A Season to Remember
One of the great things about fantasy football is that no matter how much time we put into preseason preparation, no matter how many times we update our projections, no matter how many times we dissect a given situation, there will ALWAYS be surprises. Last year, Doug Baldwin provided us with one of the most surprising seasons from a receiver in recent memory. To say that Baldwin was dynamic would be the understatement of a lifetime.
- 103 targets
- 78 receptions
- 1,069 yards
- 13.7 yards per catch
- 14 touchdowns
- WR7 fantasy ranking
The season was surprising for several reasons:
- In four prior seasons, Baldwin never finished higher than 37th (50 receptions for 778 yards and 5 touchdowns)
- The Seahawks were supposed to be a run-first team
- Russell Wilson has traditionally liked to spread the ball around
- Baldwin got off to a slow start
About that slow start...
Through the first eight games of the season, Baldwin was having a forgettable season that wasn't much different than his prior four:
Weeks 1-8 Per Game Averages
- 5 targets
- 3.9 receptions
- 43.1 yards
- 0.25 touchdowns
Pro-rated over a full 16 games yields:
- 80 targets
- 62 receptions
- 690 yards
- 4 touchdowns
Then, a light switch went off and the Seahawks offense exploded thanks in no small part to Doug Baldwin's mind-numbing productivity:
Weeks 9-16 Per Game Averages
- 7.9 targets
- 5.9 receptions
- 90.5 yards
- 1.5 touchdowns
Pro-rated over a full 16 games yields:
- 126 targets
- 94 receptions
- 1,448 yards
- 24 touchdowns
Don't Bet On An Encore
Regression Red Flag #1 -- 75.7% Catch Rate
Regression Red Flag #2 -- 17.9% TOUCHDOWN Rate
Regression is Guaranteed -- But Baldwin Has Value
Just because we expect Doug Baldwin to regress this year does not mean he's devoid of value. Underneath Baldwin's breakout is a fundamental shift in the Seahawks' offense. Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has slowly allowed Russell Wilson more control of the offense.
- 2012 -- 405 pass attempts
- 2013 -- 420 pass attempts
- 2014 -- 454 pass attempts
- 2015 -- 483 pass attempts
What level of production does Baldwin's ADP (WR22) imply?
On average, the WR22 produces:
- 63 receptions (19% lower than Baldwin's 2015 tally)
- 919 yards (14% lower)
- 7.4 touchdowns (47% lower)
Those numbers are discounted enough to de-risk Baldwin. He remains the team's top receiver, and Jimmy Graham may never recover from his torn patellar tendon. Russell Wilson clearly has built a rapport with Baldwin, and the team signed him to a 5-year, $47.5 million ($24mm guaranteed) contract extension in the offseason.
- Russell Wilson is one of the league's best quarterbacks, and produces an inordinate number of TDs given his relatively low level of pass attempts
- Baldwin emerged last year as the team's clear-cut #1 receiver -- putting up Randy Moss-like stats in the final 8 games
- Seattle re-signed Baldwin to a massive extension which illustrates their belief that 2015 was not a fluke
- Baldwin's 2015 screams anomaly -- both his catch rate and TD rate were 2nd best out of nearly 190 individual seasons over the last five years
- Tyler Lockett is more talented and explosive; it's only a matter of time before he overtakes Baldwin as the top target
- Seattle's offensive line continues to be a question mark and threatens the overall productivity of the offense
Doug Baldwin helped a lot of fantasy owners win league titles last year. Few saw the journeyman who spent four years as a role player (WR37 was his best fantasy ranking) morphing into an unstoppable WR1 -- yet that's what transpired. For the reasons we've outlined, it's a veritable guarantee that Baldwin will regress in 2016. But, fantasy owners are already discounting meaningful regression. At his ADP of WR22, Baldwin is fairly priced and fully de-risked. He projects as a solid fantasy WR3 this year in both PPR and non-PPR leagues.
It's entirely possible that we saw Doug Baldwin have a career year in 2015 that he will never top. He is a candidate for a regression to the mean after reaching career highs in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. His 14 touchdowns in 2015, was nine more than his previous high of five set in 2013. The boom in production may be an anomaly or it may be due to the Seahawks passing game finally stretching it's wings as Russell Wilson becomes a more well-rounded quarterback. Either way, Baldwin's ADP of WR24, 49 overall has ballooned higher than my interest level. There's still uncertainty behind his ability to sustain those numbers. Plus with the emergence of Tyler Lockett, Baldwin will surely see a regression, in my opinion.
The Seahawks were not major players in either free agency or the draft, so Baldwin has done nothing but solidify a major role in the offense. After the way he played last season, it’d be dumb not to feature him. While there is no way to guarantee that he will continue to produce WR1 numbers, I can tell you that Marshawn Lynch isn’t going to be on the team, Thomas Rawls is coming off a bad ankle injury without a timeline for return, and that Jimmy Graham suffered a ruptured right patellar tendon in his knee. Seeing that he will turn 30 years old in-season, it’s hard to imagine him being the same player that he once was. The stars are aligning for Baldwin, as they did last year. You can argue that there will be touchdown regression if you want, but at WR23, you’re already getting him at a discount. He’s a rock solid WR2 in both standard and PPR formats.