There is a sizable contingent of Seahawks fans who are not big on Jermaine Kearse. They dislike his measurables, or his effort, or his paltry numbers. Some say his effort has faded after his promising 2013 season, and his blocking has regressed. I am not sure I agree with any of those indictments, but I am wondering if it is time to see what someone else could do in his role.
The classic line for Kearse haters is to say, “Other than making two of the greatest catches in team history, what has he done?” First of all, that’s a pretty crazy thing to say. Second, he’s made four of the greatest catches in team history. There was the fourth down game-winning touchdown against the 49ers in the NFC Championship game in 2013. Then, there was the pinball touchdown catch against the Broncos in the Super Bowl. He made his second game-winning NFC Championship touchdown catch in a row versus the Packers. Finally, was his insane “would-have-been-in-the-conversation-for-best-catch-of-all-time-if-the-Seahawks-had-scored” in the Super Bowl against the Patriots.
Highlights like that are rare for a long career. Kearse has played just two full seasons for the Seahawks before this year. He had a cup of coffee with the team in 2012, but spent most of that year on the practice squad.
His receptions rose from 22 in 2013 to 38 last year. He is on pace to set a new career high with 39 receptions this year. His yards went from 346 to 537, and he is on pace for 620 yards this season. ProFootballFocus.com says Kearse is one of six receivers in the NFL this season without a drop. Teammate Doug Baldwin, is one of the others.
Why sit him?
Why on Earth would I be favor of removing what appears to be a working cog in a broken down offensive machine? It really is a practical matter. Kearse is an unrestricted free agent after this season. I doubt he will be back.
He also seems to have lost his chemistry with Russell Wilson. After a career-high 10 targets in the first game of the year, and a respectable 6 targets in week three, Kearse has not been targeted more than 3 times in any game. He has a total of 7 targets in his last three games.
Some of that may be on him for not getting separation. Some of it may be on Darrell Bevell for dictating plays progressions elsewhere. Some of it could be about finding more targets for Jimmy Graham. The reason almost does not matter.
Seattle is a 4-5 football team with marginal playoff hopes and even more marginal hopes of doing something interesting in the playoffs. Don’t hate the messenger on that. This is where we are.
The team has invested a second round pick in Paul Richardson, a first round pick in Graham, and just promoted a very promising young receiver in Kevin Smith. Each one of those players figures to have a larger role in this team’s future than Kearse.
For players like Richardson and Smith to develop, they need reps. Even reps where they do not get the ball thrown their way is more valuable than sitting on the bench. Smith is a legitimate dark horse as a receiver. He reminds me of a more explosive Darrell Jackson. His routes are crisp. His hands are good, and his strength is plenty for the NFL. It would not surprise me at all if he flashed should he be given the opportunity to play.
The two less obvious options are already getting snaps. Graham has been used primarily as a tight end. The Saints used him a lot as a receiver. Maybe there is a configuration that allows Graham to get more of those receiver snaps here and elevates Luke Willson to be more of the in-line tight end. To be clear, that is a classic fan idea that sounds great, but the devil is in the details of what different plays demand of different positions, and whether Graham is really equipped to play receiver. He has made his living against safeties and linebackers. Cornerbacks are bound to be smaller, but they also will negate any speed and agility advantage he has.
Tyler Lockett is a fabulous receiver. He has John Brown-level talent. Seattle likes to play him in the slot. I think he could play outside and be terrific. No receiver on this team deserves a bigger increase in chances than Lockett. The biggest knock on him is that Wilson seems to have very little chemistry with him. Lockett is repeatedly open, and Wilson either does not see him or does not deliver a catchable pass.
Wilson is not going anywhere, so it is imperative that the team finds players he has confidence in and chemistry with.
Time to learn
An easy way to start this experiment is just to give the reps that were going to Chris Matthews to some of these others players. Whoever makes the most of their chance should get increased opportunities. If Kearse does see his time diminish, it most likely will not happen for at least a few games. Should the team start winning, they will be more likely to stay with experience and known players.
I went into training camp wondering if someone might push Kearse for a roster spot. He was easily the second best receiver in camp after Baldwin. Despite the naysayers, Kearse is a solid receiver who appears to have lost his place in this offense and possibly lost some motivation. San Francisco has serious secondary issues, so maybe Kearse breaks out this week.
Either way, Kearse’s time in Seattle is coming to an end, and the Seahawks need to see what they have in some of these other players.