The receiving competition is shaping up to be an especially interesting one for the Seahawks.
The first five days of OTAs (Organized Team Activities) for the Seahawks appear to have only made clearer what was thought going in — there will be some pretty fierce competition at the wide receiver position this year.
True, a few things seem set — Doug Baldwin as the number one receiver, Tyler Lockett as a member of the three-receiver rotation once healthy.
But just about everything else might be up for grabs, and specifically the makeup of the final few spots on the roster.
Baldwin, Lockett, Jermaine Kearse, Paul Richardson and third-round pick Amara Darboh would likely hold five spots on the 53-man roster if the season began today.
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But even that alignment hardly seems secure given Kearse’s struggles last season and Richardson entering the final year of his rookie contract.
Most intriguing, though, is whether any of the younger receivers will play well enough to earn a spot on the roster.
The Seahawks kept five receivers on the 53-man roster most of last season — Baldwin, Kearse, Lockett, Richardson and Tanner McEvoy.
And with a stated goal to try to get back to running more in 2017, Seattle could decide to again keep four tight ends or an extra lineman or running back, and maybe again go with just five receivers, making the battle for those jobs that much more competitive.
Regardless of the roster construction, there appear to be emerging an especially interesting group of players vying for any available openings.
Seattle has 13 receivers on its current roster, a group in which I am including J.D. McKissic, who is listed as a running back but was primarily a receiver earlier in his career and has appeared to be working with the receivers during OTAs.
McKissic, acquired late last season, could ultimately serve in a hybrid receiver/running back role which might only enhance his odds of making the roster. He played in the last four games last season with three receptions for 21 yards.
There are a host of other holdovers for whom this looms as a potential make-or-break year — Kasen Williams, Kenny Lawler and even McEvoy, who was the surprise winner of a roster spot last season due in part to Williams’ training camp hamstring injury and that Lawler wasn’t considered yet ready. Williams is entering his third season and might be the front-runner for a sixth receiver spot at the moment. But a key will be staying healthy and performing through the preseason. Lawler has bulked up and had a nice rookie mini-camp but likewise will need to show added consistency throughout training camp.
A player easy to forget about is Rodney Smith, who other than McEvoy is the biggest receiver on the roster at 6-5, 225 pounds. A former highly-touted high school recruit who played at Florida State, Smith has bounced around the NFL since 2013 and was on Seattle’s practice squad briefly last year before signing in January. Smith passes the eye test, at least but whether his production will match will determine if he has any shot.
It’s the group of first-year receivers, though, making for an even bigger logjam and impression.
“It’s a great group of guys,’’ Baldwin said Tuesday of the four rookie receivers. “. … I think this group, specifically, speaks to the type of players that we like in our receiver room and that is the hard-nosed guys who don’t come in with a lot of hype around them but they go out there and they do what they have to do. They’re the tunnel workers, if you will. The dirty workers. So I appreciate the guys that we got in because they work hard.”
First is Darboh, who as a third-round pick seems about a lock to make it and who having played in a pro-style offense at Michigan figures to have less of a learning curve than some.
“What (Darboh) has shown us out here on the practice field , also in the meeting rooms, is that he is going to compete at the highest level,” Baldwin said. “That’s all we ask for is a guy to come in and be willing to work as hard as everybody else in the room.”
The Seahawks also drafted David Moore in the seventh round out of East Central (Okla.). Moore was back on the field this week after missing last week with a groin injury and had a solid rookie mini-camp.
Creating the most buzz is Cyril Grayson, a 5-9, 178-pound track star at LSU who has not played football since high school.
Baldwin on Tuesday praised Moore’s football savvy.
“To be completely honest, he hasn’t really needed much attention,” Baldwin said. “He knows the concepts really well right now. He’s picked up our two-minute signals, and he knows the route concepts. He’s extremely fast, we all know, so I’m really excited to see what he can do against real competition, because he has a lot of talent and I think he can help us for sure.”
Rounding out the rookies is free agent Darreus Rogers of USC.
As Baldwin said, the key will be how the group does “against real competition.’’
OTAs are no-pads, no-contact affairs where receivers tend to flourish, with defenders limited on how tightly they can defend passes.
Seattle’s secondary in the two OTAs open to the media has also been largely without Earl Thomas and with no Kam Chancellor (each recovering from surgeries) as well as DeShawn Shead, and with young players getting the bulk of the reps.
In other words, there’s a long way to go.
But if first impressions turn lasting, it could be an especially fun summer watching the receiver competition unfold.