Looking Forward: Wide Receivers

In a series of posts I plan to sort of roll out as the offseason goes on, I'll be taking a look at some of the Seahawks positions and trying to assess (as best as a fan can) the Hawks' strengths and needs.  I've started a bit with the Cornerback and Linebacker position, which I'll try to follow up on soon, but I wanted to talk a little bit about Wide Receivers - particularly Deon Butler and Golden Tate.  I'll start with Butler.

First of all, Deon Butler didn't come cheap to the Seahawks - they traded away three picks just to move up in the draft to select him in the third round (any third round pick is pretty valuable in the first place). They gave the Giants their fifth and seventh round choices from '09 and their 3rd round choice from '10.  A little ridiculous in my mind but that is basically the Seahawks drafting tendencies of the past decade or so in a nutshell. So the Hawks gave up a lot to get a receiver that's 5'10, 175 lbs. It's not like that precludes him from being a great receiver, but it definitely comes as a disadvantage. I guess that they drafted him with visions of DeSean Jackson in their minds, because he sort of fits that mold- extremely fast deep threat type receiver. You can't really fault them for that I suppose - Jackson had a ridiculous rookie campaign, leading his team in receptions and racking up almost a thousand yards on 62 catches. Not bad for a skinny little speedster.

What Butler lacks in size he certainly makes up for in speed. He was officially clocked at 4.38 in the 40 but some had him timed as low as 4.28. Ok, so he's very fast. And he has good hands as well - he caught 132 passes in his career at Penn State- 2nd all-time. Those attributes combined make him a pretty attractive target. I would still say what they gave up to get him was extravagant - but too late to change anything now. We are talking about a guy that gave up a fricking first rounder for Deion Branch. Enough said.

Butler was supposed to come in and make an immediate impact and be the guy for the Hawks to stretch the field as a deep threat. Greg Knapp had big plans for him early on, saying:
There's the ability to stretch the field with him. That gives us an attribute to help soften things up elsewhere on the field.  
But, Knapp admitted:
He's going to have to work on handling the bump in press coverage, because that's one thing that bigger corners would like to do.
Well, Butler didn't manage much his rookie season, reeling in just 15 catches. His second season was supposed to be his breakout year- I remember in training camp and preseason Pete Carroll calling him maybe the most improved player on the Hawks and all that. His second season was underwhelming as well, but I am holding off judgement for a while for a couple of reasons-

One: I still believe he can be that deep threat kind of guy; he runs good routes with precision and is undoubtedly really fast, and two: the Hawks passing game has been anything but spectacular these past two years and a lot of the blame should fall on the gameplan, blocking, and QB play coupled with the inability to run the ball. In other words, with the system working right, I still think Butler could be a good weapon for the Hawks.

Let's take a look at some of his numbers from this year:
He caught 36 balls for 385 yards and 4 TDs. His average yards per catch was a meagre 10.7. Compare that to guys of his ilk - Mike Wallace of Pittsburgh averaged 21.0 yds/catch on his way to 60 receptions, 1,257 yards and 10 TD. Desean Jackson averaged 22.5 yrds/catch on 47 catches for 1,056 yards and 6 TDs. These are the types of numbers that I would love to see Butler get - not necessarily the yardage totals and TDs because that would just be getting greedy, but the average yards per catch of 10.7 is measly for your supposed deep threat guy. Butler's longest catch was 63 yards - his next longest was 43. After that, he had a game where he caught a 26 yarder and another with a 22 yarder, then it falls into the teens.

Now, again, I'm not saying this as an indictment on Deon Butler. I think he's got potential to be a very good deep threat receiver in the mold of DeSean Jackson or Mike Wallace, but you have to put him in the right system. I think that the Hawks may be moving in that direction for a number of reasons.

First off, it's in Pete Carroll's offensive philosophy to move up and down the field aggressively and air it out. The Hawks didn't do this much in 2010 because they lacked the tools to do so - a solid running game to set up the pass and a strong armed and accurate QB to make those throws. Hasselbeck is accurate on short throws but his deep passing leaves something to be desired.

Secondly, Darrell Bevell, I believe, will try and stretch the field more as well- everyone has him pegged as a "West Coast Offense" guy that will concentrate on short throws and precision - but that's not how he operated in Minnesota and it's not how he was taught by Brad Childress, an Andy Reid pupil (uh, DeSean Jackson? Eagles offense?). Who the Hawks bring in at QB will matter, but -  I believe that the deep passing and vertical game will be more prevalent in 2011. This is where Butler could shine.

I took a look at how he was used this year and took down some notes:

Week 6 at Chicago:
(10:11 1st Q) (Shotgun) M.Hasselbeck pass deep left to D.Butler for 22 yards, TOUCHDOWN. (1st and 10)
There are so many things I like about this play. First of all, it's on a first down. Second, it's on a no-huddle first down. I like the aggressiveness a lot. It's something that Pete Carroll always talks about and we saw glimpses of towards the end of the year but I'd personally like to see more of. Anyway, I digress.

Hawks in the shotgun, with BMW out right, Stokley slot right, and Butler flanker on the left. Ball on the Bears' 22 yard line. Butler runs an outside sideline route, beats the corner deep, Hass throws a dime to him in the back of the endzone and Butler reels it in. Textbook. I like Butler in this role a lot. I don't like him as much in the slot, mostly because I don't think he's especially shifty or good at breaking tackles. He is a speedy deep ball threat, and that's why they drafted him. USE HIM LIKE THAT.

Week 10 at Arizona
Butler started out the game with 3 or 4 little swing pass receptions - gained only a few yards on each. I don't like these plays much, but they seem to be a staple of Jeremy Bates' offense. Either way, nothing really of note until midway through the 2nd Quarter:

(7:40 2nd Q) M.Hasselbeck pass deep left to D.Butler for 63 yards, TOUCHDOWN. (1st and 10)
Hawks in a 2WR 2 TE set, with Butler in the slot, Ruvell Martin wide right. The ball is snapped to Hasselbeck, its a play action fake and Hass sees the pressure, steps up into the pocket, and hucks the ball downfield to a sprinting Butler on the deep corner route. Butler has used his speed to get ahead of his defenders, but there are three guys shadowing him pretty closely. He makes the catch at the 22 yard line, runs to the left sideline, stops, his three defenders all overpursue towards the sideline, leaving the middle of the field open. Butler cuts back and goes to the middle of the field, beating the Cardinals' linebacker easily to the endzone. Less a great play by Bulter and more a comedy of errors by the Cards' defensive secondary. I will say though, that Butler's speed is what made this play - first in creating separation on his deep crossing route, then beating the hapless defenders to the endzone.
This is what it looked like as Butler ran to the sideline on this play. He stopped just short of going out of bounds, all three Cardinals overplayed him, and he cut back and up the field for a TD. Pretty funny actually.

(1:20 2nd Q) (Shotgun) M.Hasselbeck pass short left to D.Butler to ARZ 16 for 1 yard (K.Rhodes). (2nd and 2)
Hawks in a 3 WR set, Hass in the gun. Butler far left, motions in a bit before the snap. He runs a fake drag, then curls back out toward the left sideline. Hass dumps it off to him and Bulter makes the catch about a yard short of the first down - and this is where his size makes him less of a weapon. He's immediately gobbled up by the safety and linebacker. A bigger player might have been able to muscle his way for the final yard but Bulter gets more or less arm tackled by the safety K.Rhodes.

He had no more receptions in that game - so to summarize, he had 3 catches for 3 yards, then 1 more catch for 66. This seems about right to me - Butler is less of a possession style receiver and more of a Mike Wallace type deep threat, or should be in my opinion. That's not a knock on him though - it's actually something that the Hawks need. They've got possession style receivers in Mike Williams and Golden Tate and even Ben Obomanu, but lack a true deep threat at the moment.

Week 13 vs Carolina
I won't break it down as a play by play in this game - Butler finished with 4 catches for 43 yards, but there are a few things to note. Hass tried 3 deep throws to Butler in this game with no success. The first coming on a deep post route that was well covered by the safeties for Carolina. Hass threw it into coverage on a 3rd and long situation from his own 5 yard line - very ill advised and nearly picked off.

The 2nd attempt was a little more of the same- a deep sideline route that was covered by both the corner and the safety and Butler had no chance. The third came on another deep post route that was nearly intercepted and was thrown into double coverage again. I'll stop just short of blaming Hasselbeck for these throws - I'm not entirely sure if Bulter was where he was supposed to be on them - but nonetheless they were all nearly picked off and none came close to being receptions. It also should be noted that Butler appeared to get knocked off his route slightly on all three passes. I don't think he's the best at beating the jam and bump and run at this point. Something he'll have to get better at.

Week 14 at San Fran
This is the game that he broke his leg.

(7:01 1st Q) D.Butler left end to SF 37 for 2 yards (A.Franklin). (1st and 10)
Butler's game starts out mid first quarter with an ill-conceived end around that ends up with Butler about 5 yards behind the line-of-scrimmage and heavily covered. He salvages it by scooting around and diving forward for 2 yards.

(1:50 2nd Q) (Shotgun) M.Hasselbeck pass incomplete short right to D.Butler. PENALTY on SEA-D.Butler, Offensive Pass Interference, 10 yards, enforced at SEA 20 - No Play.
Hawks in a 3WR, 2TE set with Butler lined up in the slot right. Butler runs a soft post vertical route and Hass throws it up for him. It's well defended and the safety is running step for step with Butler. When the ball is about halfway there, Butler extends his arm all the way, and shoves down the defender, then dives and misses the pass. It can be said that this was a smart play I guess - the odds of completion were pretty low considering the safety was right there - but to just blatantly shove him down when the ball was still a second or two away is pretty weird. At least wait till the ball is right on you and bear hug the guy or something so he doesn't intercept it. To just shove him over with a full-extension of your arms is ridiculous. The penalty is called and everyone in the stadium knows it's the right call. The announcers pick apart Butler at this point.

(8:15 3rd Q) (Shotgun) M.Hasselbeck pass incomplete deep right to D.Butler.
Butler lined up slot right and runs a deep out pattern. Hass just simply overthrows him out of bounds. Not a good day for Hasselbeck.

(11:0 4th Q) M.Hasselbeck pass deep middle to D.Butler to SF 39 for 43 yards (T.Brown). Caught at SF 40. (1st and 10)
Hawks lined up in the offset I-formation. Butler out right and Ruvell Martin out left. Butler runs the deep vertical route and Hass throws it up to him. Butler manages to get behind the defenders enough and makes the catch as he's falling down. Overall a good play that comes much too late. Butler again shows his speed to get to where he needs to be.

Later in the game Butler would make his TD reception but break his leg in the process. As you can see he wasn't really used to exploit his speed on but a few plays. He was more used as a slot type receiver, and had marginal success. The inability to stretch the field was more a symptom of a broken offense - the running game never caught on, the passing game was sub-par, and the play calling was conservative and head-scratching.

I'm still in Butler's corner for the most part - I don't believe that Carroll was just paying him lip service when he said he was improved. I think he'll make a full recovery despite the lockout. I think he's got a lot of potential to be the Hawks' Mike Wallace or DeSean Jackson, but they have to actually throw the ball deep for that to happen. Is he an effective slot receiver? Well, yes, I guess so. So is Brandon Stokley. Maybe Isaiah Stanback will be. Golden Tate has a lot of potential to be. We'll see what type of offense the Hawks roll out come September but I'd love to see Butler streaking down the sideline or straight up the seam and catching some deep passes and not lined up in the slot catching two yard drags and swing passes.

Next up, hopefully tomorrow, I'll take a look at Golden Tate and offer up a few ideas on how he may get more involved this coming season.


  1. Can't wait to hear your analysis on Tate, keep up the good work!

  2. Thanks! Wait no longer, the Tate piece is up...

  3. IMO, some of the lack of development of WR is on Hasselbeck. He loves veterans like Stokely and Housh who sit down in the short zone openings and catch his easy read short patterns with little chance of RAC, but these younger guys like Butler and Tate whose game is not of that type languish. It took years for him to develop his rapport with Ingram, and it was Ingram who had to adjust his game to Hasselbeck's, not vice versa.

  4. Yeah I think that's a legitimate argument. That's definitely Hass' M.O. Will be interesting to see if Hawks bring in a new QB how much that changes.