2015 Fantasy Football Outlook: Seattle Seahawks
July 14, 2015 | Chet
The Seattle Seahawks continued surging as one of the league’s best teams, finishing 2014 with a 12-4 record. It was their third consecutive season with 11 or more wins and are tied with the Patriots for the second most wins (36) over that span, trailing only Denver (38 wins). Once again projected for 11 wins per Vegas lines, should we just expect more business as usual from the Seahawks in 2015?
2015 Seahawks Schedule
As you know, don’t place all of your eggs into the early schedule analysis basket. This likely applies to Seattle more than most other teams since they have proven to be one the league’s best at dictating the style of the game based on what they do well. That said there’s not much to feel threatened by revolving around their schedule. The run slate looks potentially rough post bye week, but you’re not going to fade an area of strength for this offense under nearly any circumstances.
Seattle largely does what they want because they are that good at it and their defense has consistently aided them frequently having favorable game scripts. When you have complete offensive leverage as often as the Seahawks have had, you can still run a highly effective offense despite not having an abundance of riches outside of Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch. Since Wilson took over in 2013, here’s how the Seattle offense has performed efficiency wise.
|Pass Play %||48.6%||31||47.3%||32||45.8%||32|
Pace wise, Seattle got to the middle of the pack as 41.6 percent of their offensive plays were run while already ahead. That mark ranked 10th in the NFL last season, a solid dip from the 55 percent mark they had in 2013, which ranked as the third highest percentage. Even with a slight loss in some of that tremendous offensive leverage they had been provided, the Seahawks still ranked 30th in the league with just 166 offensive possessions on the season and once again were at the bottom of passing play percentage. We’d all love to see what Wilson could really get done for better or worse in a pass first environment, but it’s extremely hard to envision the philosophy of this offensive tilting the scales that far even with the acquisitions they’ve made this offseason.
Graham Going to Grunge
By trading for tight end Jimmy Graham, Wilson now has the first high-end target of his career. In 2014, Graham looked mortal as he posted just three top-three scoring weeks on the season (behind Gronk, Bennett, Olsen, Gates), four top-six weeks and just eight top-12 scoring ones. For Graham, a change of scenery may not be all that bad since he’s coming off of the “least productive” year of his career since his rookie campaign.
Graham dealt with a lingering foot issue that could have aided in him strictly becoming just a possession receiver last season. His reception per game totals stayed in line with previous output, but Graham lost all of the explosive play output last season that gave him such a high ceiling outside of his weekly touchdown potential.
|Year||Rec||10+ Yd||%||20+ YD||%||30+ YD||%|
For fantasy, his move to Seattle is still a mixed bag. No matter what way around it, there’s a massive volume loss in overall offense here. New Orleans threw 650 passes or more in each of the past four seasons while the pass attempts in Seattle under Wilson have been 405, 420 and 454. In terms of overall play volume, the Saints had 272 more offensive snaps than Seattle over the past three seasons. Even if Graham would get 25 percent of the team targets (which only 12 tight ends have ever gotten in any offense since target data has been tracked), Seattle would have to throw 500 passes not including sacks for him to get to 125 targets. Graham will likely open too much up offensively for the ancillary Seahawks receivers for that to occur. They may pass more than previous seasons percentage wise, but Seattle is likely still going to be too good of a team to see raw targets go wild. It’s also not like he’ll be trading volume for efficiency since he’s reeled in 65 percent of his targets to begin his career.
Now the good news for Graham is that he’ll enter his 29-year old season healthy and still brings that high end touchdown ability with him. Since entering the league, only Rob Gronkowski has matched the 41 red zone touchdown receptions that Graham has and he has eight or more touchdowns in that area of the field in four consecutive seasons. We all know how the Seahawks season ended, but Wilson has been among the most efficient touchdown producers as a passer in the red zone so far through three seasons with limited resources. His sample is on a much smaller scale, but here’s how his red zone passing performance stacks up against other top quarterbacks for their careers in the red zone.
|Player||RZCmp||RZAtt||Cmp%||RZTD||TD %||RZInt||Int %|
With his touchdown production, Graham is still a big time factor in your weekly lineup. I also believe that with the system change, attachment to a strong rushing game, and Wilson’s propensity to extend plays; his yards per reception bounces back up a bit. He’s still the second best fantasy option at tight end, just that the gap has tightened to the rest of the pack while moving away from Gronk. It’s unlikely he’ll find many of my rosters unless he really slides and he’s no longer a late second round draft pick, but also is still relevant beyond that point with his touchdown production. With the tight end position, I’m more of a wait and see what shakes out type of owner because I try to stack as many receivers and backs early on as I can. But I also try to remain fluid in that approach and this year there’s a talent advantage for guys like Travis Kelce or Graham in that fourth round area and beyond over the backs and receivers in those spots. If Graham hits the fourth round, I’ll have to think twice about letting him slide by because those are players he can just outright outscore weekly.
I hate to just gloss over the rest of the pieces that make up this passing game, but with Graham coming in and dominating the target share there’s just not enough volume here for you to prioritize owning anyone else. From Sidney Rice to Golden Tate to Doug Baldwin, even the top receiver who was occupying the largest slice of this passing pie was barely fantasy worthy. Baldwin still has some best ball viability as he’s an Eddie Royal All-Star, but this is a unit that produced just six top-30 scoring weeks all of 2014. Paul Richardson isn’t expected to be back to full strength until sometime in season, Jermaine Kearse has been wildly inconsistent and Chris Matthews showed life in the first half of the Super Bowl, but never recorded a catch prior to that game and Seattle added Graham and Tyler Lockett. I am quite fond of Lockett, his fit in this offense and what the Seahawks gave up to acquire him, but this is an organization that has shown to slow play their rookie receivers. I see Lockett coming on late in the season when he garners more snaps, but as a rookie receiver in a low tempo passing attack, there’s not a lot here necessarily for you to grasp at.
Will We See The Complete Wilson in 2015?
2014 was a unique season for Russell Wilson to say the least. After showcasing elite efficiency over his first two seasons, he took a step backwards in those areas and relied on tremendous output on the ground to anchor his overall fantasy production.
Wilson was just the eighth quarterback ever to rush for 800 or more yards in a single season, finishing with 849 yards on the ground. That total was just 179 yards fewer than his first two seasons combined. He had three 100-yard rushing games on the season, the same amount that Eddie Lacy and Matt Forte had and more than C.J. Anderson had. That rushing floor aided five top-three scoring weeks (tied for the second most), seven top-six weeks (tied for second), and 10 top-12 scoring weeks (third). In the eight games in which Wilson ran for 40 or more yards, his average weekly fantasy finish was QB4.
The downside there is that other eight weeks in which he didn’t hit 40 yards on the ground, his average finish was QB18. He threw one or fewer touchdown passes in eight games with four games of failing to throw any. He had just two games with 300-yards passing, one fewer than Kyle Orton, and has just four 300-yard passing games over the past three seasons, the same amount as Brandon Weeden. There’s context in play in that regard as Seattle hasn’t had to pass and his efficiency per throw has been outstanding, but so far that efficiency has been tied to low volume. He’s been so good on so little that we lose counting stats from him. In terms of rushing reliance, here are last seasons quarterbacks with a minimum of eight starts who had 10 percent or more of their fantasy production come from the ground.
The high ends of that list aren’t the types of players you want to be associated with on many lists. As a lover of all things related to the Konami Code of fantasy scoring, you’d still like to see more balance in creating a trustworthy weekly player. Wilson is a player you’d like to see revert back to that low 20 percent mark that uses rushing as a condiment instead of the meal. I believe his yardage takes a step back to ’12-13 totals, but with how effectively the Seahawks use the zone read in the red zone, he can still be a viable five to six touchdown guy on the ground.
The major allure with Wilson is we’ve yet to get the full package but have seen that the separate components needed to create a juggernaut fantasy option are in place. Acquiring Graham should help by balancing out his weighted stats for fantasy and by getting his efficiency back up into the top six area per attempt. No matter how he’s he done it, Wilson has still been a top 10 scorer in each of his first three seasons, but his current asking price is QB4 overall which I find hard to buy into considering he still has such a low passing floor each week, even with an efficiency uptick. C.D. Carter also sees Wilson priced near his ceiling. I believe Wilson finds more balance to his game in 2015 while still providing the upside for big weeks, once again finishing as an overall top five option. But the passing floors of Drew Brees and Peyton Manning are still more reliable to me at that price point since I prefer to play the position from the ground up.
Are We Dissing Beast Mode?
2014 was just another trip to the bank for Marshawn Lynch. He finished with 1,673 yards from scrimmage, the second most in his career and rushed for 1,306 yards, becoming the fifth back since 2000 to have four consecutive seasons of 1,200 rushing yards or more. Seattle then rewarded the 29-year old with a two-year contract extension this offseason for his efforts.
In terms of weekly viability, he was excellent once again, finishing with the sixth best average weekly rank amongst running backs (13.9). He had 11 top-24 weeks, eight top-12 ones and just one lone week in which he was outside of the top 36 at his position. He’s also provided a nice frosting of receiving production over the past two years, catching at least 35 passes for 300 yards and multiple scores in those years. It’s hard seeing him matching the four receiving scores he had last year, but he’s mislabeled as a back that is strictly tied to bludgeoning to get his production.
That bludgeoning is still the backbone of why you want him, though. Once again, he lead the league in forcing a missed tackle once every 3.1 touches. He’s also the prototypical “back who gets better as the game goes on” for fantasy as his style paired with the consistent leverage Seattle provides throughout their games allow for him to keep stacking production as the games wear on. No back has more fourth quarter carries over the past three years as Lynch and here’s how he ranked per quarter in carries and yards last season.
The most alluring part of Lynch for myself besides his consistency and environment that is conducive for fantasy success (rushing quarterback, strong defense, etc.) is that he’s also been agnostic to posting high end production against high caliber defenses. Playing in a brutal division or against tough opposition has had little effect on his output. Using the Game Splits App available at RotoViz, here’s how Lynch has performed the past three years against defenses ranked in the top half of rushing.
Factoring in all of the above and you have to ask yourself if Lynch should actually be in consideration even as high as pick 1.01? I covered some of the red flags in place that are keeping his price suppressed to the back half of the first round as his usage has been extreme and he’s been able to sustain amazing health for his position. Since joining the Seahawks in 2011, no back has more overall touches (including the postseason) than Lynch’s 1,479 touches and he has only missed one game. I don’t really get washed into predicting injuries, but just because he hasn’t yet missed time on such a high workload isn’t necessarily a reason to just throw that out of the window. I’m also going to own a lot of Christine Michael this season now that he no longer has any shine cooked into his cost and is at true handcuff pricing. If there’s some fire to the smoke that Michael is on the roster bubble and is released or traded, I’ll turn to Robert Turbin and Thomas Rawls, but Turbin feels locked into a set role and Michael or Rawls would be the play as the guys getting a real boost if Lynch is out.
Another reason to give small trepidation to Lynch actually has something to do with the Graham trade itself. In that deal, Seattle dealt center Max Unger. Seattle made the postseason and a Super Bowl run just fine with Unger missing 10 games, so he was overall expendable in able to secure a player such as Graham, but Unger was tied to a lot of Lynch’s big fantasy output. Here are Lynch’s per game attempt rushing yardage and fantasy scoring splits with total rushing scores including the postseason for when Unger was in and out of the lineup.
All of the top backs have reasons to express some level of concern this season and Lynch may actually have less than the others around him. He is totally worthy of the required draft capital necessary to secure him and I have softened on that initial stance on avoiding him considerably factoring in everything that wasn’t totally in place at that time. I can’t say for sure how much I will own of him in seasonal leagues where I am picking near the front, but if he’s the back that ends up sliding to the back half and near the turn, soak him up in those spots.