From now till Thursday, September 1 — the day of the final preseason games — FantasyLabs is releasing our 2016 team previews: 32 previews in 32 days. Are you ready for some football?
Seattle Seahawks Team Preview
Despite winning just two of their first six games, the Seattle Seahawks once again made the playoffs in 2015 but fell to the Carolina Panthers in the divisional round. At this point we’re all used to the Seahawks defense dominating, and with the No. 1 scoring defense in the league, the defense dominated in 2015. The retired Marshawn Lynch will no longer be around to carry the Seahawks’ running game, but after the Seahawks scored at least 29 points in seven of their last eight regular season games without Lynch it appears that fifth-year starting quarterback Russell Wilson is more than capable of carrying the offense on his own.
The Seahawks are one of just five teams to have a 2016 win total of at least 10.5, indicating that Vegas still sees the Seahawks as one of the top teams in the NFC. Lynch may be gone, but new starter Thomas Rawls led the league in yards-per-carry average in 2015, and backup Christine Michael may have FINALLY turned a corner in his career with a very strong preseason. The Seahawks have been a top-10 scoring offense in every year of the Wilson era. Don’t expect that to change in 2016 with Seattle’s plethora of offensive weapons.
It took awhile, but it appears the NFL public is finally ready to accept Wilson as a top-tier quarterback. Despite winning a Super Bowl and consistently leading the Seahawks to top-10 finishes in scoring offense, Wilson was perceived as a bit of a game manager who couldn’t consistently beat opponents from the pocket.
With Lynch on the shelf for the final seven games of 2016, the Seahawks switched to an offensive philosophy that emphasized Wilson getting the ball out more quickly. What ensued was the best seven-game stretch of Wilson’s career:
After having a disappointing Plus/Minus of -1.34 through the Seahawks’ first nine games, Wilson exploded with an absurd +11.20 to end the year. This stretch of excellence included 24 touchdowns to just one interception, and his 2015 average of 35 rushing yards per game continued to provide him with a high floor.
Wilson set career highs in completion percentage, passing yards, touchdowns and yards/attempt in 2015. When a player experiences such a breakout year, we must exercise caution in predicting whether the performance will carry over into the following season. In Wilson’s case, this type of offensive dominance could become the norm. It’s unlikely that Wilson will put together quite as great of a seven-game stretch again, but as the focal point of the Seahawks offense with his top four targets returning Wilson is primed to be a weekly high-end QB1. He will have especially juicy matchups in Week 8 (New Orleans) and Week 11 (Philadelphia), the two worst defenses in average fantasy points allowed to quarterbacks in 2015.
A Heisman finalist in 2014, Boykin appears to have the inside track on the Seahawks’ backup quarterback job, but the team could still add a veteran backup as the season nears.
A dual-threat quarterback (2,000 rushing yards in four collegiate seasons), Boykin improved his completion percentage every year but will likely still need a couple of years of NFL coaching to become comfortable running a pro-style offense. Boykin’s preseason performances have been underwhelming, with a completion rate below 55 percent and a 6.2 yards/attempt average being the biggest red flags. Wilson is yet to miss a game in his career, and Boykin would be a big question mark if forced to lead the Seahawks offense, which is so used to Wilson’s improvised plays.
With a 5.6 yards/carry average, Rawls led the entire NFL in rushing efficiency in 2015. This level of efficiency is especially remarkable, given that the Seahawks ran the third-most running plays in the league last year. Rawls produced 830 rushing yards on just 147 carries in total.
While an ankle injury prematurely ended Rawls’ 2015 season, his three games as the undisputed No. 1 back showed just how dominant Rawls can be:
Rawls posted an astounding Plus/Minus of +17.74 and averaged 130 yards rushing and one touchdown per game over this three-game stretch. Rawls’ physical traits are nothing to brag about (his SPARQ-x score of 102.9 is in just the 16th percentile among all running backs), but he has consistently made people miss regardless, as evidenced by his 12th-overall finish in Juke Rate, which measures a running back’s elusiveness and tackle-breaking power.
Rawls’ 2016 concerns center around his lack of a receiving presence and the emergence of Michael as a viable backup. Rawls caught only nine balls in 13 games in 2015, and rookie C.J. Prosise is the team’s apparent third-down back. We’ll touch on Michael more below, but his excellent preseason has resulted in his supposedly earning a role in the Seahawks offense.
Rawls will be the Seahawks’ starting back, but it’s uncertain how many touches that role will actually have. Rawls could make his case for more touches in a big way early in the season, as he faces in Weeks 1 and 3 the Dolphins’ 32nd-ranked defense in 2015 fantasy points allowed to running backs and the 49ers’ 30th-ranked defense.
Michael may be the most hyped fourth-year running back never to score a touchdown, but this hype is still warranted. At 5’10” and 220 lbs., Michael has a SPARQ-x score (147.4) in the 99th percentile among all running backs. As an athlete, he is a remarkable talent Michael.
Issues surrounding Michael’s maturity have largely prohibited him from gaining a prominent offensive role, but the Seahawks’ injuries gave him his first two career opportunities with more than nine carries in a game. Michael first went for 84 yards on 16 carries and then 102 yards on 17 carries, showing that his career 4.7 yards-per-carry average is for real. This preseason, he has picked up where he left off, with 157 yards on 24 carries.
With only four career catches, Michael will likely never be a three-down back in the Seahawks offense, and it’s tough to predict exactly how the Seahawks’ carry totals will shake out, but Michael has the talent to do a lot with whatever opportunity he is given.
The Seahawks’ third-down back, the rookie Prosise is a former Notre Dame wide receiver-turned-running back. After averaging 17.8 yards per reception as a junior, Prosise moved to running back as a senior and promptly rushed for 1,029 yards on just 157 carries. A receiver in a running back’s body, Prosise stands 6’0″ and weighs 220 lbs., solid size for a guy who runs a 4.48-second 40-yard dash.
Prosise could have the highest ceiling of any running back on the Seahawks roster thanks to his physical profile and receiving abilities, as both Michael and Rawls are unproven pass catchers. This ceiling won’t be reached in 2016 unless Prosise is able to climb the depth chart, and with the roster as it is Prosise may struggle to reach five touches per game.
Collins — Mr. fourth and 25 himself — may not make the 53-man roster despite being the team’s fifth-round pick this year. Collins has totaled just 37 yards rushing on 12 carries this preseason, and with average combine numbers he doesn’t possess the upside of the other Seahawks’ backs. Collins was productive at Arkansas, rushing for over 1,000 yards in three straight seasons, but he caught just 27 passes in this span.
A good start to 2015 saw Doug Baldwin post a strong Plus/Minus of +3.53, but, like Wilson, Baldwin really took off once Lynch was put on the shelf:
Baldwin’s average Plus/Minus of +13.93 over the Seahawks’ last seven games is made all the more impressive by his 85.7 percent Consistency and his league-best catch percentage among wide receivers with at least 20 receptions in 2015. Add in Baldwin’s 14 touchdowns, and it’s not surprising that he was the No. 1 receiver in the NFL in fantasy points per target at 2.61.
Baldwin likely won’t match his 14-touchdown total again in 2016, but as the Seahawks’ clear top receiver he should surpass his 103 targets from a year ago. Look for Baldwin to thrive especially in Weeks 8-10, when he will face three straight defenses that last year ranked in the bottom 12 in DraftKings points allowed to receivers.
Now entering his fifth NFL season, Kearse has seen increases in his yards and receptions in each of his first four seasons. Kearse scored a career-high five touchdowns in 2015 but failed (along with the other receivers) to make much of a red-zone impact: Baldwin led the way with five targets inside the 10-yard line, Kearse followed with three, and Tyler Lockett recorded just one. The Seahawks were just 27th in the league in pass plays last year, and Kearse could struggle to do better this year than he did last year unless the Seahawks change their run/pass play split.
Kearse’s 14.3 yards/reception was the best among all Seahawks’ receivers to catch at least 10 passes, but Kearse carries with him a very low floor, as is the case with many big-play receivers. Four times in 2015 Kearse finished a game with zero receptions and three or fewer targets. Kearse will need to show a new level of consistency (and receive more than 68 total targets) to be anything more than a matchup-dependent WR3.
The most athletically gifted wide receiver on the Seahawks, Lockett has elite combine shuttle times to go along with a 4.40-second 40-yard dash. Despite never having more than seven targets in a game last year, Lockett had three games with at least 79 yards last season as he tied Amari Cooper with six touchdowns receiving to lead all rookie receivers.
Lockett finished 2015 with more average DraftKings points than Terrance Williams and Dez Bryant, but he hasn’t yet been able to secure the No. 2 role on his own team. Lockett’s preseason snap count is a major concern, as Lockett is currently the Seahawk’s clear No. 3 receiver. Big games will still come for him in 2016, but predicting when could be difficult. When Lockett is a viable play, he could provide even more value when paired with the Seahawks D/ST, as he is one of the best return men in the league, scoring on both a kick and a punt return touchdown in 2015.
Richardson played in only one game during 2015 before suffering a season-ending knee injury (for the second year in a row). Richardson is another small and fast Seahawks receiver at 6’0″ and 175 lbs. with a 4.40-second 40-yard dash. Richardson’s production simply hasn’t been all that remarkable thus far in his short career, totaling just 271 yards and one touchdown as a rookie.
Richardson could seemingly produce since Wilson seems to turn just about anyone into a competent receiver — and Richardson was a great college player, accumulating an 83-1,343-10 stat line in his final year at Colorado as a redshirt junior — but it’ll be hard to trust Richardson as a fantasy option until we see him actually do something on the field.
At 6’2″ and 205 lbs., McNeil is the tallest (and slowest) Seahawks receiver. McNeil made his way to the Seahawks after a stint in the arena league and has seemingly done enough to earn the team’s fifth wide receiver slot. Barring a catastrophe, McNeil is not a fantasy option in 2016.
The Seahawks remain optimistic, but there is a chance that Jimmy Graham will not be ready for the regular season. After a disappointing first year in Seattle resulted in just 605 yards and two touchdowns (and a massive injury), Graham once healthy could be a bigger part of the Seahawks offense this year, which could mean a return to form, as his performance in Seattle has been excellent when he has been targeted more than five times per game:
Graham played in only one game of Wilson’s late-season surge, but he gained 75 yards on eight targets, indicating that Graham may have had a large role in the team’s new offensive game plan.
Unfortunately, it’s not a given that Graham will return to his formerly elite form. The patellar tendon tear that Graham suffered is exactly the same injury that Victor Cruz endured a couple of years ago, and we’ve all witnessed how swimmingly that recovery has gone. If Graham returns at full strength and with a large role in the Seahawks offense? Pencil in the second-best tight end ever for a top-five season on a per-game basis.
Willson is an absolute freak — and I’m not just talking about the way he spells his last name. At 6’5″ and 251 lbs., Wilson posted pro-day numbers that would have all finished in the top 10 in his position group at the combine. A 4.46-second 40-yard dash highlights these elite measurables, but it has now been seven total years of college and professional football for Willson and he’s yet to gain 500 yards receiving or score four touchdowns in a season.
Willson has missed just three games in his three-year NFL career, but even staying on the field hasn’t benefited Willson much. Playing in five games without Graham at the end of 2015, Willson never received more than three targets or scored a touchdown. He was a non factor. Willson has the tools to succeed, but it doesn’t look like the Seahawks are willing to feature him in a role conducive to accumulating fantasy points.
Losing the focal point of your offense is never easy, but in the Seahawks’ case, it may actually be a blessing in disguise. Lynch was an incredible running back, but Wilson is an incredible quarterback. The spread-attack the Seahawks unleashed to finish the 2015 season was scary good . . . but it was of course mostly bottled up in the playoffs. The Vikings and Panthers were two of the best defenses in the NFL last year, and it’s not certain that Wilson and the Seahawks offense will make their amazing seven-game sample a 16-game reality.
However, in a division that could see the 49ers, Cardinals, and Rams all take minor steps back, the Seahawks will have every opportunity to take back their NFC West crown.