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Focusing on the quarterback competition makes perfect sense. The outcome of that race will have massive repercussions on the 2012 season. It is not, however, the biggest question mark on the roster. That honor goes to the wide receiver group. Not only are there tough questions about which players will make the roster, but there are questions about which roles they will play and whether they are good enough.
Understanding how many roster spots will be taken by receivers is a good place to start. Eric Williams, of the Tacoma News Tribune, does a great roster analysis that includes the average number of Seahawks players kept at each position since 2008. The average for wide receivers is 5.25. And, no, Deon Butler does not count as 0.25. This basically means they keep five receivers more often than they keep six. In one way of counting, the team kept seven receivers last season, with Butler on PUP. Injuries to Sidney Rice, Mike Williams, and Kris Durham left the Seahawks with only five healthy receivers at season’s end.
The contenders for roster spots this year are (in random order):
My quick math tells me that’s more than six. Let’s take a moment to sort them into a more nuanced grouping:
UNLIKELY, BUT POSSIBLE
PRACTICE SQUAD CANDIDATES
Yes, Kris Durham is practice squad eligible. Here are the practice squad eligibility rules:
In order to be eligible for the practice squad, players must meet one of the following requirements: (1) Have no prior Accrued Seasons in the NFL (An accrued season is six or more games on the active roster); (2) Have one prior Accrued Season in which the player was on the 45-man active roster for no more than 8 games; (3) If served two seasons on a practice squad, are eligible for a third season only if the team has at least 53 players on its active/inactive list for the duration of that player’s employment.
Durham was not on the 45-man active roster for 8 games last year. It’s unclear if he would last on the practice squad, but there would be little harm in attempting it. He will not make the 53-man roster. Obomanu, Edwards, Tate and Lockette all are far ahead of him.
Lockette makes the “lock” category because he is young, cheap, and shows way too much potential to let him go anywhere. Even if all he can do is a go route, that’s valuable to have, especially in this bunch where deep speed is uncommon.
The competition is really between Obomanu, Edwards and Butler. Butler has a few distinct advantages. First, he is the only other slot receiver on the roster outside of Baldwin. Tate is not playing any slot, and has not shown the feel necessary to play that role. Obomanu played slot early in his career, but is not a classic slot receiver, and is better on the outside. Second, Butler is the only other 4.3/4.4 speed guy on the team. He is not as adept as Lockette at getting deep, but he has the ability.
Obomanu has been one of the best receivers in camp so far. He runs great routes, is heady, and can make plays down the field. Edwards has size on him. He can be used as a red zone receiver on fades opposite Rice, with Kellen Winslow Jr. and Zach Miller in the mix as well. I would have put Obomanu in the lock category before the Edwards signing, but Edwards brings some unique skills that put him in the driver’s seat. Obomanu is good at a lot of things, but not great at any one. Pete Carroll and John Schneider like to collect players with unique strengths that allows them to put together a Swiss Army Knife roster, ready for any situation. The would rather have a player who kicks ass in five situations, but is below average in 35 others, than to have a guy that is solid in all 40. That is not the case for every player, but definitely for guys that are filling out the roster.
This is old hat for Obomanu. He has had to fight for a roster spot every season, save possibly last year. He has been counted out time and again, but has always found his way onto the team. He is having a great camp, and is someone the coaching staff believes in and trusts. Maybe Edwards falters or gets injured again. Maybe Butler is not the only backup slot option worth considering. Maybe Obomanu outplays them all so clearly the front office has no choice but to keep him. It may not get the hype of Flynn vs. Wilson vs. Jackson, but Edwards vs. Butler vs. Obomanu is a far tighter contest, and one that will rage on up until the final days of camp.