efficiency. Baldwin is a player I have highlighted as out-performing Victor Cruz and even comparing favorably to previous Steve Smith seasons. If his numbers were closer to what we are seeing with Denver targets, the narrative would most certainly be different these next two weeks. Kearse might be getting the respect Kenny Stills is getting as a rookie in New Orleans. Tate would demand attention as one of the most valuable free agents in the upcoming season.
Perception is not reality. Neither are these numbers, but they should provide some additional perspective to allow for a more well-rounded assessment of these two receiver groups.