If they had viewed any of the incumbents as a bona fide No. 1 receiver, the Seattle Seahawks wouldn't have traded three draft picks for Percy Harvin.
The deal did not yield the dividends Seattle was seeking. Harvin missed almost the entire season because of injuries. He caught four passes for 38 yards.
Despite Harvin being a nonfactor, the Seahawks are headed to Super Bowl XLVIII anyway. It wouldn't have happened without those relatively anonymous holdovers.
That's one of the nicer things anyone has said lately about Golden Tate, Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse, who were deemed "pedestrian," "average" and "appetizers" (as opposed to the main course) by various media outlets in the days leading up to the NFC Championship Game.
No one likes to be disparaged. But would Seattle's receivers have performed as well as they did Sunday if they hadn't been?
Those criticisms were a prominent talking point in their corner of the locker room after the Seahawks' 23-17 victory over the San Francisco 49ers. None of the receivers went on WWE-style rants about being disrespected, a la teammate Richard Sherman.
Instead, they calmly defended themselves, similar to the way they quietly (for receivers, anyway) go about their business on the field.
"People were calling us pedestrian ... and we're the appetizers and all of that mess," Tate said. "Well, my friend Doug Baldwin went for 100 yards. Jermaine Kearse had a big touchdown catch. Just go watch the film."
The tape reveals Tate converting first downs, Baldwin starting a rally and Kearse finishing it -- invaluable contributions from a late second-round pick and two undrafted free agents, none of whom eclipsed 1,000 yards during the regular season.
Tate, the 60th selection in the 2010 draft, led the Seahawks with 64 catches for 898 yards. Both figures were career highs, but neither cracked the top 30 league-wide.
Run-oriented Seattle attempted the second-fewest passes of any team, so that's part of it. The lack of targets has the same effect on the receivers as those unflattering adjectives: It makes them hungrier.
Five plays before he caught the go-ahead touchdown pass, Kearse couldn't corral a well-defended deep ball down the left sideline. He wouldn't be denied on the one thrown into the end zone.
"I knew that he wanted it ... and if he got another shot he was going to come down with it," Tate said. "Opportunities are limited around here, so you have to make the best of them."
Seattle's receivers don't get as many chances to make plays as other groups do. Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker of Super Bowl foe Denver combined for 390 targets during the regular season; Tate, Baldwin and Kearse combined for 209.
But when Seattle needs a clutch catch, one of them invariably makes it. Baldwin's 30 receiving yards were a team high in the divisional round. Twenty-four came on a critical third-down grab that preceded the clinching touchdown.
"At the end of the day, we want to be a team that makes the big play when we need to," quarterback Russell Wilson said. "Doug Baldwin has done that several times."
He did it Sunday, smartly slipping past 49ers safeties Donte Whitner and Eric Reid while Wilson scrambled. Baldwin's 51-yard reception set up a field goal. The Seahawks trailed, 10-0, at the time.
"A lot of people throw our receivers under the rug," Sherman said. "Everybody wants us to be the underrated, not-good receiving corps. But they're great players in their own right, and they do everything our team needs them to do."
Harvin is expected to be available for the Super Bowl after missing the NFC Championship Game because of a concussion. He possesses game-breaking speed Tate, Baldwin and Kearse lack.
But whatever measurables they're missing -- whatever caused them to be overlooked and underappreciated -- they make up for with determination.
Wilson noticed that about Kearse during offseason workouts in Los Angeles. The undrafted free agent from Washington had caught three passes as a rookie in 2012, but Wilson had a feeling Kearse would blossom.
"He just stood out so much," Wilson said. "He worked so hard. He's tremendous on special teams. He's tremendous catching the football. And he's got that desire, you know?"
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