Trying to compare one receiver to another independent of quarterback gets difficult, but things like YAC (yards after catch), average cushion, average separation and catch rate make this task doable. All of these stats can be found at NFL NextGen Stats with explanations if any of them confuse you. I’m going to assume that you understand what all four mean and use these four stats to compare who Russell Wilson has thrown to recently and who he will be throwing to this season.
The minimum number of targets to show up this list is 2.6 per regular season game - that means that in 2021 players needed 45 targets to show up here (43 for 2018-2020). Most teams have three or four guys who meet this threshold each year.
Looking at the Seahawk receivers over the last four seasons we see that they generally have been given larger cushions that the we are used to seeing for the Denver Broncos receivers over the last four seasons (see the table below). I have removed Bronco receivers who are no longer on the team from the listing which is why you only see Courtland Sutton from 2018. DaeSean Hamilton, Emmanuel Sanders and Jeff Heuerman are no longer on the Broncos (and only Sanders is still in the NFL).
Over the past four seasons Wilson’s main receivers have been given an average cushion of 6.0 yards, with Tyler Lockett in 2021 getting an impressive 7.0 yard cushion on average which was near the top among qualifiers. Rondale Moore of the Cardinals got an 8.0 yard cushion on average in 2021 to lead the league (he also led the league in separation with a crazy 5.7 yards). Wilson’s receivers averaged 3.1 yards of separation on their targets over the last four seasons, with David Moore (2020) and Gerald Everett (2021) both getting 4.1 yards of separation on average on their targets. 4.1 yards of separation would have led the league in 2019, but it was still fairly good in 2020 and 2021. See the maximum cushion and separation values for the league below (among qualifying receivers). In 2021 there were five players tied for 6th (or second depending on how you view it) at 4.1 yards of separation on average on their targets (Mecole Hardman, Gerald Everett, Braxton Berrios, Noah Fant and Byron Pringle).
Compare that the Current Bronco WRs (no TEs currently on the roster had enough targets to qualify in previous seasons) and we find that Sutton, Jerry Jeudy, KJ Hamler and Tim Patrick have have been given only 5.5 yard cushions on average over the past four seasons. While a half a hard may not sound like much, for an accurate quarterback that 1.5 feet can make a world of difference. Jeudy in 2021 had the highest cushion of the recent Bronco receivers who are currently still on the roster with 6.4 yards of cushion on average on plays where he was targeted.
By the same token, the Bronco WRs, who are still Broncos, have not been as good at getting separation as Wilson’s receivers were in Seattle. The Bronco WRs averaged 2.8 yards of separation on their targets. In many years Jeudy’s 3.6 yards of separation in 2021 would have been near the top of the league, but in 2021 he was tied for 14th (or 19th depending on your view) with Deonte Harris, Laviska Shanault, Cooper Kupp, Tyreek Hill and Dallas Goedert.
It would appear, just based on separation, that Russell Wilson has a lesser group of receivers in Denver in 2022 than he has had recently in Seattle, but let’s pump the breaks on that a little. While average separation on targets is useful, don’t get too caught up in it. The offensive scheme and the relative quality of the pass defenses faced also play a big role in this number. Way too often over the last four seasons, Bronco QBs have overlooked or chosen not to throw Bronco receivers who had plenty of separation. So that might have decreased their values.
An offense that schemes receivers open (such as Andy Reid runs in KC), will inevitably lead to high separation numbers. If you combine that with speedy receivers like KC has had in Hill, Hardman and Travis Kelce, you have a recipe for large average separation. The Bronco offenses over the last four seasons have not been very good at scheming guys open and this is also reflected in the numbers.
The other reason not to get too invested in separation numbers is that there are some really good receivers who don’t need separation to make catches. Guys like Julio Jones (2.4 in 2021), Chase Claypool (2.4 in 2021) and Ja’Marr Chase (2.3 in 2021) are so good on contested balls that their separation numbers will always look rather pedestrian. Sutton is similar as is Patrick (and Jeudy - mostly).
So let’s turn to YAC and catch rate. Wilson’s top receivers over the past four years have average catch rate of 67.4% and they have averaged 4.5 yards after the catch per reception (YAC/R). Compare that to the Bronco receivers still on the team and you find they averaged a 57.7% catch rate and 4.5 YAC/R. The Bronco receivers were still getting their YAC, but the poor QB play 2018-2021 in Denver was largely to blame for the big difference in catch rate.
So let’s look at Wilson’s two main receivers from his recent years in Seattle - Tyler Lockett and DK Metcalf. Lockett has gone from being mainly the deep threat who is/was an elite return guy to being the Seahawks WR1 who was too valuable to use on returns. From a physical standpoint he is quite similar to KJ Hamler - both are short (5-9 or 5-10), small (180 lbs) and really fast (4.3 40 speed). I doubt that Hamler in 2022 is to Wilson what Lockett was in 2019-2021, but there is potential for Hamler in 2022 to be what Lockett was in 2015-2018 - the deep threat who keeps the safeties honest.
Unfortunately, the Broncos don’t have a WR who matches Metcalf’s combination of size and speed (few guys in NFL history do). Metcalf if listed at 6-4, 235 lbs and he ran a 4.33 40 at the combine. That’s Megatron levels of size/speed combo. Jerry Jeudy might come close to that speed in pads, but he’s 195 lbs. Tim Patrick and Courtland Sutton are both that tall, but neither is as big and neither is that fast.
Greg Dulcich has the potential to be a Gerald Everett/Jimmy Graham level as a receiving TE, but right now that is just potential. Everett had 107 catches in college for almost 1600 yards and 13 TDs albeit playing in a really weak BCS conference (Sunbelt). Dulcich finished his career at UCLA with 77 catches for 1353 yards and 11 TDs, but he played against tougher competition in the PAC-39 (or however many teams are currently in that dissolving conference). Dulcich is all potential right now and generally tight ends do not contribute big receiving years as rookies. Everett had 16 catches on 32 targets for 244 yards and 2 TDs as a rookie. Jimmy Graham had 31 catches on 44 targets for 356 yards and 5 TDs. Noah Fant had a fairly big year as a rookie (40 catches, 66 targets, 562 yards, 3 TDs), but he is more of the exception than the rule.
I alos don’t know how many targets are going to be left for Dulchich are any other Bronco TE in 2022. With Sutton, Jeudy, Patrick and Hamler the WRs should be open enough for RW to find them (even with less separation than he is used to seeing) and that doesn’t count the targets that are going to be used on Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams.
How does the 2022 Bronco receiver group compare to what Russell Wilson was used to having recently in Seattle?
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