This is the third post in a four-part series examining whether the Seahawks should sign Jermaine Kearse to a long-term contract extension. In Part One I looked at Seattle’s current contract situation at the wide receiver position, and in Part Two I looked at Kearse’s considerable strengths as a player, almost all of which are derived from his exceptional speed. In this post I’ll look at Kearse’s weaknesses as a player, those traits that limit him to his smaller role.
While Kearse’s speed and finesse are what keep him on the football field on a consistent basis, it could be said that Kearse relies on this finesse too much. It is clearly a priority for Kearse to avoid contact and physicality, a mindset that limits his versatility and catch rate.
Of Kearse’s 346 receiving yards in 2013, only 56 of those yards came after the catch, for a paltry average of 2.5 YAC per reception. This is easily one of the very lowest rates among all regular receivers across the NFL. As discussed in Part Two, Kearse’s signature play as a receiver is securing a jump ball over his head — leaping for those balls usually means Kearse ends up on the ground (or out of bounds) immediately after securing the catch. When the ball comes into Kearse’s body, or when the play calls for his routes to traverse the middle of the field, the results are almost never good.
Here’s an example from Week 6 against the Tennessee Titans. While Kearse caught this goalline ball over the middle of the field, his avoidance of contact meant the play ended up going for -1 yard.
The play calls for Kearse to cut from left to right across the line of scrimmage:
Kearse turns as he finds an opening in the defense and Russell Wilson hits him with an on-target pass. Note that when Kearse receives the ball he has already traveled past the three-yard line (approximated in red):
With the Titans defense still a considerable distance away from him, Kearse’s first step is nonetheless backwards, stepping back to the four-yard line before the defenders are even within tackling distance. The red line is again approximately the three-yard line:
With Kearse’s momentum carrying him the wrong way, it’s an easy tackle for loss for the converging Titans:
Kearse also tended to drop catchable balls that were thrown towards the middle of the field. Even though Kearse has put the cornerback behind him on these two plays (Week 7 against the Arizona Cardinals and Week 8 against the St. Louis Rams), these balls, arriving around Kearse’s midsection, were both dropped. Kearse has just received the ball in both of these images:
Kearse caught 57.8% of the passes thrown his way (22 of 36), while Wilson completed 63.3% of his passes to all other Seahawks receivers.
Even though Kearse never showed significant prowess in catching balls over the middle, the Seahawks called for just that in a crucial, high-leverage moment against the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Championship game. Although this fourth-quarter sequence would become more well-known for the chaotic official review and NaVorro Bowman’s catastrophic knee injury (that video not for the weak of stomach!), the madness starts when Kearse is sent over the middle of the field.
Although Kearse secures this catch, he is unable to protect the ball as the imposing combo of Bowman and Patrick Willis wrestles him to the ground, and Kearse commits a fumble.
These clear limits on what Kearse is and isn’t able to do on the football field are sure to prevent him from ever being a team leader in receptions or yardage.
In the next and final part of this series, I come to a verdict on Kearse’s future with the Seahawks.