Juggernaut Index, No. 15: Russell Wilson can only lift a team so high in these fantasy ranks

Last year, for the first time in the Russell Wilson era, Seattle finished in the bottom half of the NFL in yards per play. An offense that’s known for its remarkable efficiency has drifted into mediocrity. Over the past four seasons, dating back to the team’s last Super Bowl appearance, the Seahawks have steadily slipped from 5.9 yards play play (sixth best in the league) to 5.8 to 5.6, then 5.2. Not a great trend.

Wilson himself wasn’t a problem last season, of course, as he led the NFL in touchdown passes (34) and produced the second-highest rushing total of his career (586 yards). He also led all quarterbacks in fantasy scoring, delivering his third top-three positional finish in the last four years. He’s undeniably great.

[Yahoo Fantasy Football leagues are open: Sign up now for free!]

It’s worth noting, however, that Wilson’s 7.2 yards per pass attempt last year was the lowest of his career by far. His lifetime mark is 7.8. Wilson took 5.8 deep shots per game according to Player Profiler, finishing among the league leaders, so it’s not as if Seattle didn’t try to create field-flipping plays.

It’s fair to worry about the changes to the Seahawks’ receiving corps when assessing Wilson’s 2018 fantasy value, obviously. Jimmy Graham landed in Green Bay in the offseason, which removes one of the game’s most dominant red-zone receivers from the mix. Graham led all tight ends last year in receiving touchdowns (10) and targets inside the 10-yard line (16). Seattle replaced him with veteran Ed Dickson, which should remind you of that scene from Indiana Jones in which Harrison Ford replaces the priceless golden idol with a sandbag of equal size. It’s a huge downgrade for Wilson and his offense, no question.

Also, we have to fret about the transition to Brian Schottenheimer as OC. And then we have to deal with the fact that the Seahawks’ No. 1 receiver is dealing with a knee injury and likely to miss the preseason…

Doug Baldwin is dinged

Seattle hasn’t been particularly forthcoming with information about Baldwin’s left knee issue. We know he reported to camp dealing with soreness, and we know he hasn’t been an active participant in practices. Head coach Pete Carroll called the injury “a little bit of a problem” and said the receiver would seek “special” treatment on his knee.

When asked if Baldwin’s availability for opening week was in doubt, Carroll offered this to reporters: “He should be in great shape. We are totally counting on him coming back.”

Carroll, like many head coaches, is often full of sunshine when publicly discussing injuries, yet he’s light on specifics. We don’t know the exact nature of Baldwin’s issue; if he’s available in Week 1, we certainly can’t expect him to be fully recovered. Here’s some detail from the Tacoma News Tribune on the team’s recent history with summer injuries:

Carroll had said this week Baldwin was going for “special” treatment for the knee. That brought back memories of K.J. Wright, Michael Bennett and three other Seahawks starters going away last summer during training camp for Regenokine, blood-warming-and-spinning treatments for using anti-inflammatory properties. Carroll refused to answer whether that’s what Baldwin is having now. He said to ask him, but injured Seahawks are off-limits to reporters per team policy.

Again, we don’t know exactly what’s up with Baldwin, or when he’ll return. And we don’t know how limited he might be when he gets back on the field. There are some unknowns here. Baldwin is a two-time Pro Bowl receiver who’s been outstanding for fantasy purposes over the past three years, finishing seventh, tenth and 13th at his position in total scoring. If Baldwin is compromised, Wilson’s value takes a hit and this team’s offensive ceiling is lowered.

Two weeks ago, Baldwin was a consensus top-12 fantasy receiver, a player who rarely fell outside the third round in drafts. Today, he’s my No. 22 WR for half-PPR drafts. If his name were at the top of my queue, there’s a good chance I’d veer to another position. I certainly wouldn’t feel comfortable taking him inside the first three rounds. No need to take on problems.

If Tyler Lockett is ever gonna be a thing, it happens this year. (AP Photo/Don Feria)
If Tyler Lockett is ever gonna be a thing, it happens this year. (AP Photo/Don Feria)

Behind Baldwin, this team’s receiving corps is … well, it’s not the greatest. Tyler Lockett remains a key weapon and he’s healthy entering this season, unlike 2017. Lockett is a longtime Reception Perception standout, a player who sheds man coverage with ease. He caught 45 balls for 555 yards on 69 targets last year, and he could see a significant increase in opportunities this season. The departures of Graham and Paul Richardson (now in Washington) leave 178 targets up for grabs. It wouldn’t be much of a surprise if Lockett were to see a 40-50 percent increase in volume, which makes him a ridiculous value at his recent average draft position (149.5, WR57).

The Seahawks took a flier on 34-year-old Brandon Marshall, a player who historically has been at his best during the honeymoon phase with a new organization. Marshall has been connected to mostly dreadful quarterbacks throughout his stellar career, so Wilson should be unlike any passer he’s ever experienced. Obviously we’re not getting anything like the peak version of No. 15, and nothing is guaranteed — not even a roster spot. But he’s recovered from multiple surgeries (toe, ankle) and he’s talking a good game, for what it’s worth:

“I’m working my tail off to get 100 percent healthy and get out there and contribute in a major way. I’m not here just to be a guy, I’m here to be the beast that I’ve always been.”

If you play in a standard 10 or 12-team fantasy league of typical depth, there’s no need to think much about Marshall on draft day. But in a larger format, keep an open mind. Marshall has been monster in the past, and, at 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds, he’s not a bad candidate to see a share of the goal-to-go targets that went to Graham last year. Marshall has delivered double-digit touchdowns in four different seasons and he’s reached the 100-catch plateau six times. Let’s just keep an open mind with him.

Jaron Brown joined this team in the offseason, but he shouldn’t be on your radar outside of 20-team leagues. And let’s speak no more of Dickson.

Rashaad Penny, rated rookie

The Seahawks entered this year’s draft with pressing needs up and down the roster — on defense, in the receiving corps, along the offensive line. Many needs. Seattle’s front office ultimately decided to use its first round pick on San Diego State running back Rashaad Penny, surprising pretty much everyone. We don’t generally see smart teams spend substantial money or draft capital in this position — not in this era, unless a rare talent is available. Time will tell if Penny is a back worthy of the investment.

Penny’s numbers were absurd last season, as he led the nation with 2248 rushing yards on 289 carries (7.8), reaching the end-zone 25 times. It was the second straight year an Aztecs player won the rushing crown; Donnel Pumphrey ran for 2133 yards the season before, scoring 17 touchdowns. Penny’s tape is full of fun highlights, as you’d expect from a first-round back who did his running in the Mountain West. Quality of competition is the obvious concern when you review Penny’s collegiate work. He was stonewalled by Boise State (21 carries, 53 yards), but he torched pretty much everyone else. Penny closed his season with five consecutive 200-yard rushing performances, which is crazy.

Rashaad Penny is battling Chris Carson for depth chart position. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Rashaad Penny is battling Chris Carson for depth chart position. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Penny’s combine performance wasn’t anything special, yet there’s no arguing with his stats. It’s worth noting that he was working in a system in which everyone on the field was run-blocking on pretty much every snap. Penny and Pumphrey’s college fullback, Nick Bawden, was drafted by Detroit. This year’s featured back at SDSU, Juwan Washington, is a good bet to extend the streak of 2000-yard rushers.

We’re not telling you to disregard Penny’s college numbers, just to be clear. He’s good. Just please understand the context. He caught only 19 balls last season and played in a pass-averse offense, so blitz-pickup figures to be an early concern.

Considering the value Seattle placed on Penny on draft night, you might assume he’d be the unrivaled No. 1 back entering the preseason. Chris Carson stubbornly refuses to disappear, however. He was a revelation last year before a fractured leg ended his season after just four games. His 4.2 YPC may not seem terribly impressive, but that rate led all Seahawks backs. Seattle’s offensive line was a mess last season, and Carson did all of his running before LT Duane Brown arrived via trade. He can play.

Reporters following the team have viewed Carson as a committee member at worst entering 2018. We can’t ignore him. Penny is presumably the favorite to lead this backfield in touches, but let’s not assume it’s going to be a one-man show. Carson is certainly ownable in our game. C.J. Prosise looks like a favorite for third-down work, with Mike Davis and J.D. McKissic battling for jobs.

Seattle’s defense ain’t what it used to be

A bunch of familiar faces are gone from this team, including Michael Bennett, Richard Sherman and perhaps/probably soon Earl Thomas. The team finished outside the NFL’s top-10 in both yards-allowed and scoring last season, plus the NFC West division schedule is a buzzsaw. There’s no obvious reason to target this D/ST, although Seattle has a not-so-intimidating September (Den, Chi, Dal, Ari).

2017 Offensive Stats & Ranks

Points per game – 22.9 (11th in NFL)
Pass YPG – 228.6 (14)
Rush YPG – 101.8 (23)
Yards per play – 5.2 (17)
Plays per game – 62.9 (17)

Previous Juggernaut Index entries: 32) Buffalo, 31) Miami, 30) NY Jets, 29) Baltimore, 28) Oakland, 27) Cleveland, 26) Indianapolis, 25) Washington, 24) Chicago, 23) Tennessee, 22) Jacksonville, 21) Dallas, 20) Tampa Bay, 19) Cincinnati, 18) Denver, 17) San Francisco, 16) Arizona, 15) Seattle

Follow the Yahoo fantasy football crew on Twitter: Andy Behrens, Dalton Del Don, Brad Evans, Matt Harmon, Liz Loza, Scott Pianowski and Tank Williams

More Draft Prep from Yahoo Fantasy Sports