The Seahawks added wide receiver Deon Butler to their active 53-man roster this week and I was asked by a reader why they would do this with Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate already on the roster. Receiver, seemingly, isn't a position of need and Butler just takes up another valuable spot on the team. Well, let's take a look at why they might have made this move.
On the surface, Butler, Baldwin, and Tate all look to be the 'same player'. 5'9, 5'10, ~200 pounds (for Baldwin and Butler, that's being generous). All fast. "Slot guys." Well, I don't think it's that simple.
First off, Doug Baldwin. Baldwin is probably the most versatile of the three and it's no surprise that he's starting. He's got an uncanny knack for getting open and has shown to be extremely competitive in going up and getting the football. If you need any more evidence of this, just go back and rewatch one of the final plays from Sunday where he took what looked to be a sure interception and actually, in my opinion, made the catch by pinning the ball against his defenders' body. The play was called an interception, but for it to be even close was a small miracle. If you need any more indication of the passion this guy plays with, look no further than this picture - him arguing the call in a game that was at that point essentially unwinnable.
So in summary - Baldwin makes his living on his ability to get open, strong open field running, and strong competitiveness in going for the football. He's fearless over the middle, and has taken some major hits and held on to the ball. He's not necessarily a deep threat, but he's dependable in many areas, including downfield blocking.
Golden Tate is essentially a running back that's playing receiver. He's an insanely athletic player, with speed and shiftiness. In my opinion, his greatest strength is gaining yardage after the catch. His knocks would be undisciplined route running and his size. He's been hit or miss in this offense but now sits behind Mike Williams, Sidney Rice, Doug Baldwin, and Ben Obomanu on the depth chart so he doesn't get many snaps.
He's an underneath player but not necessarily a 'slot' guy. He might be most useful on swing passes and screens - where you can put the ball in his hands and let him make some moves to get downfield. He's rarely brought down by his first pursuer, and he's always got that potential to make a big time play. He's my favorite player that has yet to do anything in the NFL, and I personally hope they give him the rock a little bit more. I don't know if that will happen though, save for some injuries.
Most importantly in this discussion, Deon Butler's main strength that sets him apart from Doug Baldwin and Golden Tate is elite speed. If you watch him come in and out of his breaks on a route it's pretty impressive, but his ability to get down the field is what made him so coveted to the Seahawks previous administration, who drafted him in the third round, and gave up a lot to trade up to get him there.
He's not a strong yardage after the catch type of player. He's not particularly effective on screens and dumpoffs because he's not going to break many tackles. Where he does shine, theoretically, is at getting behind the defense and stretching the field. His main issue, pre-injury, was that he's had trouble getting off the jam and that moment of hesitation hurts his downfield speed and over-the-top threatening ability.
Now, for a team that's ostensibly trying to get big at WR - 6'5 BMW, 6'5 Sidney Rice, and 6'6 Kris Durham - having three sub 6' receivers does seem a bit redundant. I think, and this is just my two cents, that the Seahawks' front office sees a lot of potential in Deon Butler and would love to see if he can find some chemistry with the Seahawks big-armed, big-play style QB in Tarvaris Jackson. Matt Hasselbeck wasn't exactly known for taking the top off of defenses last year so it's my opinion that we fans don't really know yet what we have in Butler.
Jackson is most comfortable targeting the speed, separation style receivers the Seahawks currently have in Sidney Rice and Ben Obomanu so I'm actually pretty intrigued to see what type of connection Jackson and Bulter could develop.
Butler was a prolific receiver at Penn State and has managed to stick around with the Seahawks despite the extreme purging from this front office. His potential skillset differs than that which Tate or Baldwin could provide and as I said, the 4.2, 4.3 speed ability is the principal element at work here.
Prior to last season, Pete Carroll indicated the team had big plans for the Penn State product and labeled Butler one of the most improved players on the team after the conclusion of the spring minicamps and OTA practices last season. Butler led the team in the 2010 preseason with 15 receptions.
Said Carroll: "We didn't really know what we had because we hadn't been on the field with him. We saw the speed, and the explosion, and natural catching ability. But he's just improved tremendously. But more than that, he's been a playmaker. He's made tough catches, really, all through preseason as well. So we just have to realize that he's a big factor that we need to keep working into the system and get the ball going in his direction."
Butler quietly had 36 receptions for 385 yards (2nd on the team) and 4 touchdowns (tied for team-leading) last season in the Seahawks anemic passing offense before breaking his leg in Week 14. The fact that he's been activated is further proof that Carroll wasn't just paying him lip service, but that doesn't mean his roster spot is safe. They'll likely start him out slow but hopeful that he'll make an impact.
If he can stretch the field like he, really, is supposed to, that could open up things for Mike Williams, Baldwin, Tate, and Obomanu underneath and his speed, paired with Sidney Rice on the outside could create some interesting matchup issues for opposing defenses.
We'll see. Respect, anyway, for his ability to even get back to this point after his horrible injury.