When head coach Pete Carroll and general manager John Schneider took over in 2010, the Seattle Seahawks were desperate for young impact players on the offensive side of the ball. The offensive line and the wide receiving corps started to get long in the tooth during the 2009 season. So, Carroll and Schneider drafted Oklahoma State left tackle Russell Okung in the first round and Notre Dame wideout Golden Tate in the second round.
Okung had no problem finding his way onto the field right away. When he was healthy, he made 10 regular-season starts as a rookie and earned high marks as a pass protector. Yet, the same can’t be said about Tate. The Golden Domer struggled with the playbook and his route running in Year 1.
This, in turn, limited his game action. By the end of the 2010 season (playoffs included), Tate made an appearance in 13 games and logged 255 snaps. Over the course of those 13 games, he hauled in 22 receptions on 41 targets for 232 yards receiving.
His sophomore season saw a slight bump in production; however, his opportunities were still limited due to the fact he played out of position more often than not. According to Pete Damilatis of Pro Football Focus, Tate lined up in the slot on 43.8 percent of his pass routes, but was only targeted on 14.3 percent of those plays.
Playing Tate in the slot was clearly the wrong move, and the Seahawks knew it. To maximize his potential with rookie quarterback Russell Wilson, they moved him back to the outside in 2012. The third-year pro flourished as Seattle’s left wide receiver. He tallied 45 catches, 688 receiving yards, seven touchdowns and forced 16 missed tackles.
Moreover, Tate was sure-handed while picking up gobs of yards after the catch. His two drops were the lowest total of any pass catcher on Seattle’s rosters, and his 6.1 yards-after-the-catch average was the eighth-best mark in the NFL based on wide receivers who played at least 50 percent of their teams' offensive snaps.
An eye-opening season from Tate last year has most of us wondering whether or not he could take his game to the next level in 2013. If early reports out of training camp are any indication, it appears as if the 25-year-old receiver is primed for a breakout season.
Jayson Jenks of The Seattle Times notes that Tate has been the most impressive player in training camp so far. Yet, the praise didn't stop there. Here’s what Coach Carroll told Danny O’Neil of ESPN 710:
We love what he [Tate] does. He's such an unusual player. He's the highest tester in terms of assignments.
Despite the slow start to his career, it’s evident that Tate has put in the necessary work to win over the coaching staff’s trust. With wide receiver Percy Harvin’s return up in the air, Tate is now viewed as the Seahawks’ No. 1 pass-catching option in the season that lies ahead.
Let’s go to the tape and examine the three strongest points of Tate’s game.
One has to give Tate credit for vastly improving his ability as a route-runner over the years. When he came into the league, he was a very poor route-runner that got away with pure athleticism at the collegiate level.
On this play against the Packers, Tate was lined up at right wide receiver. Green Bay’s defense was playing man-to-man with one safety manning the middle of the field. Cornerback Tramon Williams was responsible for Tate, and safety Charles Woodson was there to help on the back end if Williams needed it.
Tate’s route called for a double move. He started by working Williams’ outside shoulder toward the sideline. As soon as he had Williams opened up and turned around, he then started to progress into the second part of his route.
Once Tate had him beat, he sprinted up field and turned on the jets. Woodson got caught peeking underneath. He was too focused on tight end Anthony McCoy to notice Tate flying by Williams on the double move.
In turn, Wilson dropped the ball in between the coverage, and Tate walked into the end zone untouched for a 41-yard score. All around it was a beautiful throw and catch. Kudos to Tate, because without a precise route, this play never happens.
For a guy who is less than six feet tall, Tate sure does know how to contort his body and make acrobatic catches. His ability to go the extra mile to come down with the ball has been something he has excelled at since his days at John Paul II High School.
This next play came during Seattle’s Week 6 contest against New England.
Again, Tate was split out wide at right wide receiver. The Patriots defense rushed five and dropped six off into coverage. Pro Bowl corner Devin McCourty had primary coverage on Tate as he was playing left cornerback.
Tate’s pattern was a simple 9-route. His main objective was to blow past the corner and get behind the safety. A successful play-action fake from Wilson froze the secondary for a split second. This allowed Tate to garner good position between McCourty and Sterling Moore.
Even though the ball was a bit underthrown, Tate did a great job of looking the ball in and boxing McCourty out. His concentration and awareness of his surroundings helped put him in the correct position.
As you can see above, Tate went up and snagged the ball at its highest point. The play resulted in a 51-yard gain, thanks in large part to his incredible body control and 35-inch vertical leap.
When one takes the time to watch Tate, one of the biggest things that jumps out at you is his vision after he catches the ball. His field vision is comparable to some running backs. His ability to anticipate openings and take the proper angles is easier said than done.
The best example from Tate’s 2012 campaign came when the Seahawks hosted the Vikings.
Instead of being split out wide, Tate was lined up in the slot on the right side of the formation. From 11 yards out, Seattle’s offense was hoping a bubble screen would catch Minnesota’s defense off guard allowing for an easy score.
The quick hitter did catch the defense napping, yet the fun didn’t start until Tate hauled in the pass. As soon as the ball was in his hands, he had a decision to make. He had to either make a push and try to score along the sideline, or cut it back up inside and make a couple defenders miss.
Tate decides to try to suck defenders in by running straight up field until the last possible second. Coincidentally enough, it works. Tate then chooses the inside path toward the middle of the field. In the process of making three players miss, he kept his head up and found the end zone for his fifth touchdown of the season.
Being able to foresee the opposition’s next move is such a huge advantage. Tate’s skill to do so goes hand in hand with his high yards after the catch average.
There's no question Tate not only has the talent to break out, but he has the dexterity to move up the ranks and become one of the NFL’s 10 best receivers. Shoot, he wasn’t that far off last year. Pro Football Focus (subscription required) graded him out as the 16th-best wideout in the league after the playoffs ended.
To move inside the top 10, Tate will have to improve upon his three strengths and evolve into a more consistent player. He had too many games where he caught two or fewer passes. He even had a game (Week 7) where he didn’t catch a single pass.
For the Seahawks’ sake, Tate is in a contract year, and he worked with Wilson all offseason to strengthen their bond on the field. A strengthened bond will lead to more points on the scoreboard and well-executed plays.
Seattle’s dream to bring home its first Lombardi Trophy is inching closer and closer after last season’s deep playoff run. They have the offense and the defense.
A breakout year from Tate would help turn that dream into a reality.
All statistics were collected from Pro Football Focus.