Jermaine Kearse is so fast it’s not even fair

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This is the second post in a four-part series evaluating whether the Seahawks should sign Jermaine Kearse to a long-term extension. In Part One, I examined the state of the Seahawks’ wide receiving unit. In this installment, I’ll look at Kearse’s greatest strengths as a player.

You only need to look at one statistic to get a grasp of Jermaine Kearse’s big-play explosiveness: out of 22 catches in the 2013 season, Kearse reeled in four touchdowns. Now, his teammates Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin, and Zach Miller all scored more often than Kearse, finding themselves in the endzone five times each — but they needed, respectively, 64, 50, and 33 catches in order to do it. Kearse took advantage of the limited number of balls thrown his way to take it to the house with frequency.

A pattern emerges when watching the best plays from Kearse. First he leaves the cornerback behind him, thanks to blistering straight-line speed. Then Kearse uses his spectacular leaping ability to pull down balls that are too high for the defensive back to reach. Kearse also utilized his breakneck speed as a productive member of the special teams unit — on both sides of the ball. Although Percy Harvin will presumably step into the role of kickoff returner in 2014, Kearse did a serviceable job in 2013, averaging a respectable 21.8 yards on a team-leading 13 returns.

The Seahawks also frequently used Kearse as a defender on kick returns, where his season total of season tackles compared favorably to the tackle totals of special teams veterans like Heath Farwell or Chris Maragos, who both finished the season with nine tackles.

Here’s one of Kearse’s tackles, from Seattle’s Week 15 blowout of the New York Giants. Kearse is fast enough that he can run around the entire Giants coverage and still be on time to trip up the kick returner:

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Incredibly, the Giants are unable to prevent Kearse from doing the exact same thing on a kickoff coming two quarters later. Everything about the play, including Kearse’s outrageous speed, looks like a mirror image of the play above:

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Despite Kearse’s youth and inexperience, he played with a heads-up, play-through-the-whistle awareness that surely endeared him to Pete Carroll and the Seahawks’ coaching staff. There’s no better example than Week 16, at home against the Arizona Cardinals, after Golden Tate fumbled a caught ball. Even though Kearse’s route took him far past Tate and his defender and presumably out of the play, Kearse remained aware enough to dive on the ball and retain possession for his team. This image shows Kearse curled up with the ball in the middle of the screen, while Tate looks on from the right corner:

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You’ll notice that Kearse’s defender, standing on the 18, the renowned Patrick Peterson, has his back turned to a live ball. Peterson would have at least been able to contend for the fumble if he had been paying attention like Kearse was.

In sum, Kearse has turned his one superior talent — speed — into a multidimensional tool that allows him to make big plays in a variety of ways on the football field.

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