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Golden opportunity: Departure of Seahawks' leading receiver from 2013 opens door for younger players

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Plus a look at the teams around the league who have the most targets to replace and which receivers could emerge as threats this season.

A good indicator for just how much the Seahawks organization has changed in the last four years is the complete lack of concern when it comes to the loss of Golden Tate. It's not as though fans don't miss Tate, or wish that he was still on the team, but there are still times when I have to be reminded that he signed with the Detroit Lions. And even when I look at the current Seattle roster, as I am wont to do once or 25 times per day, his absence doesn't affect me in the slightest.

That's not something I would have ever expected to be true back when Deon Butler was the Seahawks third-leading receiver. (That was in 2010, and on a mere 385 yards.)

Tate can actually do some things on the football field that maybe only a dozen receivers in the league can do well, and that's saying something in an era where there might literally be 100 relatively good receivers. He's incredibly elusive, picking up approximately 24 missed or broken tackles in 2013 (no other Seahawks receiver had more than five) and ProFootballFocus graded him as the best punt returner in football. Which has led to some mass hysteria about replacing Tate on punt returns, perhaps an issue that has become a bigger distraction than we expected it to or that it should be.

But most importantly, Tate was the benefactor of 107 targets last year, most on the team. It's 19 more targets than Doug Baldwin received. Few teams lost more from a single receiver than the Seahawks did with Tate and his 107 targets plus 51 punt returns. How could they let him go? Well, it's not just the money (though that would have been prohibitive after seeing Tate sign a five-year, $31 million deal in Detroit), it's the in-house replacements. It's almost as if Pete Carroll and John Schneider foresaw this happening back in the spring of 2013 like they were Nicolas Cage in Next.

(Of all the psychic references, Field Gulls is the only place you'll find psychic references from Nicolas Cage in the movie Next.)

You want a guy that's elusive? Percy Harvin had 22 missed tackle in only a half-season with Minnesota back in 2012. He's quite possibly the only receiver that's more elusive than Tate in the entire NFL. If healthy, Harvin will snatch up all 107 targets and then some. He's clearly been a player that Russell Wilson will favor in those rare moments when he's on the field, so it would be as shocking to see Harvin get 6-8 targets per game as it would be to see Miley Cyrus eat a toy baby made of papier-mâché while wearing a red latex bodysuit and singing the national anthem. (Not shocking anymore, Miley.)

So that could take up the 107 targets alone, though you would also think that Jermaine Kearse will get an increase in his 49 targets. Some of that could come from the departed 32 targets of Sidney Rice. Additionally you might expect anywhere from 15-30 targets for Paul Richardson, a few for Kevin Norwoord, and a couple more for Ricardo Lockette. Right now the Seahawks website, their depth chart actually lists Lockette on the second string. And while normally that might seem like nothing, I would point out that the team tweeted out the other day "Updated depth chart." with a link. The depth chart could change by tomorrow, but Lockette had a good preseason as a receiver and at this point, it's possible that Richardson and Norwood aren't even close to ready.

I don't think they necessarily made this team because they "earned it" as much as Seattle knew they'd lose either player on waivers. Richardson caught only seven of his 14 targets in the preseason, Norwood did not play.

All of this will become subject to change of course if an injury happens, but overall it would probably be wise to expect that Harvin will be the leading receiver, both in yards and targets, with Baldwin in second and Kearse in a close third, if not overtaking Baldwin. (Kearse and Wilson seem to be extremely in tune on the field.) None of Lockette, Richardson, Norwood, or Bryan Walters may do anything noteworthy, but it could also turn out that one of them emerges when given an opportunity, just as Kearse did last year, or Baldwin three years ago.

All you need is a chance.

I spent some time in the offseason gathering all the data on targets and players that had changed teams. Here are some notes on teams that have the most to replace this year in the receiving department. Maybe it will help you in your fantasy league, or maybe you suck at fantasy like I do but you just like the stats for the sake of being stats!

I'll never leave you, stats.

Teams with most targets to replace:

Team Players gone Targets Rank in 2013 PA Replacements
Browns Gordon, Bess, Little 320 1 Austin, Hawkins
Panthers Smith, Ginn, LaFell 248 30 Benjamin, Cotchery, Avant
Eagles Jackson, Avant 190 27 Maclin, Matthews, Huff
Steelers Sanders, Cotchery 182 13 Moore, Bryant, Archer
Giants Nicks, Myers 169 19 Beckham

What can Browns throw to you?

The team that has far-and-away lost the most, while coincidentally also leading the league in pass attempts last season, is the Cleveland Browns. With Josh Gordon suspended for the entire season, Johnny Manziel and Brian Hoyer have an even bigger problem on his hands other than just being on the Browns.

Though Cleveland threw the ball six more times than Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos last season, they scored almost half as many points, with less than half as many touchdowns, and twice as many interceptions. Replacing most of the players on their offense isn't necessarily a bad thing (other than losing Gordon) but there's a lot to replace nonetheless. Greg Little had nearly 90 targets, while Davone Bess took up just over 80 himself. These aren't major losses for the Browns, but it's not guaranteed that the new guys are any better.

They will however get more opportunities because of it.

Miles Austin becomes the de facto number one receiver, and it hasn't been that long since he has been put in that position. However, it has been awhile since he was good at it. Austin received less than 50 targets in 2013, but the year before he had 115 with the Cowboys. but finished with just 66 catches and 943 yards. Andrew Hawkins was signed away from the Bengals on an offer sheet, but he's far from a proven asset. He had eight catches in the preseason for 76 yards, an average of only 9.6 yards per catch.

He caught 12 of 16 targets with Cincinnati last year for 197 yards.

Nate Burleson, Earl Bennett, and Anthony Armstrong had an easy opportunity to get playing time in Cleveland but were all released before the season. Instead third-year pro Travis Benjamin, who caught all of five passes last season, will get the best chance of his life to become a future millionaire.

More than likely, Jordan Cameron will get like 350 targets and we'll pretend those other Browns don't even exist.

So... everything is normal in Cleveland.

A-vant, to catch, a pass *ha ha ha*

Somehow Jason Avant is the subject of changes at receiver for two teams, but most importantly he has managed to find himself as a top-three option in Carolina. That's because the Panthers purged their 2013 receiving unit by parting ways with Steve Smith, Brandon LaFell, and Ted Ginn.

In fact, the only remaining receiver that was with the team in any capacity last season is Brenton Bursin, an undrafted free agent in 2012 that has hung around with the team for two years before finally making the 53 man roster a week ago. The fifth receiver is Philly Brown, also a UDFA.

Jerricho Cotchery is in a similar situation as Avant, but it's tough to get a good gauge on who to like better. Avant has never been great, but he's been okay lately. Cotchery was once very, very good but other than his 10 touchdowns last year, he's not too interesting. Over his last four seasons, Cotchery has averaged 25.9 yards per game. Avant be like "Damn!" with his 37.9 YPG over that time.

There's a chance that rookie Kelvin Benjamin could benefit from being the only interesting receiver on the team this year, but there's a better chance that nobody other than Greg Olsen tops 600 yards.

That's something that Avant has only done twice in eight years. He's never gone over 700.

More

- The Bills got rid of Stevie Johnson and T.J. Graham, a combined 150 targets, adding Sammy Watkins and Mike Williams instead.

- Not only did the Patriots retain all of their key receivers from last year, they added LaFell and will get Rob Gronkowski back.

- The Jets got rid of 149 targets between Stephen Hill, Santonio Holmes, and Kellen Winslow. Probably not a bad idea. Those players catch less than half of their targets, while Jeremy Kerley and David Nelson were well over 60-percent. Eric Decker becomes the new number one, which for the Jets makes him like a ~3.

- Kris Durham and Nate Burleson had over 130 targets last year, and those will be replaced (with pleasure) by Golden Tate and Eric Ebron.

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