When you lose a player like Percy Harvin for basically the whole season, it hurts. It doesn't hurt Seattle nearly as much as it did Minnesota last year — the Seahawks, after all, nearly made the NFC title game without him — but that's a big talent sidelined.
Of course, we don't care about that here. We're only worried about our fantasy teams, and Harvin is a huge loss on that front. Like with the Seahawks, however, the impact might not be as big as you think.
Fantasy football players were drastically over-drafting Harvin early this summer, taking him mid-to-late Round 3 among the top 10 fantasy wide receivers. He's certainly good enough to finish in that range, but Seattle boasted the league's run-heaviest offense in 2012. No team attempted fewer than the Seahawks' 405 passes. No team ran it more than their 536 carries.
Conventional wisdom would say that Seattle expected to throw it more after trading for the league's best slot receiver. Head coach Pete Carroll said otherwise.
"We really expect to have a very balanced attack again," he told the Everett Herald in April. "The numbers will come out pretty equal with run and pass. We don't expect to change that ratio much."
Maybe they'd get closer to 50-50, but Seattle never planned to go pass-heavy. That obviously would have lowered the ceiling on Harvin, who inflated his numbers the past 2 years by being the only dependable receiving option in Minnesota. Our projections over at DraftSharks.com had him falling short of 80 catches before the injury.
Only two of the top 15 fantasy receivers in non-PPR scoring last year caught fewer than 83 balls. Vincent Jackson landed inside the top 10 with 72 receptions by adding 1,384 yards and 8 touchdowns. Julio Jones joined him by racking up 1,198 yards and 10 TDs to go with 79 catches. Harvin would have had a lot of trouble generating such big yardage or approaching 10 TDs. Thus, cracking the top 15 would have been tough. It would have been even tougher in PPR.
Beyond the run-heavy scheme, Seattle already had Golden Tate and Sidney Rice catching passes. Rice led the team with 50 catches last season, and Tate followed with 45. No other Seahawk caught more than 38 balls.
Those small numbers might suggest Harvin could come in and dominate the receiving categories, but the team still planned to spread it around.
"We're not counting on tilting the field toward one guy or the other," Carroll told the Seattle Times early in the offseason. "I'm not thinking that way. We're just going to go play football."
OK, so we've established that Harvin began the fantasy season overrated. But his absence still significantly impacts the rest of the offense. How much? Let's break down the noteworthy players.
WR Golden Tate
Back in the spring, Tate looked like a talented wideout bound to have trouble finding consistent targets as Seattle's likely No. 3 option. Suddenly, however, he looks like a potential fantasy football breakout player.
In addition to Harvin's surgery, Rice traveled to Switzerland late in July to get a special knee treatment. He has since returned to practice, but that kind of pursuit suggests at least nagging pain that could develop into something more at any time. Rice has missed three games or more in four of his six seasons, so it's easy to anticipate missed time.
Tate saw just 67 targets to Rice's team-leading 82 last year. (Tate missed one game.) But his terrific 67.2 percent catch rate easily topped Rice's 61.0 percent, and Tate also beat his teammate by 0.3 yards per catch. That helped him tie Rice for the team lead with seven TD receptions.
Russell Wilson will have trouble repeating his 26 touchdowns amid just 393 pass attempts. That 6.6 percent TD rate ranked second only to Aaron Rodgers in 2012. But Wilson proved adept as a deep-ball passer, and Tate led the team with 22 deep targets (20 yards or more downfield), according to Pro Football Focus. Nine of those balls proved catchable, and Tate snagged all nine for 343 yards and three touchdowns.
Now he's heading into a contract year, and Carroll has had nothing but praise for the fourth-year wideout. Tate has climbed way up fantasy football draft boards since Harvin's surgery, but he remains an intriguing value with a 10.03 average draft position at Fantasy Football Calculator. That makes him the 42nd wideout off the board, on average, which is still reserve territory. Tate's quite capable of delivering starter numbers.
WR Sidney Rice
If he's healthy, Rice should certainly battle Tate for the team target lead once again. The whole "if healthy" thing pushes him behind his teammate, though.
Last season marked just the second time in his six-year career that Rice made it through a full 16 games. His 15.0 yards per catch sat lower than his rates from any of the three previous seasons.
But that's not enough reason to dislike Rice. He's sure to continue benefitting from Wilson's stellar — and still developing — play at quarterback. Rice will simply be held back by the target ceiling in Seattle. Harvin's absence undoubtedly leaves more passes on the field, but can Rice get to 100 looks even in a fully healthy season in 2013? I doubt it. And that's why he sits near the bottom of WR4 territory in fantasy drafts, now about half a round behind Tate in ADP.
QB Russell Wilson
Harvin's absence probably hurts Wilson more than anyone else, but he'll be OK.
From Week 8 on last year, Wilson ranked third among fantasy quarterbacks. But he did so thanks to an 8.3 percent touchdown rate over that span. That's not nearly sustainable. Since 2000, only four quarterbacks have produced a rate of 7.5 percent or better over a full season: Peyton Manning in 2004, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger in 2007, and Aaron Rodgers in 2011. Even Wilson's 6.6 percent rate for the whole season will be tough to duplicate.
He'd have had an easier time generating top-level efficiency with Harvin inside to counterbalance the deep threats of Tate and Rice on the edges. That setup made top 5 upside seem possible — though not probable — for Wilson. Instead he sits near the bottom of QB1 territory with a lower ceiling.
Tight end Zach Miller could be in line for more work ... if he could get healthy. Miller sits on the physically unable to perform list and has already dealt with knee trouble and plantar fasciitis (foot) this year. It's tough to expect a big jump from him after two disappointing seasons in Seattle.
The team changed its mind on Early Doucet after just one practice. Rookie Chris Harper carries long-term upside but likely won't prove much of a factor in 2013. Doug Baldwin remains on hand but probably won't come close to his rookie-year production again because the team has better options now.
The running backs could find a few more targets, but Marshawn Lynch hasn't caught more than 28 passes in a season since 2008, his second year in Buffalo. He has only reached 200 receiving yards twice in six seasons. I'm not ready to boost my passing-game expectations for him — or call Christine Michael or Robert Turbin a sleeper for your flex position.
Harvin's surgery only makes it easier to expect Seattle to continue its run-heavy ways. An emerging Tate figures to find a few more targets lying around, thanks to the absence of his team's new top receiving talent. Rice should as well but still doesn't look like a safe bet to start for your fantasy squad. Wilson continues to look good, just not as good as he did before.
Most unfortunate, though, you can no longer count on some misguided league mate to over-draft the former Vikings star.
This article was written by Matt Schauf and provided to Athlon Sports courtesy of DraftSharks.com. Online since 1999, Draft Sharks won the 2010 and 2012 FSTA awards for the most accurate fantasy football projections in the industry.